On the Road
I’m gonna camp out on the land.
I’m gonna get my soul free.
On the way south in New York, it’s surprising to see what the rest of the state looks like: there is a completely different landscape following the highway, with industries facing the bay, that you barely remember having those tall skyscrapers just behind your shoulders.
Along the road to Washington D.C. I made a quick stop in Philadelphia. Though it’s considered an important place for the American history, I must admit that it is far from being impressive. There are nice neighborhoods and buildings, it reminds you about the Rocky-esque run on the stairs of the Museum of Art, but nothing else is really worth spending much time in. Also the Liberty Bell, aside from its historical meaning, is nothing more than a broken copper bell.
On the other hand, opinions about Washington I’ve heard in the past weren’t properly excitable, but instead this city surprised me in a good way. I found all the area nearby Logan Circle to be really nice to walk around at night, and as always happens to me in the US, I met lovely people here, like Chris, who was smart enough to stand my irreverent and sometimes overwhelming sense of humour, or the funny waiters at Duke’s Grocery, where I ate probably one of the best hamburgers ever.
Washington, in one word, is the city of memorials. Though I’ve always been a long-distance walker, surprisingly I felt exhausted exploring all the areas from the Lincoln Memorial to Capitol Hill. It’s true that American distances are way different from the European ones I am used to, but for the first time they were really challenging. Ironically, all the memorials from World War II to Vietnam, instead of remembering the tragic loss of people or giving a sense of grief, reminded me of how many wars have been done during the past century and, to be honest, that a piece of marble architecture doesn’t represent even an inch of all the pain those families could have gone through.
Before leaving I tried to emulate the Jennifer Lawrence gag against Trump in front of the White House, but I desisted as soon as I saw how many policemen were all around. You know, I thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to get arrested at the beginning of my American adventure.
The following stop had been Chicago, where I had Jodie waiting for me. We met exactly three years ago at Andy’s Jazz Club. She was working there, checking the IDs at the entrance, and we started talking as soon as she noticed my Italian passport. We kept in touch through Facebook during these years, meeting again this past summer in Milan, and she had been so kind to host me this time.
I was really excited to be back in this city, where I left such special memories, and living it a bit like a Chicagoan. The first time here was in fact my first solo trip overseas and somehow it represents the beginning of my frequent traveling of the last few years. I still remember perfectly the relief I found from a relationship break-up while walking away from Mies Van Der Rohe’s grave. I arrived there with a heavy weight inside my chest and suddenly it disappeared like a sort of blessing. I felt fine, and free, and lucky to be there in that moment, alone in a foreign city under a surprising sunny day in April, and nothing else mattered.
Another beautiful memory I have of Chicago is the beautiful landscape I saw from the John Hancock Center at night, while Andrew Bird’s Pulanski at Night was playing in my headphones. I felt so moved that I couldn’t help but think about my friends back in Italy, so I wrote them a message with my eyes almost bursting in tears. It was such a stunning image: thousands of yellow lights spreading on the horizon to the most remote parts of Illinois.
Few days before heading to this trip, my brother gave me a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road as a birthday gift. For sure he knew that it would be the perfect book for this experience, but I would have never expected that. I took a Greyhound bus to Omaha, Nebraska, a quite unusual destination also for the Americans, and while I was reading about cities like Iowa City and Des Moines, they materialized right in front of my eyes through the window glass. It was weird and unreal, but that crazy trip from the east to the west coast in the 50’s, page after page, felt somehow like mine. Also, the people on the bus reminded me of characters in the book, freaks who could have for sure been some kind of serial killers. That was the real American experience to live once in a lifetime, away from the cities, into the inner core of the country, taking a seat by those human beings that you probably wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. After all, to me diversity has always been the most fascinating aspect on this planet.