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What is this “America” you speak of?

I really dig America.

But I haven’t really dug into America. You know? I’ve lived here for a while now, but that time has been spent living in the middle of a forest and so I haven’t exactly saturated myself in the marrow of the culture. (Eww.) No question: ignorance is always a missed opportunity. In my defense, I’ve been busy making a new life and falling in love and other distracting activities, so up to now I’ve given myself a pass.

That ends today.

It’s my intention to go on living in this country until the good Lord strikes me down where I stand. So it’s time I learned… um, where it is I stand, exactly. Time I learned a little something about this adopted country of mine.

I’m writing this on July 4th, 2018, sitting in my home on the California ranch where I live with my cute and unconventional family unit. In less than two weeks, the cute family and I will embark on a Really Big Adventure. We’re moving waaaaay across the country, to the eastern tip of Pennsylvania. So basically, from living 30 minutes from the literal sand-and-water West Coast to 60 minutes from the literal mafia-victim-bones-and-icy-sludge East Coast.

We’re a bunch of crazy kids, my people, and big moves is how we do.

Along with my resourceful, goodlooking wife, I’m going to drive the 3000-odd miles from California to Pennsylvania. Our goal is to do this in five days. Because we’re zany like that. Our travel companions will be Mister Bilbo Baggins of Bag End and Miss Claire Bear Fair-of-Hair. The rest of the unit will fly and meet us there. I can’t vouch for other people’s choices.

Me, I can’t wait to steer Sappho the trusty Subaru through the floor of the flyover states and get me a taste of America.

AMERICA, y’all.

I should be able to at least glimpse it out the window, right?


At any rate, this blog is where I’m going to share my observations and ideas about my new country as I tune in. The hermit years are over. I’m coming to look for America.

I’ll use this blog to chart my unfurling discovery of the country and its people, and invite you to help me out where I’m still in the dark. I’m hoping that my American friends and my American strangers will leap in to share your experience of the country: culture, language, idiosyncrasies, weird and wonderful food, freaky antiquated traditions. Everything!

I’ll be writing about America’s sublime and America’s ridiculous as they appear through my naive little Aussie eyes.

That said, this is not a blog about politics. Two reasons: one, it would fill the sky and there would be nothing else to write about. I want to discuss unity and quirk and humanity wherever I encounter it, not get bogged down in divisiveness and despair. The second reason for no politics is that, as I mentioned, I want to stay here in the US forever — and that’s not yet in the bag, folks. So for those who know me as a political animal, read between the lines and continue to love me.

I want to publish this first blog post on the Fourth of July. But before I do so, I want to tell you how my self-education is going in my own home so far.

Me: Tell me about the first Fourth of July.

Wife: Well, it was just after Jesus died, I guess.

I would love it if you would come along with me on this literal and figurative journey. Please read and weigh in and contradict my suppositions. Please help me look for America. I know I left it in here somewhere.

Question: Americans, please answer in the comments. If there were one thing I absolutely needed to know to get by in the US, what would it be?

{ 43 comments… add one }
  • Mary Walker 5 July 2018, 12:48 am

    Like an outsiders guide to USA? Just what I need. Cheers, Ro!

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 12:51 am

      Thanks, Mary! (And for being my first-ever comment!) I hope so. It’s going to be an interesting exercise in testing my observations against others’ experience. Hoping I can just blurt and say “tell me where I’m wrong” – !!

  • River LaMoreaux 5 July 2018, 1:23 am

    The US is an odd patchwork of place and subcultures. Each region has its own designs, shape, flavors, mores, and connection to landscape. Enjoy the flow of difference as you drive through.

    Hit the local diners and listen to local conversations. Pay attention to regional subtleties in road signage, what people are selling, how politics show up, differences in the landscape and how subcultures inhabit those differences.

    I’d also get a map of the physiographic regions because these major shifts in regional landscapes create shifts in subcultures.

    Enjoy! Don’t rush through. Stop at things that seem interesting or beautiful.

    Oh, and if given a choice between interstate and a back highway, choose the latter. So says the geographer.

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:45 pm

      Ooh, this is fabulous! Thanks, River. I would love to spend a month doing this trip, but we really only have five or six days, so unfortunately there will be some haste involved. Boy, I really love these ideas, though. They are in my notes. Thank you, thank you!

  • Steph 5 July 2018, 1:26 am

    If there was one thing – just one thing – GOSH. That’s a toughie Ro. But here goes – geography is destiny.

    So all of those wide open spaces reflect the distance between us and inside of you.

    I’m curious to see how you encounter this in the world. I’m grateful to be following you on your journey. Talk to strangers and have fun!

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:31 pm

      Oh, how lovely! Thank you! I intend to talk to ALL the strangers. Whether they like it or not. x

  • Martha Beck 5 July 2018, 1:27 am

    Can’t wait to see the continent through your bleary eyeballs and quirky brain! Onward!

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:27 pm

      Thank you, sugarplum!

  • Sean Mangan 5 July 2018, 1:45 am

    Awaiting further developments with considerable interest. Sure hope this blog doesn’t affect the progress of any novels you might have in mind to write. XXXX

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:26 pm

      Hoping it will grease all the rusty engine parts and get all the words flowing! Thanks, Papa! xoxoxo

  • Sarah F 5 July 2018, 2:56 am

    So pumped to hear about the States as seen through your eyes Ro. I’m buckled in.

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:23 pm

      Woohoo! Thanks! I went to see if WIS was still active the other day, and did some back-reading for inspiration.

  • Lara 5 July 2018, 3:16 am

    You need to know how to say hello and greet people in different areas. For example, you can get do overly friendly better Georgia than Maine. The Bible Belt deserves its rap (I lived there) so praising the Lord for the weather is allowed, but would get you serious side-eye in Philly. (Mostly don’t say hello in New Jersey, at all.) The middle states are reeeaalllyy big and empty; you can take your time there saying hello.

    Also the mountains are very different as you go. The Rockies are sharp and purposeful and intensely present. The Appalachians are soft, like old worry stones.

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:30 pm

      Damn, Lara. I feel like I just want you to write this blog. That’s gorgeous. And the greeting thing is a hot track. I might try out different things in different places, play the foreigner card, see what happens! I’m as interested in getting it wrong as getting it right! “…like old worry stones.” Holding this in my heart today. And you.

  • Carol 5 July 2018, 5:09 am

    I will read with interest as I’m still recovering from my first sojourn on US shores, possibly because the first conversation that hit my ears as I got off the plane was one woman, who worked at the airport, telling another woman customer to ‘f*** off you *c***. It was such a shock. Pouring blessings your way Rowan as you show up here. Xoxo

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:23 pm

      Right! One of thing things that’s been in my mind is the cultural comfort with conflict, especially low-grade conflict between strangers. (What you’re describing is obviously a bit more intense!) Lots of love to you, Carol. I will be replying to your email VERY SOON! xooxo

  • Uncle Jim 5 July 2018, 10:09 am

    General Custer led the 7th Calvary

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:22 pm

      On it! Thanks!

  • James Healy 5 July 2018, 10:46 am

    Earlier this week I said something like this to Ange, “Hey, I think Rowan might be moving Pennsylvania. I’d love to hear more about why and how she finds it. Sounds like a big move from California”

    Seems like you heard me 🙂

    Enjoy the road trip, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes.

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 3:19 pm

      … And I thought, “I bet James wants to hear all about my trip!”

      Thanks so much, it is LOVELY to see your face and name. See you in Melbs soon!

  • Trish Hammond 5 July 2018, 4:39 pm

    Will love eacorting you on your journey. Thrilling times ahead.

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 7:35 pm

      Thank you so much, Trish! I will love having your traveling expertise along for the ride. (Should be less eventful than some of your India drives?!) xo

  • Freyja 5 July 2018, 5:02 pm

    Only stay at places with y. steam box hook ups! (and all will be well)

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 7:35 pm

      Haha, thanks! 🙂

  • Liz Wiltzen 5 July 2018, 5:42 pm

    Oh I am waiting with bated breath to see what you see Ro! Despite being Canadian, I find every time I am in conversation about the current escapades in the States, I say ‘We, us, our…’, so I am weighing in as a Canmercan.

    Here’s what I know about the place – there are countless good hearts beating in that vast country. I’m building my own collection and my world is elevated because of them. Can’t wait to hear about your growing collection. 🙂

    • rowan 5 July 2018, 7:35 pm

      Thank you, Liz. I’m absolutely convinced of the presence of those hearts (well, I’m already surrounded by them!), and in fact that’s really what this project is. Finding them, sharing their stories. I’d love for you to come along with me. xo

      • Liz Wiltzen 6 July 2018, 12:41 am

        I will be there, like gum on you shoe!

        • rowan 6 July 2018, 8:15 pm

          <3

  • Tricia Elliott 5 July 2018, 8:58 pm

    Ro, I can’t wait to see our country through your eyes! When I think about how to respond to your question, a BK quote comes up: we all love you, we just don’t know it yet.

    Any chance you’re driving near Minnesota?

    • rowan 6 July 2018, 8:17 pm

      Thank you, dear Tricia! That’s a great feeling.

      Alas, we’ll be driving pretty far south of Minnesota… are you there? I thought you were in Alaska.

      • Tricia Elliott 6 July 2018, 9:57 pm

        I am in Alaska, for the moment. Next week my girls and I will be in MN visiting family and friends (I grew up in Duluth). It’s an endearing place — I expect my accent will come back and we’ll eat hot dish and jello salad and generally avoid overt emotional expression… I exaggerate, but there’s some truth to all this. Anyhow, I figured you’d be taking a more southerly route, but I had to ask

        • rowan 7 July 2018, 5:57 pm

          Ha! This is great. I hope you have an enjoyable trip… and don’t shirk on the jello salad. It helps to deal with the emotional emptiness… 😀

          Wish we could see you. It’ll happen at some point, I am 100% sure.

  • Rebecca Tolin 5 July 2018, 10:05 pm

    Act is if you love America no matter what! It seems to be an American.
    Fun and zany travels to you and the fam, Ro! This patchwork of peculiar states is lucky to have you. XO

    • Rebecca Tolin 5 July 2018, 10:07 pm

      It seems to be an American thing, that is!

      • rowan 6 July 2018, 8:17 pm

        Ha! Love it. Thanks, Rebecca!

  • Sean Mangan 5 July 2018, 10:53 pm

    John Prine. Mark Twain. John Hartford. Annie Proulx. Ben Franklin. Will Rogers. Eugene Debs. Ursula K LeGuin. Raymond Chandler. Donna Tartt. Muddy Waters. Dave Van Ronk. John Steinbeck. Robert Pirsig. Ernest Hemingway, in spite of everything. Clarence Darrow. Bob Dylan, in spite of everything. Toni Morrison. Jesse Winchester. Aretha Franklin. Janis Joplin. Jack Kerouac. Ella Fitzgerald. Billie Holiday. Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks. Richard Feynman. Buckminster Fuller. Kris Kristofferson. Guy Clark. Bonnie Raitt. Emily Dickinson. Dorothy Parker. Randy Newman. Jack London. Bessie Smith. Harper Lee. Barbara Kingsolver. Peter Matthiessen. Taj Mahal. Utah Phillips. Gillian Welch. Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Herman Melville. Betty Friedan. Joyce Carol Oates. Charles Bukowski. Townes Van Zandt. Kate Wolf. How can you not love a country like that?

    • rowan 6 July 2018, 8:18 pm

      You make a solid point. Well argued.

      I couldn’t, it looks like.

  • Sean Mangan 5 July 2018, 10:55 pm

    Whoops. Lyle Lovett.

  • Kat 6 July 2018, 9:59 pm

    Download the Hamilton cast album. It’s good road trip music and there’s a lot of America up in it.

    • rowan 7 July 2018, 5:56 pm

      Ooooh, fab tip! Hopefully we’ll get to see it soon in New York. Is it easy to follow the album without having seen the musical?

      • Kat 9 July 2018, 12:09 am

        I’d say it’s easier to follow on the album than in person, given that the theater I saw it in was not acoustically optimized for fast rapping. There is really only one part of the stage production left out of the album, so you’re good. Do monitor in the second act whether you can drive well while weeping, however!

        • rowan 9 July 2018, 2:32 am

          This is excellent advice. I’m so excited! Ready to weep and LEARN.

  • Paul Werner 14 July 2018, 6:06 am

    Keep it coming

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