The Journey to Find America began last night. My 11-year old son Alistair and I got on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited in Albany, NY last night and rode it to Chicago where we changed to the California Zephyr train bound for Denver today.
This trip has been awhile in the making. When I learned that the Human Capital Institute’s conference on Employee Engagement would be held in Denver again this summer, heard Alistair express a clear preference to spend as little time in summer camps as possible during his summer break and learned that my wife Elizabeth’s vacation time was nearing an end, I began plotting this trip.
This afternoon we are sitting in the observation car on the train. We’ve not even ￼crossed the Mississippi into Iowa yet but already the immensity of the Midwest has impressed both of us. It’s a big country and getting to 435 congressional districts across it in the next 15 months seems more daunting sitting here than it did at my desk in Vermont. In particular, I’m wondering if and how I can really begin to change the way we communicate, both in the media and as individuals, about governmental policy.
But even as I worry about this, I find reassurance that when we visit our first district in this endeavor, Thursday in the Colorado 2nd, I will find the right message.
Almost 30 years ago a friend and I embarked on a similarly large travel odyssey. How could it be similarly large to planning to travel to 435 congressional districts? We aimed to visit all 178 professional baseball parks for a game in one season. More than 40 states and several Canadian provinces later we succeeded. During that summer we were asked many times why we were doing it and almost always the answer was…to find out what was different about all these places.
In truth, what we found was a lot of similar people. There were quirky differences in the ballparks (way more than there are in minor league baseball today) and different wacky promotions and regional food but the people were the same. I think they still are.
Watching the news on any given night you are likely to wonder, what happened to this country? Why are we so angry with each other? What could possibly bring us back together? But actually I don’t think we are that far apart as Americans. I think we mostly want similar things and have similar values. So this time around I am out to find commonalities not differences; when Alistair and I hit the road on Thursday to make the long journey back to Vermont through at least ten districts that’s exactly what we will be looking for.