PORTLAND, ORE. — Due to unexpected family obligations, I recently completed my first cross-country road trip. I, my spouse, and a 15-foot rental truck rumbled from Connecticut to Oregon in seven days.
This is not an attempt to capture "the mood of America" or other similar conclusions from this journey. I've always had trouble believing anyone who claims to know what's going on inside the collective mind of our population. Sweeping generalizations about a place based on what's seen from the driver's seat and what's overheard during a lunch stop at the local watering hole have made me cringe more than once.
What I can state with absolute certainty is that when you observe this country firsthand from coast to coast, it's far more impressive than a person can possibly imagine by looking at a map. The trip also reaffirmed my belief that what keeps the US moving forward year after year is a vast army of hardworking citizens holding down routine, unglamorous jobs. In my opinion, these average Joes and Janes are underappreciated heroes of the homeland.
Not that I'm trying to belittle the importance of TV stars, corporate CEOs, political power brokers, and all the other high- profile personalities who get so much media coverage these days. But when it comes to navigating the twists and turns of daily life, people like me are not getting help from celebrities. In my world, many of the important interpersonal transactions require concern and cooperation from strangers across a counter or at the other end of a phone line.
And that's exactly what I got when the rental truck broke down in South Dakota. A guy named Zack, based in Minneapolis, took my call when I dialed the 1-800 number for roadside assistance. He arranged for a cheerful tow-truck driver named Dewey to haul us into Rapid City, where a clerk named Erica monitored the hunt for a replacement truck and found us a place to stay for the night. Nobody mentioned President Bush, Iraq, the California recall election, or how things are going with J-Lo and Ben.
People I hadn't met before and will probably never see again did their jobs, rescued me from a serious problem, and went back to work. My thanks go out to them, and to everyone I met along the way who made the trip a little pleasanter. Kudos to the friendly waitress at Max & Erma's Diner in Middleburg Heights, Ohio; the night desk manager at our motel in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.; and the cashier who rang up our purchases in the campus bookstore at Black Hills State Universityin Spearfish, S.D.
I don't know what their party affiliations are, how they feel about the federal deficit, or whether any of them prefer "The Bachelor" over "CSI." They all did right by me. Too bad I can't award them multimillion-dollar bonus packages for their efforts.
And to the average Americans I didn't get to meet this time around, let me say this: I'm glad you're all out there. Keep up the good work.