The United States Is…
I learned recently, while procrastiwatching National Treasure: Book of Secrets, that it was only in 1879 that Americans saw themselves as one united country, rather than a bunch of separate territories. As Nicolas Cage’s totally unconvincing character Benjamin Franklin Gates says, in a moment of gravitas and poignancy (or at least as much gravitas and poignancy as is possible from Nicolas Cage in a treasure hunting blockbuster), “Before the Civil War, the states were all separate. People used to say ‘the United States are.’ Wasn't until the war ended, people started saying ‘the United States is.’ Under Lincoln, we became one nation.” Meaningful stuff.
Thing is, the Moosers, as they drove around, realised that they'd found themselves not in America, or even in states. Instead, they were always in small cities, and in smaller towns, and in even smaller neighbourhoods. They quickly discovered that it was the people that made a place, not the political boundaries, so they found themselves shying away from metropolises and most tourist attractions. “On this trip we could have gone to places like LA, or Florida, places where we knew lots of people were going to be,” Charlie says. “But instead we enjoyed ourselves most when we rolled through small towns, all the Bumfuck, Idahos. Those few instances where you really do feel like you’re at the end of the earth, in one of the biggest countries in the world; it’s great, and weird. That was definitely [thanks to] the bus: being able to travel to those small towns and get a feel for what the actual country is like.”
Project Moose took these six friends in a great big ‘U’, one that started with a straight shoot down from the south-west of Canada, took them along the southernmost states of America, and ended with them winding all the way up the east coast and back into Canada, in Toronto. The trip topped out at over 15,000 kilometres – a distance hard to fathom when just staring at a map.
Paul Theroux wrote in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star that “Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don't know and trusting them with your life.” It was in the south that the Moosers found themselves really letting go of caution. Whether it was because they were far enough into their trip that they felt nothing could cause them to waver, or because people down south really are friendlier and more authentic, it doesn’t matter to the six Moosers – they had the experiences they remember most fondly down south.
Charlie beams when he speaks of their time in Georgia. “Everyone’s got a picture of the south in their heads: all guns and shootin’ and hicks and cowboys,” he says. “We found that and more, but not in the way you’d think.
Everyone just wanted to wish us well, and tell us their stories about the times they’d been on the road. Southern hospitality is alive and well.
“Sure, you're confronted with some serious fundamental differences of opinion between people from the States and us from Australia. But you kind of just go along with it. Like, they couldn’t fathom that we don’t have guns in Australia – that you can’t go hop along to the store and buy a gun.”
I asked Matt to tell me the best thing he saw on the road. The rest of the Moosers had talked about Horseshoe Bend, or the Grand Canyon, or the desert rolling by the window, or even the skyline of New York City. But the most beautiful sight of Matt’s trip? “Her name was Hannah. She had blue eyes, blonde hair and a shotgun in her truck. And her parents fed us home made icecream in a state park just outside Augusta.”