June 1, 2012
Over the course of seven weeks I plan to explore the sides of America that I have known only through the abstractions of media reporting. Traveling on train, I will spend the majority of my time in a diversity of rural communities, ranging from thriving touristic ex-frontier outposts to slowly dying company towns. Along the way, I will make a few overnight and day stops at major cities, interesting towns, and notable landmarks. To provide context and spirited inspiration for my work, I will be reading Travels With Charley, Blue Highways, Into the Wild, and Open City along the way. To provide structure for my journey in a way that might give it purpose, I will undertake a project that in many ways mirrors the research in economic development that I conducted for the Town of Middlebury during the summer of 2011.
I will compare and contrast eight American towns with similar populations, but entirely dissimilar compositions, researching through informal conversation and casual investigation. By spending at least 72 continuous hours in each place, I will explore the economic impact technological, political, and cultural changes have had in these communities. If I find myself drawn by miracle, tragedy, mystery, conflict, or otherwise, I will not hesitate to extend my stay in any spot for a longer period. I aim to ensure a degree of authenticity in my visits by staying and eating in local establishments. I will be sure to make note of any instances where I am compelled to patronize a nationally franchised business, and the circumstances that induced such a situation.
Though I have been encouraged by many to keep a running blog of my travels, I will not, with the primary concern that a pressure to post regularly will diminish the depth and quality of my thought and presentation. Instead, I will share what I find by writing a descriptive report, using sources such as the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to supplement my anecdotal research with measured data. Additionally, I will be keeping visual record of my travels through photography, amateur though I am. Provided that there is both sufficient substance and quality to my piece, I endeavor to have it shared in part, installments, or whole in periodicals of the greatest scale possible.
Four Topics to Broadly Investigate:
1. Cultural Vibrancy
2. Economic Drivers
4. Past/Future Trends
- boom town – ghost town
Selection Criteria for Eight Towns:
- population ~10,000
- accessibility by passenger train
- not part of a greater metropolitan area