The Great American Road Trip, Day 1

We lit out for the territory at five in the morning. Not really the territory, b

ut certainly the thick of it where American dreams are meshed together with the bureaucratic

 

 messiness of politics. Our nation’s glorified capital: Washington, D.C.

                I wouldn’t be writing this blog about a road trip except I just finished Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which Hunter S. Thompson, champion of gonzo journalism, chronicles his drug-frenzied adventures in Las Vegas. Maybe I could recreate his magic sans narcotics and hallucinogens.

                I was given the opportunity to go yesterday and being of impulsive and less-than-responsible mind, I agreed immediately. My parents have been planning this trip to meet with my brother in Virginia. Soon, he will finish his internship with a hospital there—he’s staying for the meantime with his girlfriend’s family whom we will also meet.

                But this blog shan’t be about girlfriends or even simply our national monuments. But a deep and contemplative (naturally) study of what makes America tick. So armed with a truck packed with suitcases, a cooler, and a laptop, we (a quite modern, nuclear American family if you don’t count my mom whose British) left at five in the morning.

                At around 9:30, when I rose from a groggy half-consciousness, I began to see billboards of a singularly absurd variety. Looming signs with a small Mexican man flaunting fajitas and riding a mule—a great manifestation of our grand ability for stereotyping. Twenty miles later, I continued to see similar signs with increasingly desperate marketing: South of the Border, home of Pedro.

                Of course we stopped for a bathroom break at this world’s greatest tourist trap. The colors blinded me as we drove up upon this massive Mexican theme park in the midst of North Carolina. The first I saw of it was a water tower, easily visible in the distance, shaped like an immense sombrero. This place was both pathetic and fantastic, like a racist man’s dream vacation.

                This is cultural exploitation at its best.

                You get so blown away by the sights that you may miss the dilapidated motel, scoured with graffiti or the disused gas station, the pumps hanging limply across the ground like a family of dead snakes. Everywhere, an attraction: Pedro’s Diner, Pedro’s Mexico Shop, Pedro’s Picnic Area, Pedro’s Fun Park with roller coasters, arcades, and gaudy concrete statues everywhere.

                We parked between a hot dog stand (outside of which is a statue of a bright red wiener dog) and a statue of Pedro waving at us from above an ice cream parlor, the stucco walls screaming pastel green. Across the street was a huge fireworks stand called Rocket city. Outside a concrete rocket pointed towards the sky like a sacred totem pole worshipping gunpowder, a phallus-shaped monument to ka-boom.

                This is the sort of place that’s got six t-shirt shops, one simply selling shirts with MYRTLE BEACH written across them. This is the sort of place where you pay $140 dollars for a family of any size to spend a week—exactly what the brochure said.

                Outside the hot dog stand, a band of a hundred or so bikers performed a strange initiation ritual. A sign loomed above them: Buy discount tickets here for Disney World, Universal, and Sea World. Here in North Carolina, they sold discounts for amusement parks 250 miles away. The bikers, tattooed on their arms and faces, with big bushy beards and long braided pony tails, they danced ballet in unison. I swear—I even have a video to prove it.

                Here—the epitome of good American thinking. I think I’ve stumbled upon something great, this great Wally-World-esque tourist trap. On our way to Washington D.C., I’m glad I got a good look at America. We’re driving now through North Carolina and still here—more billboards. For the world’s largest wig store and the world’s largest cigar store. America, I congratulate you on your sheer audacity.

Next up: TOPLESS, TOPLESS, TOPLESS. Strip club and adult toys.

I hope Barack Obama will read my blog: if not, I’ll tell him to when I run into him.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on May 27, 2011, in The Great American Road Trip. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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