Impermanent Interactions Along the Road
Hickok, Adamic, and Pyle each are travelers, setting out on their journeys for various and with various goals, and recording them in their respective writings: One Third of a Nation
, My America
, and Home Country
The travels of Hickok originate through her role as an investigator for Harry L. Hopkins, who is the administrator of FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration), and her task to develop confidential and sometimes completely anonymous reports on “one third of a nation” and their struggles. As we read through her accounts, however, it becomes clear that her originally observation-based investigation, for which she was directed to report “her own reaction, as an ordinary citizen,” develops into a chain of intense emotional encounters into which she is inescapably drawn. Her reports are filled with vivid imagery, yet rather than telling long, descriptive tales of one or a few people like many Great Depression writers, she provides us with an experience much closer to flipping through a photo album than reading a book. This is not to say it is any less effective; it is, perhaps, more effective in its ability to show the reader (whether we are aware of this effect or not) the great number of people and places affected by this period of time, yet simultaneously makes us recognize those masses and statistics each as individual people, each with their own eviction problems or smaller mouths to feed. Thus we are able to understand the gravity of the situation as a whole, while comprehending the personal plights of those suffering (reminiscent of the zoom-in, zoom-out effect creates by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath).
Adamic is also a writer, but introduces himself and his travels in a very different way. As we realize is to emphasize the pathetic state of the hitchhiking girl brought to the story soon after, he begins in a state of pleasure, making note of what we might consider small luxuries, concerning his recent stay in Cleveland, his warm clothes, and heated car. Unlike the Hickok piece where we have no choice to sit and chew her direct ties with those affected by the Depression, Adamic seems to have no connection to it whatsoever – and then, bam! He (and we) are hit with a face-to-face encounter with a little poster girl of the times, tattered, beaten, broke, abandoned, the like. He feeds her, buys her cigarettes, drives her hundreds of miles and gives her some money for the road; among all of this she tells him her story, likely without any realization she would be part of a story the minute she entered his car.
In Chapter IV of Home Country
, Pyle retells the tales shared by those stuck in the drought bowl; inserted among these stories are intensely descriptive paragraphs describing, for example, the damage done by the grasshoppers. In Chapter XXXI, he speaks of the extent and the depths to which he has traveled over the years, almost to the point of boasting, yet then brings us back down by revealing his motivations to travel.
Which is the point where these three pieces seemed most to overlap. Though the first steps for each writer are rather different, as well as the level of interaction with faces of the Depression, it seems all three experience the strange tinge of sadness that comes with interrelating with others through travel. Hickok seems to be stuck in a revolving door of struggle after sorrow, and it is hard to imagine some of her passion is not rooted in her frustration with her inability to somehow aid each person she encounters. The end of Adamic’s piece is certainly traced with some detached sorrow, or perhaps sorrow as a result of detachment. His experience with the hitchhiking girl is a poignant one, and regardless of how short their time together may be (relatively speaking), Adamic (and I) both feel it is cut a little short.
Yet thus is the inherent nature of bonds created while traveling; as Pyle explains (or rather almost admits) in the conclusion of Chapter XXXI:
“…some of these days we might come to hate the impermanency of travel. I’ve tried to figure out myself why we haven’t tired of it. And my conclusion is that our travel is a means of escape. We don’t have to stay and face anything out. If we don’t like a place, we can move on. If something happens that isn’t pleasant, we can leave and settle it later by letter, or just let it go forever. Stability cloaks you with a thousand little personal responsibilities, and we have been able to flee from them.” (468)
The impermanence of travel may allow one to “escape,” yet also can prevent one from allowing established connections to flourish and grow into the deep-rooted relationships granted by stability. If the traveler (when taken to the farthest reaches of the term) has no true “home” but the road – no “place to hang his hat,” as Pyle writes – even returning to the place once called home becomes nothing more than a mere visit. What was long ago the perfect embodiment of stability is now just another stop along the way…
(picture is one of mine, just something I took from behind the windshield when driving on the highway)