In search of America

An online acquaintance just finished a trip around America in a small airplane he built himself, stopping at towns in the middle of nowhere in search, he said, of America.

His online travelogue featured the usual portrayals of small town life: fire trucks, parades, American flags and Main Streets. Also a heaping helping of his particular religion.

He found the America he wanted to find by the way he defined America and, to be honest, I found myself thinking, “well, that’s cliche.”

I’m a “where does this road go?” kind of guy, a fact that drove my kids crazy back in the day when they were given no choice but to learn where roads lead.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in New Lisbon, Wisc., at a fly-in at the local airport featuring hot rods, fire trucks, airplanes and these.

And I found myself thinking, “Well, ain’t that America?”

Same thing I thought a few years ago when I visited the harvest in St. Charles.

Mena Kaehler brings a plate of cookies to her brother in law, Ed, who is harvesting corn on property he rents from the Kaehlers. Photo: Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News | File

And I thought the same thing today as I read Kurt Ullrich’s fine op-ed piece, “Friday night lights: It’s who we are, who we want to be,” which celebrates high school football, a cliche for sure.

The American-ness of the whole thing is breathtaking if one pays attention; just ask Willy Loman’s wife who knew a bit about such notions, about paying attention to things often overlooked as inconsequential, mundane, someone else’s happiness. This is important and don’t forget it.

Poems and love stories spring from this stuff, these nights, perhaps from a sweet-breathed, blonde clarinet player in the band who adores a halfback on the bench, or from a middle-school knucklehead punching his buddies, unable to sort out his feelings about anything at all.

The aroma of Autumn drifts across the field by the end of the third quarter, all pumpkin-spiced, apple-fresh and short-days decay, and sweaters are pulled a little tighter on the shoulders and for a brief time a whole bunch of folks are on the same side, cheering, hoping, wishing it would never end because one day it will.

And if this doesn’t interest you then stay home, feel superior, but my friend you’re missing out, you’re really missing out.

These collective definitions — football, tractors, fire trucks — drive our entire national dialogue. They are behind everything. They are, of course, not America. They are a piece of America.

Which brings us to the Friday discussion.

When you go looking for America, where do you look?