For a Kinder, Cooler America
 

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THE ATTIC, USA -- The Attic has returned to The Attic.  Right here upstairs.  It's a slant-ceilinged, wooden floored place cluttered with old photos, books, toys, our daughter's doll house... (That's it on the left).

          Since mid-June, The Attic has been on the road -- nine states, 3,500 miles -- in search of a kinder, cooler America. 

          Consider that America found.

          A cooler America was found first in certain people.  More Americans than I imagined live free from the clutter of the digi-culture.  Our spirit of independence has not completely surrendered to corporations, nor to rage, nor resentment.  As if the America on TV were some manic version of the nation, this cooler America, keeping scandals and outrage at bay, is ignoring the madness.  Almost every region we visited was alive with music festivals, small theater, downtown murals, ethnic gatherings...

          A cooler America also lives in cities, including some you would not expect.  Fargo, Bismarck, Sandpoint, Idaho, Bay City, Michigan -- all are preserving their past while striding into a futurecool enough to draw millennials and their curious commerce.  An urban revival is well underway. America's cities were already "great again."

          Yet more common than the cool was the kind.

          The kinder America led people to stop my bike group and, upon learning the tragic story of Charlie, the late son of two riders, whip out a $20, a $50 or once a $100 bill on the spot and give it to Epilepsy Foundation.  No questions asked, no thanks needed.  It happened a dozen times or more.  "This is all I can afford," many said.

          The kinder America lives in bike hostels set up by non-bikers.  These kind Americans, learning that their homes are on the path of a coast-to-coast cycle route, opened their doors to all passing cyclists -- for free.  The kinder America was also in the tiny towns of Montana and North Dakota which let cyclists camp in downtown parks, even keeping the restrooms open.

          The kinder America is the America of the Peace Wizard, whose white beard and purple beret stopped me in my tracks in Washington.  And the history buff who brought coffee to our campsite on the Erie Canal and regaled us with tales of its past.  And the motorcyclist, Iron Butt, riding another thousand miles today...

          But there were disturbing sights.  Confederate flags in Washington, Minnesota, Michigan.  Those stars and bars meant many things in their time.  They mean only one thing so far north, so detached from the Civil War.

          And there were the huge pickups and people, hunkering down with their heads embedded in their past.  Many small towns are mired in nostalgia -- the ubiquitous classic car rallies, the classic shows on bar TVs, classic rock stations -- and not the slightest evidence of anything new since the 1950s.  The rural America we rode through was kind, and some of it was cool, but far too much of it has rejected the 21st century. 

          It was sad to see an old home auctioned for a song in Hebron, North Dakota, but sadder still is the fate of people who believe such events can be rolled back.

          Like time itself, the American road rolls on.  If I had my way, I would require all Americans to cross the country, overland, at least once.  Only by road, coast-to-coast, do you begin to understand the immensity of the place, the variety of people and their pastimes, the triumph and tragedy of the history.  Only by hitting the road can you get beyond yourself, your safe haven, and what you think you know about your country. 

          "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness," Mark Twain wrote, "and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

          The Attic, now back in the Attic, agrees. 

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