SUMMING UP: Observations and Conclusions
I wasn't looking for any great discoveries or goals when I set out, more experience and observation for their own sake. Still, some appeared unbidden:
- A LARGE part of the West is nothing but desert. Hundreds of miles of it. 'Desert' here meaning scrubby brown earth, with persistent if dry vegetataion, not flowing dunes or cactus-studded plains.
- A major part of the Midwest, having been developed under the Homestead Act, is laid out in perfect, usually green, squares. A little monotonous to drive. It sometimes feels like a giant board game.
- In L.A., we have one country station and lots of other types. In most states, MOST stations are country. Or Christian.
- Small towns are dying rapidly (though the Internet may still reverse that flight.) And more and more depend on chains (often near the highway) for things like food and transient lodging.
My own ancestors typify the move out of small towns. The Wilhoites and the Richcreeks were both solidly rooted in the communities they originally came from. Yet few members of either family still live in the 'homes' of these lines.
- Regional accents seem to be being smoothed out by TV and perhaps education. Once, I suspect, you could close your eyes and know what part of the country you were in by how people spoke. Not anymore, at least, not in any of the major centers.
- A few props - street cars, horse-drawn carriages, even gondolas - are becoming the cliches of urban renewal.
- Towns everywhere are FAR more conscious of using their history to attract tourists. There's hardly an area that doesn't have an 'historical' section somewhere in it.
- An increasing number of cemetaries are putting their information on computers (often with the help of volunteer genealogists.)
- Though we've all read colorful epitaphs, in fact a surprising number of headstones have no words at all beyond the name. Just dates.
- EVERY library, no matter how small, now has Internet access (of a sort.)
- In the Midwest, especially, there's hardly a diner or a luncheonette. They're all 'cafes'. Same burgers and breakfast specials, no lattes, but that's what they're called. 'Cafes'.
- A nice home style meal in a little local dive probably exists. Somewhere. But when you see 'home cooking' on a roadside place, it probably just means the food comes out of the same cans people use at home. Except for the pies. People still take pride in their pies.
- America's one big supermarket (i.e., there aren't many places where you can't buy pretty much everything you can buy at home.)
- The East is noticeably greener, and richer, and more steeped in history. Logically enough, but it really strikes you when you start to hit Ohio and Pennsylvania. Conversely, the West in many ways is still a developing frontier.
- The trees along the thruways in the East pretty much all look the same, until you get to Georgia, where they're mostly tall thin pines. Which remains true until near Lousiana, where a tree with large, fern-like leaves predominates. Then you're in Texas, where trees are probably illegal...
- Don't underestimate waterways - they were once a major form of transportation.
- An awful lot of cities have SOMETHING going for them (which I suspect was less true a few decades back.)
- Almost every Southern city has a Martin Luther King Boulevard (guilt?).
In personal terms, I've now seen one great-grandfather's grave and the houses of my Virginian great-great-grandparents. No small thing for a rootless New Yorker. And I have a far better idea of where my people came from and who they were. Though I still don't know exactly what that means to me.
But hey, it's a start.
North Hollywood, CA
LAST UPDATED: March 2003