It’s a commonplace to say that no one can interpret America without understanding our use of automobiles, but I think what we really mean is that one doesn’t comprehend the United States without taking into account our mobility, and preeminently that means roadways, perhaps the most American of symbols, one even more functionally representative than the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore. We are a widely dispersed and numerous people bound together by three million miles of painted stripes atop concrete and asphalt.
Despite assertions to the contrary, exceptional is the magazine editor who truly trusts in the intelligence and creativity of his readership. How many times from an editorial desk have I heard, “Our audience won’t understand this.” “This” being an idea, a word, sentence construction, sentence length, literary allusion, historical reference, or a brief digression underpinning an idea. Too few editors grant American readers much capacity or willingness to think critically, just as they believe their audience will not tolerate a vocabulary beyond the basic five or six thousand words in common usage. If I formerly thought editors were wrong on those questions, now I believe my argument is weaker. Evidence of America getting “dumbed down” in self-fulfilling ways grows apace.
To my surprise, I’ve liked doing the restitution of the pieces here as I’ve liked returning details and sentence structures I dared not even try with an editorial practitioner of the hack-and-hew school....
We have no travels planned for this winter, but we are happy to have plenty of travel books at hand.