Friday, May 13, 2005

A cross-country trip? What a cool idea...

A couple of NBC News Producers are starting a cross-country trip tomorrow and will be posting commentary, photos, and video from their trip at their Independent America blog. Their mission:

We're on the lookout for "Mom & Pop" -- producing our own road movie across the United States. More than ever it seems like it's Independent America vs. Corporate Chain store America. We're hunting for those pressure points along with our black lab Miles. We've vowed to make our 52-day trip without setting one tire on an interstate highway--without setting one foot inside a corporate chain restaurant, motel or store.

As someone who has traveled across country and back--twice--I'm very interested in what they will find. I've attempted the trip using some of the same premises that they are and have a few thoughts:

  1. This is a really cool idea.
  2. Avoiding chain restaurants and stores should not be too difficult. However, the one thing about a chain (especially a restaurant) is that you know what you're getting, for better or worse. When I took the second of my two cross-country trips (a solo trek in 1998) I had in mind the same thing, but found that I was taking my health into my own hands at some of the places I ate. Interestingly, when I did the trip with my Grandmother, aunt, brother, and two cousins in 1986, the best food we ate on the trip was almost always at small restaurants (The Purple Cow in Beattyville, Ky. especially stands out). I don't know if I just had better luck the first time, or if competitive pressures have made mom-and-pops worse over the years, but I suspect the answer is the former. The other part of this that they might find difficult is if they get to a small town late (say after 8:00), it's entirely possible that the chain restaurant or store is the only thing open. Still, as I look back on my solo trip, I wish I'd done more of this.
  3. Avoiding chain motels will also be easy, but I'll be impressed if they can keep that up over the 7+ weeks they're on the road. We stayed almost exclusively in these types of hotels on our trip in 1986, and I can tell you that they were always worse than the two Super-8s we stayed at on the same trip (and that's saying something). On my 1998 trip, I expected that I would camp most nights, but the brutal heat that summer (107 degrees in Boise, Idaho!) forced me indoors.
  4. I wish them the best in avoiding Interstates completely. I doubt they can do it. When we traveled in 1986, we did about as well as possible in this regard, sometimes going miles out of our way just to avoid a four-lane highway, but there are places where you just don't have any choice without resorting to some nearly impossible (or impassable) roads. Looking at their map, I'd say there are a couple of areas in the Southwest where they'll have to bite the bullet. But I hope they can make it. I essentially attempted the same thing when I took the 1998 trip, but had to get on the highway when it became clear that I was running out of money.
I've added their link to the list on my homepage, and will be following them.
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