The road is America’s preeminent symbol of freedom.
Richard Grant hitchhiked, walked, and drove those roads in a series of travels he described as “memories strung out on a single cord of highway, fourteen years long and headed nowhere in particular.”
He discovered “a roadside culture of wandering rootlessness.” Not a pastoral herding community, but “an aggregation of loosely knit subcultures, crossing and recrossing the same ground on parallel lines”.
In digging deeper into the history of American restlessness, he came to see it as another act in the ancestral human drama — the conflict between settled peoples and nomads.
This prism also scrambled many of America’s most cherished notions of itself.
Where did this uniquely American view of freedom come from?
How did geography shape American nomadism?
And how does this variety of the nomadic experience compare to the traditional nomad cultures I discussed with Anthony Sattin in the previous episode?
I’m joined by the author of two of the best books I’ve read this year.
Richard Grant’s publications include Ghost Riders: Travels With American Nomads (winner of the 2004 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award), God’s Middle Finger, and Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta. He writes for Smithsonian magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph UK, Aeon and several other publications.
We spoke about frontiersmen and plains Indians, riding the rails, and the unique role of the Scotch-Irish in forging the American view of freedom.
These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:
- Ghost Riders: Travels With American Nomads
- Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
- The Deepest South of All: True Stories from Natchez, Mississippi