From the windshield, America looks like America.

The gray stone of the gravebench of Conrad Aiken had a bluish tint when covered with rainwater. I sat on the sodden bench, right where it said:


The Spanish moss approved, reaching to bring me in for a hug.

The heads on Mt. Rushmore look small from the viewing platform, I thought. And then snapped the same photo as everyone else.

Twenty-eight times I’ve driven coast to coast. People think I’m crazy. Maybe I am.

“Is there even anything worth seeing that’s not on the coasts?” someone always asks.

A buffalo in the road blocks countless cars.

I was a child when my family’s Chevy broke down in Arizona on our way to Texas. I don’t remember my parents arguing over this, accusing one another, or saying I told you we should have taken the other car or the other road. Just my dad with his thumb out on a lonely road growing ever darker as the sky went pink.

A VONS truck picked us up. I sat in the trucker’s bed in the back with my mother. I told her it smelled funny. She put her finger up to her lips to shush me as the pink turned to black.

In Tombstone, Arizona, I took a picture with the Doc Holliday who had appeared on The Colbert Report.

“I look forward to the gunfight later,” my brother said. We had tickets to the reenactment in the OK Corral that he’d be a part of that afternoon.

“Whatever do you mean?” Doc Holliday had an off-putting dandified lilt.

My brother said, “The gunfight. We can’t wait.”

“I sincerely hope there’s no gunfight,” Holliday told him. And then, winking at us, added, “But then again, you never know.”

If I could count the dead deer I’ve driven by.

Wondering if between San Francisco and Los Angeles you’re still able to see seven different wax versions of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” as Umberto Eco claimed in Travels in Hyperreality.

I think I’ve seen two. Maybe three.

My most treasured photo from Mt. Rushmore includes no stone face. Instead, I stand in front of a highway sign that reads:




The egalitarian equating of the import of a Hitchcock masterpiece and a Nic Cage sequel.

X marks the spot of JFK’s assassination. A remembrance of our national nightmare on Elm Street.

The A Nightmare on Elm Street house is actually on North Genesee in West Hollywood. Our myths are lies like all myths, but lies still tell us something.

I walked by the house on my way to a Chipotle.

Almost getting arrested trying to see Clyde Barrow’s grave in a cemetery off limits to visitors. The policeman’s flashlight excitedly zigzagging across the bed of fallen leaves. He couldn’t see us crouching behind a gravestone, but he could hear us. He knew we were there, somewhere. Someone committing a crime elsewhere saved us. The policeman was radioed to some place more important.

There’s a monument to Hootie & the Blowfish in South Carolina. I just thought you should know.

Standing in the partially-bricked false-chimney in the cellar of the Poe House in Philadelphia. “The Black Cat,” reimagined.

Poe, Twain, and Frost are the American writers with the most museums.

The spider crawling on me when I went to the dilapidated Blue Whale of Catoosa.

A sign that warned not to go in the water there. Something in the water.

Counting the dead fish on the beaches of the Salton Sea.

Written nearby on Salvation Mountain:


Outside of Chicago there’s a place called Ahlgrim Family Funeral Services.

There, in the basement of the funeral home, is a miniature golf course. See if you can get a hole in one on the first hole, the one with the skull. All grim.

Seeking out filming locations for Taxi Driver in New York.

Seeking out filming locations for Magnolia in Los Angeles.

Passing on the left. Passing on the right.

Smokey the Bear’s grave. And the grave of Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller, where someone left a half-eaten apple before I got there.

The surprise when visiting Billy the Kid’s grave that the tombstone had been stolen on Feb. 8th, 1981, and was recovered a few days later in my hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

The grave for Stonewall Jackson’s arm.

On Anderson Memorial Bridge, a little plaque in the place of one brick reads:


Drowned in the odour of honeysuckle.


The only historical marker I know of in America dedicated to a fictional happening in a fictional character’s life without mentioning that the character is fictional.

We waited for a sunset in the Bisti Wilderness that never came. Bisti looks like another planet. A bright red sunset would have only heightened its otherworldliness. We could have been on Mars.

How many graves have I visited?

Injecting myself into a Monet painting in the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey.

Sometimes I wonder, when I travel alone, and I go to a place like the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, how many parents think I might be a child molester. Why is a man alone in this place clearly designed for children?

Purifying myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

What is America? How is America? Why is America?

I’ve always wanted to see a map that actually says, “Here be dragons.”

Wyoming. 3 AM. Going 85. I see a deer in the headlights and swerve fast to avoid it. Another deer then in my path. I veer back and barely thread the needle between them. I thought for sure I’d hit one, but somehow did not.

The bloody bird feathers I picked out of the grille of a van.

Both times I went to New Bedford, Massachusetts, Seamen’s Bethel was closed: “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

Swimming to my car when a tropical storm hit Key West while we were in a bar Hemingway frequented. It was mid-afternoon on a Monday. We had nowhere to be. The rain didn’t bother us. The streets were flooding. We’d wait it out, we said.

“When do you think this is supposed to end?” we asked the bartender.


“You are here,” the maps read.

What we talk about when we talk about Gary, Indiana.

I wouldn’t recommend going — it’s too far out of the way — but there is a marker in Delphos, Kansas, for Grace Bedell Billings, who wrote to Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln:

“I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you anyway and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

As we know, Lincoln grew a beard.

Listening to house music while driving with my father. He said, “I don’t understand this music. It’s like driving through Kansas.”

He’s right. The repetition, with slight variation.

In my room is a map of the United States where black dots mark the places I’ve been, black lines the roads I’ve taken. America, enmeshed in a net.

All the rocks from all the places now on the walls of the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

A deer in headlights as a real actual thing and not a cliche.

The giant Van Gogh Sunflowers on the what is ostensibly the World’s Largest Easel in Goodland, Kansas.

We love our World’s Largests, here.

My friend and I drove into a gas station in Alabama or Mississippi, I no longer remember. I walked in to get some refreshments while my friend filled up the tank. “You guys should move along,” the clerk said. I thought he was joking.

Alligators in the roads in Florida.

Half of our World’s Largests aren’t actually the world’s largest.

How many Route 66 museums have I been to?

Fargo wasn’t filmed in Fargo.

Nobody on the streets in Topeka. We wondered if we missed a tornado warning.

Lincoln, in his Memorial, looks like he’s in a La-Z-Boy. He just hasn’t put his feet up yet. Is he waiting for his show to start?

The rest areas in the Chicago area are called Oases.

On the road til midnight. On the road til a quarter past one. On the road til three. On the road with the sun coming up.

My father and I driving on a New Jersey road. Almost midnight. We stopped at a Burger King.

After eating, back on the road, only a mile or two later, the carcass of a deer turned inside-out. You could see its intestines.

A little ahead there was a car with its door open. A boy, he was just a boy, younger than me, his body maimed in the road. The expression on his face. The blood. The entrails.

The other car, with two maybe three people in it, was in a ditch at the side of the road. The police weren’t there yet. No ambulance either.

Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Not close to Jersey, and with no shore in sight.


My perpetual interest in the death masks in various museums around the country.

Later, in a bar in Atlantic City, my father said, “I think God saved us by having us stop at Burger King. That could have been us in the road with that deer.”

I said, “So instead he chose some kid to die in our stead?”

The next day, while my father was at his work conference, I wandered the streets of Atlantic City, which I felt like I knew. Not because I had ever seen them before, but because I had owned them at various points in my childhood while playing Monopoly.

What we talk about when we talk about roadkill.

What does “America looks like America” even mean?

In the late 1800s, a town called Canyon Diablo sprang up out of the desert in Arizona. There were no lawmen, and it earned its namesake’s reputation: dance halls, saloons, brothels, and gambling houses. Twenty years later, it had become a ghost town.

In the early twentieth century, building on the town’s reputation, an entrepreneur named Henry E. Miller created a roadside attraction along Route 66 near the ruins. It had a gas station, a restaurant, a zoo. It was called Two Guns, and it too died quickly.

Now remain ruins of one place on top of the ruins of another.

Here be dragons.


The Mermaid

"You are at the kitchen table dicing a cucumber for Tia Reina’s ceviche."

Small Paradises

“She was constantly surprised at herself in a way that, it seemed to you, was lucky.”