Posted by: Bob Fisher | February 20, 2011

On the Road Again with Bonnie and Bill … Through Grassroots America

… a podcast with Bonnie Neely of Real Travel Adventures

(This podcast was recorded using Skype.)

Ambassadorship

Travellers, and travel writers in particular, have always been key communicators and ambassadors for “life on the road.” And when the travel experiences are brought back from “overseas” or from some distant land — and even from “unsung” destinations close to home — the stories can often be communicated exponentially.

In the age of the Internet, and of social media, this new ability to spread the word about what is “out there to be discovered” has increased dramatically. Whereas in the past, the stories were circulated by word of mouth to family, friends, and  neighbours, today the ability to tell the stories to like-minded people everywhere has increased substantially.

And this also is what Bonnie and Bill achieve through their grassroots website Real Travel Adventures.

As I have suggested in this podcast, Bonnie and Bill are in many ways cultural ambassadors. Like the universal notion of eldership — which has always been recognized as a key component in the “global human family,” especially among indigenous people throughout the world — the role of the grassroots ambassador has become increasingly important. The global village has become more and more interconnected and interdependent; and the flow of information has become much more all-encompassing.

On the other hand, travel consumers (like all consumers) need to carefully examine the source and to evaluate the information being presented in terms of its validity; and other relevant criteria such as the ethnocentric baggage that we all can (often inadvertently) bring with us on our travels.

The authentic human stories that emerge from the kinds of travels that Bonnie and Bill engage in are about identifying with “the other”; and about respect. This, in part, is what gives a great deal of credence to the perceptions inherent in their intercultural forays.

The eclectic skills of Bonnie and Bill

As a professional journalist for over 30 years, Bonnie also has degrees in English and Education as well as a Master of Arts in Journalism. She has also done graduate studies in Theology and Religious Studies. In addition she has worked extensively in educational television in which she has been project coordinator, researcher, and scriptwriter. She has also been a columnist for various newspapers and magazines; and been a producer/scriptwriter for the Discovery Channel. Furthermore Bonnie is one of the “Top Book Reviewers” for Amazon.com.

Bill is a graduate of Southern Methodist University with a degree in English and History. He also has a Master’s degree in Literature and has done graduate work in History, Education, and Theology. However, before his teaching career Bill was a rancher and farmer for 15 years; and spent time in the UK on an agricultural business program. As an Executive Officer of an international corporation, his work took him to Europe, Africa, Australia, Central America, and all over North America. And to top it off, Bill has even been a banker.

Roads and nation-building

The road trip is actually an age-old form of travel. Pilgrimage routes were essentially road trips — on foot. The Crusades were as well, although history has shed lots of new light on those events. And then there was that Marco Polo guy who made a road trip to China. And caravan routes of all kinds had people coming and going transporting culture along those same routes.

All such road trips were always multidimensional travel experiences; and the road trip is a phenomenon that eventually changed the face of North America.

In his book, American Road: The Story Of An Epic Transcontinental Journey At The Dawn, Pete Davies writes:

“In 1919, a military convoy of 81 vehicles set out to travel the Lincoln Highway — a line drawn on the map — from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Essentially a PR ploy to dramatize the need for good roads, the “First Transcontinental Motor Train” delivered. Trucks foundered in mud, crashed through wooden bridges, and got beaten to pieces on byways barely better than trails. Modern motorists will be surprised to learn just how bad things were back then, but the story behind the undertaking is equally interesting. Automobile and tire manufacturers, who stood to gain if newly car-crazy citizens had smooth roads to travel, managed to drive the government their way; the grueling journey captured the American imagination and spurred road building to a fervor.”

The public roads “story” as an historical and cultural phenomenon is an ancient one. When you consider, for example, how the Romans created their empire by building roads; or if you also consider why caravan routes and such age-old cultural “institutions” as pilgrimages also contributed to our species’ awareness of life beyond our immediate environs, the continuum of storytelling on the road becomes quite clear.

Roads have always been critical to the interests of the state and nationhood. Along these roads travelled goods, human culture — and when history cooperated — prosperity.

The road trip therefore has also been about enlightenment and vision.

Books for on the road

Blue Highways (especially recommended by Bonnie and Bill)

Amazon.com Review

“First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon’s account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity.”

Driving cross-country in a van named Ghost Dancing, Heat-Moon (the name the Sioux give to the moon of midsummer nights) meets up with all manner of folk, from a man in Grayville, Illinois, “whose cap told me what fertilizer he used” to Scott Chisholm, “a Canadian citizen … [who] had lived in this country longer than in Canada and liked the United States but wouldn’t admit it for fear of having to pay off bets he made years earlier when he first ‘came over’ that the U.S. is a place no Canadian could ever love.” Accompanied by his photographs, Heat-Moon’s literary portraits of ordinary Americans should not be merely read, but savored.”

American Road: The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age

Editorial Review – Cahners Business Information (c) 2002

“In his newest book, Davies (Inside the Hurricane; The Devil’s Flu) offers a play-by-play account of the 1919 cross-country military caravan that doubled as a campaign for the Lincoln Highway (so named for the one Republican the corporate leaders of the day figured most Americans would embrace). The potential here is extraordinary. Using the progress of the caravan and the metaphor of paving toward the future versus stagnating in the mud, Davies touches on the industrial and social factors that developed the small and mid-sized towns that line the highways and byways of the nation. But instead of allowing the story of the caravan to anchor a series of more engaging essays on the people, politics and development of the lands it connects, the author insists on a day-to-day narrative of breakdowns, muddy roads and ice cream socials (the convoy left just days after Prohibition became law). Officers attend fancy dinners, enlisted men “dance with local girls,” and the arrival of two miles’ worth of dusty and cantankerous machinery is the greatest moment in every life in every town. Eisenhower, a future military legend and U.S. president, makes an early cameo as a young, frustrated officer who takes part in the convoy in the hopes of reinvigorating a stalled army career. Even this little twist fails to engage the reader, as Ike becomes yet another faceless character in a tale paced not unlike the caravan it chronicles slow.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

A personal favourite of mine, this book may have became as iconic as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

As a “Pirsig Pilgrim,” Mark Richardson, the editor of the “Wheels” (automotive) section of the Toronto Star newspaper, set out to retrace Robert Pirsig’s journey. For all those for whom Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic, his book will resonate deeply.

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

The classic road trip book.

and…

Mary McIntosh’s book has been published as

Mary’s Diary: A Secret Journal of the 1930s.

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds.  When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.  People don’t have your past to hold against you.  No yesterdays on the road. – William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.  – Mark Twain”

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” – Robert Frost

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac

A few destinations mentioned by Bonnie in this podcast

Viva Elvis

Lander, Wyoming and the National Outdoor Leadership School

Vicksburg, Mississippi and the Civil War

The Nature Conservancy

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Hannibal, Missouri

The Huntington Library

Articles from Real Travel Adventures related to this podcast.

More on the Neely family

Both of Bonnie and Bill’s sons have pursued careers in which they too look at human society through a special lens.

Blake Neely: www.blakeneely.com
James Thomas Neely: www.IWillDestroyYou.com

And finally, Willie Nelson gives his musical version of the road trip.

“On the Road Again”


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