A Year in Search of America to Feel Its Heartbeat
Tacoma journalist, Bob Mottram, and his public-health-nurse wife, Karen, decided to celebrate their retirement by taking that quintessentially American trip—a year traveling America in an RV. True to its title, the story of their journey is intimate and personal, yet expresses the vast geographical diversity of the nation. “We set out to try to find American and, if we found it, to put our hands on its heart and see if we could feel the beat.”
Focusing always on the nation’s byways and small villages, they pull their 5th wheel over the Siskiyous and down the Central Valley of California, cross the nation along the Mexican border and on to the Florida Keys. Then they head north along the Southeastern coast, through Appalachia to New Jersey and on up to New England before turning west to cross the prairies of the heartland, dipping into the Southwest before heading for home. The tale, told in the freewheeling spirit of its undertaking mixes humor—learning to back up a 5th wheeler—with Bob’s personal mission to reach his aging and failing father in New Jersey before his death—with geography and history, all without losing its focus on the people and towns where they come to roost.
From the “clothing optional” RV park in northern California, to Iranian gas station operator in the desert still seeking a congenial home, to the odd fishing methods of Gulf fisherman, to the Key West town that declared war on the United States, Bob paints a picture of a people with unique cultural norms molded by diverse histories and geographies. The immigrant history of the West, marked by the Oregon Trail and miners cairns in the desert, through the Spanish heritage of the Mexican border, to the plantation formality of the Carolina coast, the trip triggers stories of the Mottrams’ own histories—memories of grandparents who spoke other languages, to living through blizzards in South Dakota, to the birth of their first child—which merges his own history with that of the places they visit.
In the end, Bob expresses the experience best. “… they share so much in common, we have found; a persistent self-assurance, fierce pride in who they are, in the families from which they spring. They share a love for the places in which they live and for the history that made these places what they are.” “…in every region of the country, we discovered, the rhythm of its heart is different. But in every region of the country the beat is clear and strong.”
I highly recommend joining the Mottrams on this adventure that will, without a doubt, trigger the readers own experience and history.
In Search of America’s Heartbeat by Robert Mottram.