Those of you who are familiar with the history of the space program may well recognize the Mercury astronauts' reference to themselves. Though no astronaut, I could certainly sympathize after spending six of ten days curled into my car driving 4000+ miles out to Tucson, AZ and back.
Along the way I visited the 51st state. In fact I spent more time in the 51st state than I did in Arizona. I spent four days in AZ, but spent 6 days in "Inter-State", USA. Inter-State is that blur of Best Westerns, Days Inns, fast food, gas stations, on ramps and exits that twine across our country like asphalt ivy. Larger geography- states, regions and landscapes - doesn't seem to matter all that much; Inter-State is Inter-State. The occasional urban traffic scrum is even very similar whether it be Dallas-Ft. Worth, Memphis, or Atlanta.
The landscapes do change around the boundaries of InterState; the piney scrubland of Arkansas is very different from the vast emptyness of southwest Texas, and both are very different from the wooded highlands of Eastern Tennesee. The idea that smacked me in the forehead while driving west for three days is that the United States is one freakin' big country; 80 mph is a crawl in Texas (and it's even legal in some places). Three days in the car and I would still have had another day if I had wanted to see the Pacific Ocean.
In Texas, I saw stark evidence of the 20th century giving way to the 21st. Less than half of the Midland-Odessa oil wells were pumping while looming behind them on a distant ridgeline to the south were huge wind turbines set in long lines, new power for a new century. By an odd coincidence at nearly the same time I heard an NPR interviewer talking to T. Boone Pickens, putting his money where the wind is. Wind was the dominate idea of the westward leg of my journey as it knocked my car around while also letting me glimpse an oil free future.
I saw tumbleweeds living up to their name; I saw moutains and desertscapes dusted with powdered sugar snow, and everywhere I stopped I saw Americans just living their lives, getting through another day. Of course regional flavors exist, and that is certainly welcome, but we are one nation, one people. After another year of media driven, divisive blue-red politics, that was very comforting to see.
So the 51st state is a unifying rope, tying East to West and North to South. President Eisenhower had a good idea (though I do wish rail would get the same investment as asphalt does.). The United States needed, and still needs, the Inter-State, and I suggest you get out there and visit it every now and then, just take a little more time than I did. 47 year old legs don't recover all that quickly from being spam in a can for three days straight. Get out there and see this country of ours, pick a place you've never been, a friend or family member to visit, the Inter-State will get you there. For me, it got me to Tucson, Arizona, there to surprise my mother for Christmas, and, along the way, to deepen my appreciation for this country of ours. Bon voyage.