“We do not take a trip; a trip takes us,” John Steinbeck noted in his 1962 classic, Travels with Charley. In 2008, Bill Barich decided to explore the mood of the United States as Steinbeck had done almost a half century before. He set off on a 5,943 mile cross-country drive from New York to his old hometown of San Francisco on Route 50, a road twisting through the American heartland.
Long Way Home is the stunning result of his pilgrimage. From the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the spectacular landscape of Moab, Utah, to Steinbeck’s own Salinas Valley, the book is filled with memorable encounters and rich in history and local color; a truthful, inspired account of a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It offers an incisive portrait of a nation divided and the grassroots dissatisfaction that ultimately catapulted Donald Trump into the White House. From the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the spectacular landscape of Moab, Utah, to Steinbeck's own Salinas Valley, filled with memorable encounters and redolent with history and local color, Long Way Home is a truthful, inspiring account of the country at a social and political crossroad.
If there is one idea that defines America, it is the belief that taking a long road trip is the best way to define America. In this perceptive, optimistic reprise of John Steinbeck's 1962 Travels with Charley, Barich reveals the heartland along a Delaware Kansas San Francisco axis of narrow highways through small towns during the 2008 election campaign and economic collapse. Barich allows that this slice of Middle America is whiter, more rural, and more Republican than the country as a whole. It's also, one feels, a traveler's America of cheap motels and lousy chain restaurants, of passing conversations with storekeepers and hospitality workers used to putting up a genial, guarded front for potential customers. (He does get people to divulge their political views, which are an unpredictable mix of sensible concerns and Limbaughesque balderdash.) Barich offers lighthearted travelogue and pithy sketches Coloradans are "fair and square-jawed, with excellent teeth and no sense of irony" but also darker reflections on strip-mall blight, vacant hero worship at a Sarah Palin rally, and Indiana's dejected, crystal meth numbed backwoods. His insights aren't earthshaking immigrants are still striving, teens are still idealistic but Barich is a diverting commentator on the landscape streaming past the car window.