Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Search of the New America

Summer 2007: I visit home only to find that home is gone.

It had been going for a long time, but I hadn't noticed...or better yet, I hadn't been able to pinpoint what was happening.

Then, the drive-in closed.

I saw my first movie, Bambi, as a four-year-old at the Clermont Deluxe. My mother saw her first movie from the same swathe of concrete from which I watched E.T. streak across the sky and Howard the Duck save the earth.

Nothing lasts forever.

As I waited in the Indianapolis Airport to fly to my adoptive coast in California, an old man stared back at me from a TV screen. His eyes were glazed with the glaucomia of old age and a permanent mid-day shadow darkened his face. A tattered flannel warmed him in the rain, but none of these visual details drew me to him. It was his tears that caught my attention. A man crying...publicly...on CNN.

His house had been swallowed when the ground collapsed underneath it. Evidently, homes often fall in near former coal mines.

At that moment, his predicament seemed to mirror mine: We were both losing our homes to forces we could not control.

One thing seemed certain: change.

Over the next year as economic collapse, optimism with a big O, and crises after crises began to grip the nation, an idea germinated.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell (paraphrasing Toynbee) wrote, "Schism in the soul, schism in the body social will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism) or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism)....Only birth can conquer death--the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new." 

Essentially, pining for the past will bring no results and all our designs for the future may be equally futile: something must die in order for a new thing to be born. The old ways of the United States are dying and we are becoming something new...but what?

In an attempt to find out, I am setting out on a voyage across the U.S, but resources are dwindling…In a climate of economic scarcity on a warming planet, the classic American road trip seems to be a ridiculously selfish enterprise—unless it can be done differently. Fueled only by recycled vegetable oil, I will voyage across the country (and back) assisted by strangers who possess something they never dreamed had value: the sludge at the bottom of their deep fryers.

Along the way, I hope to discover the new America and to find...well...hope.


  1. when you come through indiana--if you do--we'll get you some good grease!

  2. Of course I'll come through Indiana! I'm leaving May 15ish...


Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
- Oscar Wilde


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