I think I already “got” the coasts, but that big bit in the middle — those ghastly “Red States” — had eluded my intellectual grasp. In Europe, and also from the American Northeast, we sneer at these cowboys in the centre. Their conservative values, their ignorance, their obscene trucks.
I drove up from Denver in a monstrous SUV (free upgrade) headed for Casper, Wyoming. My map showed a road cutting through the mountains north of Cheyenne, so I decided to put the Jeep through its paces. For three hours I meandered on dirt tracks with nary a soul in sight. Fact number one: a Prius would have never survived this trip. The SUV, certainly a disgrace in New York, is essential in the mountains. As it happened, I still got a flat, but it was largely my fault for skidding on the gravel around every turn. Changing the tyre also gave me the chance to ponder the True Meaning of America.
Spring had arrived on the Plains and it was warm. Still, it was easy to imagine, especially when the wind picked up, how perishingly cold this place must get. A six-month winter, and the utter isolation of many of the communities that abound in the West, would lend, I think, to a certain detachment from the wider world. So, fact number two: asking the Montana mountain man when it’s minus 40 outside to worry about a black single mother in a LA ghetto is asking him to imagine life on Mars. For one thing, no-one is bailing him out of the snow. Which leads to fact number three: do not ask him to worry about the world. His town is his world.
So there you have it. Ronan gets America.
Oh, and one other fact: the Hispanics are coming. Somewhere in Nowhere, Wyoming I was searching for a radio station. There were four: one, a fundamentalist Bible station. The other three, Spanish.
(My thoughts on Martin’s Cove, Wyoming, are posted at By Common Consent.)