I've been carrying "Blue Highways" for months, with some embarrassment, the kind you feel when wearing a fringed suede coat. It is a product of a particular era. Still, I've been engrossed in storytelling, which now offers the same hope as readers of the first time.
Mr. Heat-Moon leaves Interstate 70, touches the Atlantic, then heads west following the trajectory of the quintessential American trip, which takes place from night to day, from forest to sky. He had no detailed road, but simply followed his whim, evoking oddities of the atlas, beautiful valleys, cities with interesting names: Kremlin, Mount., Holy Ghost Monastery, Virginia, and Dime Box, Tex., Where a man says, "Town-dwellers do not think an important event is happening in a place like Dime Box."
This method sometimes fails him, but he meets people everywhere he stops, and he stops constantly – to feed himself and be entertained, looking for everything that has led him down the road. In fact, it is the country itself, which it sees at truck stops and the faces of people it meets. It includes pictures of these faces, taken with an Instamatic, that have poor lighting, poor quality clothing and rawness that seems to prove that these people and places actually exist or existed in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan l declared Morning in America. .
The country is not the land, discovered Mr. Heat-Moon. These are the people who act as a whole because they share an improbable idea. Hence the text scrapbook structure: An album is the way to capture America, which is less narrative than episodes organized around a theme. America is a collage – it's only the notions that unite us, hence the perpetual fear of shattering.
Mr. Heat-Moon has crossed the country twice. When he returns home in the Midwest, where cities are becoming more familiar, he sees his hometown as for the first time. "I can not say, over the miles, that I've learned what I wanted to know because I did not know what I wanted to know," he wrote, "but I learned this that I did not know that I wanted to know. "
"Blue Highways" sounds for at least two reasons. First, although the events unfold more than 40 years ago, the book reads as a search for what is hurting us right now, because what has hurt us is hurting us now. It also reads as if it were written a hundred years ago. The country he described is gone. It could have something to do with the population, a nation that is growing by almost 100 million people is a whole new nation. This other America – the country as it existed at the age of 10 – is what the book describes. It's like the snapshot that accidentally made the movie star cry in the background. I read it and recognize it as at home.
Of course, the biggest change is the GPS, with its satellites that follow each of our movements. No more disappearing in the immensity. No more fear of this disappearance. Of course, you can turn it off and guide you through the astrolabe, but there is no escape route. Even if you do not use it, you know it will be at your fingertips. Even if you do not use it now, you will do it later, when engorgement will become intolerable. Even if you do not use it, everyone does it, which means you trace a pattern created by GPS. Not only does technology map the world, but it remakes the world by mapping it.
Rich Cohen is the author of "The Last New York Hijacker", the true story of underground world legend Albert Hicks and his last road trip on what is now, about the Interstate 95. The book is due in June.
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