Last week, my family and I drove cross-country from Maine to California.

It wasn’t my first trip from one coast to the other.  The first one was in 2002, a few months after September 11.

Wounded, worried, thrown in a war that was supposed to be a picnic, and yet as civil and friendly, in the unique American way only people who come from abroad can appreciate, the country I discovered in 2002 wasn’t different from the country I met again this year.

While the members of our government were fighting as if none of them had ever been in kindergarten, the American people kept their courtesy on the roads, their smile behind their front desks and their openness whenever a discussion opportunity arose.

While our President was planning his next fundraising dinner that costs more than the yearly salary of many Americans, the ordinary people braced themselves against the wave of deeper federal and state cuts coming their way.

A few years ago, during one of my yearly trip across our vast nation, I was reading Vertigo, a book written by the French columnist Bernard-Henri Levy and I kept thinking that the country I was visiting, the people I was meeting had little to do with the country Levy was describing. He had of course a well-designed trip and access to places and people I will never get to see or to talk to.  Yet, somehow his privilege was a disadvantage.

This country is so vast that the only way to grasp some of its geographic and demographic diversity is indeed with a car or a bike.  Yes, some towns and cities are depressing and certainly neither quaint nor upscale, and yet they are part of the map and deserve as much respect and consideration as wealthier zip codes.  Yes, truck stops are not picture-like but they represent the daily lives of hundreds of men and women.  Yes, picnic areas aren’t  four-star restaurants but this is where real people share minutes of their lives while they eat.

So, while miles of highways and roads cut through the states, I wondered if a similar trip for our representatives, senators and President would be helpful.  They would see the houses, shops and buildings wearing foreclosure and out of business signs like a wounded man wears his arm in a sling.

They would realize how they suffer and still yearn for the promise of hope and change, wondering what they have done wrong to be left out.  They would also see the way Americans still smile and talk to each other because only Americans stand up under the worst storm.

In addition, if our government traveled the way ordinary American citizens vacation, it would definitely be a bargain compared to the fundraising dinners affordable to only so few of us.

And in the end, they would at least agree on one thing.  Vertigo is a perfect name for our country.



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