I want to get into my car and drive until I find what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s purpose or maybe it’s a new start or maybe it’s just a sky with unclouded stars.
The world may truly never be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has hit the world like a jackhammer, and now we must slowly and delicately restore what was ruined. As we emerge from the immediacy of the health crisis, many questions will be asked.
What did we learn? How did we innovate? When will we be OK again?
I would argue that big important questions like these demand the clarity and reflection that can come from a great American road trip.
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A road trip with friends or family to explore new places is exactly what Americans need right now. With plenty of space to social distance, a road trip gives us time to breathe, laugh, and support small businesses along our authentic Main Streets. A time to recenter, and fuel the economy. That’s what I call a win-win.
I’m blessed to live in Oklahoma, a state with back roads and blue skies for days. From our indigenous founders to more miles of the Mother Road, Route 66, than any other state, there’s history and heritage around every curve. We definitely know a good road trip, and we know it’s food for the soul.
“I take to the open road,” said Walt Whitman, “healthy, free, the world before me.” From mental health benefits to clearing our heads and hearts, a road trip just may be the healing you’re looking for.
This year, we’ve been forced to simplify our lives. We are reevaluating things that seemed normal staples, realizing that the regular hustle and bustle doesn’t have to be the norm. Maybe there is more to life than the manufactured busyness and mundane routine many of us fall into. Perhaps doing more to see the world around us can help rebuild the sense of community and empathy for others that have long been integral to the American experience. Perhaps it will help us heal from the following unrest throughout our country.
As we ask ourselves what is America, and who are we after this unprecedented pandemic, what better exercise than to actually go see it? See its raw beauty, its diversity, its freedom, and the melting pot of people and cultures that live along the pavement.
Author Michael Wallis says of one iconic road trip, on Route 66, that the road invites us to experience the country before it became generic. A Route 66 journey puts us in touch with our roots and ourselves. It is a road of phantoms and dreams that has always offered promise. While Route 66 certainly is iconic, any road trip will do. They all offer promise if you’re open to it.
It’s time to explore the stories of America again. It’s time to see this country, its past, present, and now uncertain future — whether for purpose or a new start, or just to see a sky with unclouded stars. America’s economy will roar again, Americans will be at peace again, and I believe it will start with a great American road trip.
Matt Pinnell is the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma. In this role he serves as the secretary of tourism and branding.