On what aspect of travel makes it worth the risk of rotten steaks and racist preachers
Caldwell's assertion that there are "no memorials, vistas, or landmarks anywhere between the Atlantic and Pacific worthy of going fifty miles to see" struck me as a bit extreme. Immediately, grand icons such as Yellowstone National Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Vietnam Memorial Wall spring to mind. But let's backtrack and put things in perspective: the question, hypothetically, is whether there are memorials, vistas, or landmarks worth the investment of an hour (or $8.25 minimally, by a different scale) anywhere in our country.
Manhattan is 22.7 square miles in area, according to Google, and covering that distance via subway takes about an hour. I know confidently that I'm not the only one to commute that distance for classes and occasionally special events. Outside the city, one can drive 50 miles in about the same amount of time. I've known people to drive more than 70 miles to Philadelphia to run up some steps and have a steak at Pat's. They'll pay $18 to visit the Barnes foundation and ogle paintings. My point, I guess, is that I feel like valuing something at "worthy of going 50 miles" is to set the bar pretty low.
Caldwell's argument that seeing something natural and beautiful is worthless if one does not consider that sight in relation to mankind immediately makes the inclusion of memorials in the initial list irrelevant, as memorials have no meaning when divorced from humanity. I could perhaps argue that natural vistas and landmarks can inspire meditations on geographic shifts or the concept of time, but these things are most interesting in relation to the self, ie to a person. Even so, I don't think that concluding that the worth of visiting such sights is dependent on relativity lowers the value of such an experience to be on par with watching movies at home.
I would even dare posit that being humbled by reminders of our smallness and mortality could make us more patient with each other, so venturing to Loyal Sock Forest to stand under a waterfall would be more than worth the distance.
This is just me being particular about word choice. I understand Caldwell's intention. Of course talking to people during a journey is more fulfilling than simply checking destinations off a culturally dictated list. When Caldwell advocates people-centered travelling, he doesn't mean that people should, for example, go to Lancaster to stare at the Amish. Rather, he means that we should go collect stories, as Hickock did.
But imagine being Hickock during her conversation with the woman-no-longer-on-Relief. The woman's description of her situation--feeling compelled to use sex to cheer up her husband, knowing that her Relief funds will be taken away if she uses them to buy birth control, and fearing the economic burden of another child--is heart-wrenching. We sympathize with her specific situation, and perhaps we empathize with her fear or feeling of being trapped by a faulty system.
Responding to her story with these emotions, especially as readers from almost 80 years later, may inspire us to meditate on our weakness and vulnerability…our smallness and mortality.
Both natural and human-bound prompts to such awareness-raising meditations are accessible less than 50 miles from almost anywhere in our country. The value of travel, then, must be more complicated than was articulated in this particular reading.
(The picture is my own. The hike to this wishing tree is worth making because of the potential for inspiration at the end. Whether that potential stems from being in the middle of the mountains or from being at the symbolic intersection of so many dreams and stories is debatable...)