By Tom Ehrich
This isn't a "new year's resolution," because there's no "should" in it. Call it a "new year's itch."
I want to discover the "open road" -- whatever that means in 2014.
I don't mean going back to age 16, when the "open road" was anywhere that I could drive on my own. I don't mean the extraordinary cross-country drive I took at age 22, from New York City to the Oregon coast. That uncluttered highway through vacant lands is gone forever. Nor do I mean my romantic excursions around New England while courting my wife.
This isn't anything "retro": re-discovering, re-visiting, re-claiming. There might be good memories in the "re," but no life.
I want to see life in America as it is today. I get good glimpses when I travel on business. That's air travel, of course, or, if I'm lucky, railroad. Now I want to see my homeland by automobile.
In my dream scenario, I will gas up a fun-to-drive car and set out for a destination that holds promise if I ever got there, or could be skipped if something better came along.
Drive a few hours each day, take what William Least Heat Moon called the "blue highways" (state roads), hope to find a bed-and-breakfast for the night. Take notes and photos, research the lesser-known places, do lots of daydreaming, and write.
It seems that my homeland is caught in a nostalgia trap. Many people simply want to go back in time. Retro music, retro architecture, retro clothing -- as if modernity held no promise.
Some try to freeze towns, churches and schools in yesterday, as if wealth could buy yesterday and political campaigning could demand it.
I agree that 2013 has had some issues, and so will 2014. But this is the time we have, and we can make it better. What we can't do is dismiss the present day as unimportant and time-travel backwards. We need to see today for what it is, warts and all.
This imagined tour isn't about grinding axes. It is about seeing with fresh eyes.