Heat-Moon's Reason for Traveling
I found William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways to be very different fromt the other road trip texts that we've read in class. While his interactions with the road and the people on the road are similar to the others we've seen, his mindset is different. Through the previous authors we have explored where the inherent American urge or need to travel comes from. All of our authors felt the need to travel and Steinbeck described this as,
"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked."
Heat-Moon however, is not itched to travel like the others. It does not seem like he is looking for answers to an existential question like Kerouac and Woolfe. I also don't think he is trying to get to know the true America like Beauvoir and Steinbeck. At first, Heat-Moon's goals for travel are difficult to pinpoint because he leaves so suddenly without planning. He is having a hard time in life and on a whim in the middle of the night, decides to get up and go. Unlike the others, he does not plan his trip or even his route. He randomly chooses small towns to visit (oftentimes based on their name) and follows backroads. The only real introduction we get to the trip is when Heat-Moon says:
"Accompanied only by a small, gray spider crawling the dashboard (kill a spider and it will rain), I drove into the street, around the corner, through the intersection, over the bridge, onto the highway. I was headed to toward those little towns that get on the map --if they get on at all--only because some cartographer has a black space to fill: Remote, Oregon, Simplicity, Virginia, New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi. Igo, California (just down the road from Ono), here I come."
Through reading passages of the story, I came to the conclusion that Heat-Moon's reasons for traveling are simple. He uses the American road to find himself in a time in his life where he has nothing to lose.
This whole idea is apparent in his style and structure of narrative. He tells his stories randomly without much introduction or explanation. He even talks about his reason for this:
"Reading my notes of the trip -- images, bits of conversations, ideas --I hunted for a structure of the events, but randomness was the rule."
It's as though he isn't writing this book for anyone but himself, which parallels his whole road trip. He is on the road for self discovery. He meets people and sees places but he is more concerned with just doing and experiencing and doesn't really set out to do anything in particular. He kind of just lets everything happen to him rather than setting out with intentions and goals. Again, he has nothing to lose.
The reason for this extensive trip is really summarized in the scene where he is in the mountains at a diner and strikes up a conversation with his waitress. She wants to know why he is traveling and asks:
"Whata you lookin' for?"
Like anyone else, I'm embarrassed to eat in from of a watcher, particularly if I'm sting interviewed. "Why don't you have a cup of coffee?"
"Cain't right now. You gonna tell me?"
"I don't know how to describe it to you. Call it harmony"