by Kevin May
So, for those of you who have been following this all or part of the way round, that´s it. We´ve reached the end of the road. Thank you for sticking with it, and apologies for the daily intrusions into your Facelogs, Tweetboxes and LinkedHoles. That´s all over now.
For those of you who´ve only dipped in occasionally – and daily posts of around 3000 words have been too much for even me at times – you should know I´ve bought the URL for a year, so I´ll leave this stuff up here until Aug 2012 if you want to come back.
After that it´ll almost certainly come down: either it will have petered out to nothing and not be worth continuing, or it will have proved so wildly popular that it will cost me more than I´d be prepared to pay to renew it. So, you have 315 days to get through whatever bits still take your fancy. It was never my intention to promote this story, simply to make it available to those who were interested in reading it.
I´m writing this epilogue today, on 10th October 2011. The only other bit written this year was the introduction. Everything else was first tapped out on my keyboard back in the weeks following my return to the UK in the fall of 2001. The only editing I allowed myself along the way this year was to change certain spellings and terminology – like fall instead of autumn – so as to be more readily understood by an American audience (as most of the readership appears to have come from the western side of the Atlantic). Tempting as it´s been to update my perspective on things, I´ve resisted that even when it´s allowed my ridiculous naivety and/or ignorance to show through at times.
If I´d tried to assemble any sorts of conclusions back in 2001, I´d probably have said the two things that most characterized Americans – certainly in comparison to the people on the other side of The Pond – would be an accentuated level of common decency and a generally positive outlook. Most Americans seem to have a greater sense of community and care for one another, and they go out of their way to look on the bright side. I´ve not met a single American whose reaction to the idea of driving round the 48 states in 48 days was anything but congratulatory, in stark contrast to the general “What the hell was the point of that?” attitude I frequently encountered back home.
For those of you who don´t know me personally – and astonishingly there are some who´ve been reading this who fall into that category – you may be interested to learn that I moved out to America with Christine at the beginning of 2006. We now have a pair of Green Cards and a spectacular American daughter called Charlotte. And there are no signs of us returning to the UK any time soon.
After living here for almost six years, I can confirm those initial impressions from back in 2001: Americans are fundamentally decent and positively minded folks. The other observation I might have made back in 2001 is that, despite the wealth of diversity afforded by the country, perhaps the general homogeneity of the place was even more striking than all the differences. People from all geographies, social backgrounds and economic strata all seemed to buy into a similar value-set and believe in the same story. Being an American always came first, regardless of the sometimes extreme lifestyle dichotomies that existed alongside this consciousness.
Now I´m not so sure. The past five years has seen an increasing polarization of people broadly along the lines of political sympathies. I can´t think of many gay people who know many churchgoers and engage with them as people. Or vice versa. The tendency is much more just to objectify them as some kind of “other”. The same could be said of weed-smokers and gun license holders, Hummer drivers and those who´ve had an abortion, environmentalists and hunters, and dozens of other examples. These days, Americans are living more and more in a Them and Us world and demonizing anyone from the other side. You either watch Fox News or you watch The Daily Show.
Perhaps this is a consequence of the straitened economic situation that has engulfed most of the population in recent times. If so – and if the world economy continues to march to a tune of increased globalization and technological innovation seeing more and more money being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands – that situation is not going to improve drastically for the middle classes for some time yet. But the best response to a crisis is rarely to stop talking altogether. Just look at the Greeks and the Germans.
But what the fuck do I know? I couldn´t even find a publisher for this story ten years ago despite the drama of 911 sitting right in the middle of it, and a publicity boost when Virgin chose to feature it on a national tv advertising campaign.
What I do know though, is that the USA remains one of the most remarkable countries in the world, and I can now understand why so few Americans ever choose to leave its borders. There aren´t many things that can be done much better elsewhere that aren´t available within the lower 48. I´d heartily recommend any of 47 of those states. Just don´t bother going to Oklahoma.
Thank you again, and goodnight. It´s been a pleasure having you along for the ride.