"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called." ~ John Stuart Mill
Ten Good Things About America
"Well, I get tired of hearing it's a crummy world and that people are no damn good." ~ Robert Fulghum
I flew over the country last October, flying diagonally from Seattle to Miami . Once aloft, the plane passed over the Cascade Mountains. Mount Rainier, Washington, east of Seattle , looked like the top of a snow cone, and I pressed my nose to the window.
I looked down on this great land for 3,000 miles (had a crick in my neck the next day), looking at my country, looking at little Western towns, rivers, unknown country ponds and lakes. Did anyone ever fish in them? Swim in them?
I've got a lot of gypsy in me. I've crossed and re-crossed this country every which way, north to south, west to east, Texas to Michigan several times. I even circled North America on a bicycle, alone but never lonely, 10,000 miles of gypsiness. I'm not much good at making money in America (never seemed to get the knack), but I'm a tremendous vagabond, a wonderful wanderer.
Too often we read about the bad things in life. TV news is the worst culprit for negativity. Admittedly, I'm probably the second worst. So today, I challenged myself to try and find ten good things about America . To see the good and praise it.
1. Wild Nature. No other country in the world has so much accessible wild nature. Whether one is conservative, liberal, green or anarchist, most of us have united to preserve large chunks of relatively pristine land. Life is not an indoor sport, and wild America in at the top of my list.
2. Freedom to Vagabond. I've driven across, bicycled around, motorcycled and hitchhiked across the USA . I've been stopped by cops from numerous states while traveling around the USA . I was nearly arrested in NYC after 9-11, when I windsurfed around the Statue of Liberty . Never once was I mistreated like Rambo by any cop, even while traveling in my 1969 VW hippie van. Vagabonding is an American tradition, as the first Pilgrims or the first Americans walking across the land bridge from the Bering Sea understood so well.
3. Cheap Stuff. We're rich, we Americans, and most of us don't even know it. I can go into any thrift store in almost any town in America and outfit myself in nice clothes for less than ten bucks. Same is true with a garage sale. I don't know how many items I've seen on Antique Road Show that were bought cheap at some garage sale. Sometimes good stuff is just thrown out on the curb. I found an antique chest of drawers thrown out; only needed one small repair. I suppose if you looked long enough you could probably furnish a house with what you find on the curb or in the alley.
4. The Internet. Whether we're on the political Left, Right or Center, the Internet is truly the last bastion of free speech: unfettered, outrageous, impassioned speech as Tom Paine and Sam Adams enjoyed it. Three cheers for editors who actually allow a writer to write! Three cheers for essayists who expand their literary width and breadth in the last place possible--The Internet. Until the so-called leaders of the Free World figure out a way to censor or abolish the Internet (and believe me, the bastards are trying), I intend to use the 'Net or lose it.
5. Cheap Gas. Despite predictions of $100 barrel oil by next Christmas, gas is as cheap as it's ever been in history. At least it is in America . Of course, my bicycle gets a thousand miles to the gallon (needs an occasional drop of oil) and my motorcycle gets 75 MPG, but gas is comparatively cheap. I almost feel like buying a real car! Of course, if I do, I'm certain the price of gasoline will skyrocket.
6. Cheap Food. If you know where to look, good, cheap food is readily available. I once passed a burst grain storage elevator in North Dakota . Tons and tons of dried green peas everywhere. Nobody stopped to pick them up but lots of people stopped at the Tastee Freeze. Here in Florida, we have Family Dollar stores that specialize in generic brands; on the West coast they're called 99 Cent stores. Rich and poor people shop there. Of course, Americans love to eat fast foods foolishly, but that's the great thing about freedom--you have the freedom to choose what sort of fuel to stuff in your body, wholesome foods or slow poisons.
7. Good Roads. I'm surprised when I find good roads where I least expect them. They are all over the country (some of the best in North Dakota ). A hundred years ago they were muddy tracks. Now I can bike, motorcycle or van anywhere, even to Alaska .
8. A Diversity of Diversion. Pascal correctly observed that mindless diversion leads us to death. We have good television and bad television, good books and bad, good music and bad. It all depends on who's doing the listening, reading, watching. But freedom of choice allows a person to make mature decisions and determine what is mindless and what isn't. America is where wisdom and folly live side-by-side and sometimes dine together, unable to tell each other apart. Who has not been diverted one moment and inspired the next? That's America .
9. Good Tools. After the first immigrants stepped ashore on Plymouth Rock, the first thing they unloaded was a box of tools. The newest immigrant quickly learns to use tools and starts work in the building trades or service industry. The rich man has a garage full of tools. The poor man uses the simplest tools and encourages his kids to learn to use more complex ones so he too may become rich. We're the most inventive tool users who've ever lived, and no matter where you go, from Key West, Florida to the Arctic Circle in Alaska, you can hear the sounds of tools. Tool users unite this country--and quite often the very people who must work together. Whether we're a die-hard conservative or a bleeding heart liberal, we can laugh and complain together while hammering nails.
10. Inherent Decency. White, black, brown, yellow or red, Americans are pretty decent people. Sure we used to slaughter each other in ethnic wars, but we mostly learned not to do that, at least not here at home. One day we may even teach our leaders not to slaughter people. Yes, folks, Robert Fulghum is right: people are pretty good here in America . Take away their political posturing, turn off the talk radios or Fox news, put them all into some desperate situation, some tornado, flash flood or earthquake, and most Americans, ingenious sons and daughters of pioneers, will find a way to help each other.
Most Americans question authority. Most of us trust the state about as much as we trust a cantankerous horse--we know enough not to walk behind it and to keep an eye on that mouthful of teeth!
Most Americans will help a neighbor, maybe even a stranger. We hate charlatans and hucksters but we're easily fooled (We have the best charlatans and hucksters in the world--Ivy-League educated). I believe the average American is better than the average American leader, and the same holds true worldwide--the average Russian or Englishmen is better than their leaders. Indeed, I believe we Americans, no matter what or who we are, have more in common with the average, bigoted workman, black-shirted anarchist, liberal tree hugger, Born-Again Christian conservative, angry homeless fellow or inner city black kid than we do with anyone in Washington D.C .
We Americans just don't realize that truism--most of us--that we have more in common with each other than not. Readers may write me with additional "good" things I may have overlooked. I just realized I neglected to mention the public library! (I wrote my novel here).