The reception that we received Friday in Greenville which was followed by the potluck supper at the community center which coincided with the staging of the evening’s classic car cruise-in all conspired to create a Mayberry-like atmosphere in this small American town. Then that that evening after the sun had set and the neon marquee of the Globe theatre had lit up, I was at the local Dairy Queen when Ron and Roland showed up. We stood outside under the soft moonlight and we watched locals gather and families cruise through the parking lot and, for this day at least, we had become part of this community.
Yet this feeling is not unique to Greenville. When I am exploring the United States, I feel as if I am already a part of every community because each one is distinctly and comfortably American. Towns, like people, are the same whether you are in Colorado or Kansas, New York or New Mexico, Washington or Wyoming. My awareness of this came years ago when I was riding through the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. After an intense canopy run, the road spat me out into a rural town that lay in a valley. Before me at the crossroads in this ordinary American town, a high school football team was practicing before a Blue Ridge mountain backdrop. This image has stayed with me for more than a decade and I think this resonance stems from seeing the thread of something ordinary (football practice) woven into a setting (a Maryland valley) that was new to me. It was a true-life Norman Rockwell image – but with a twist.
Rockwell often explained that he didn’t paint America as it was – he painted it as he would like it to be. I love Norman Rockwell and if he were alive I would certainly invite him to ride with me. Because when I’m astride a motorcycle America already IS how I’d like it be. And if you rode with us on US 40 between Greenville and Indianapolis you would have seen this in the covered bridges. You would recognized it in the bronze statue of Lincoln that sits across from the former state capital of Vandalia in Illinois. You would have seen folk art displays like the stainless steel dinosaur and Gateway Arch replica; folk art created by self-taught artists for no other reason other than they wanted to create something like stainless steel dinosaurs and replicas of the Gateway Arch.
I also saw America in people mowing their yards on a warm Midwest Saturday, in the high school kids waving posters to announce a car wash, and in the small whitewashed churches by the roadside.
America isn’t something displayed on an insurance agency’s calendar. It’s not restricted to a Fourth of July sales ad. America is not the exclusive domain of any political party or flag-waving car dealership or corporation.
It is this land. It is us.
And it is yours when you choose to put on your helmet, start up your motorcycle, and re-discover America.