A year ago we published an issue devoted to travel. Unlike others who deal with the subject, we visited places both as they are and as they were—and in so doing suggested how the past informs the present everywhere in the country. Readers responded warmly enough to spur us to go back on the road this April. Among the journeys:
Wherever you’re driving, the one clear indispensable is the road map, and the country is so thoroughly charted with a red and blue web that one might think it had always been so. It wasn’t. The road map came along a good deal later than the automobile, and it was born in a series of guidebooks like the one put out in 1908 by the White Auto Company that included such directions as, “At the next corner turn left passing ‘Mike’s Place’…” and in which every destination was a branch of the White Company. Ben Yagoda traces the eventful career of the road map through the days when Rand McNally and the oil companies brought order to the motorist’s universe.
Nicholas Lemann, a native son, explores just what made New Orleans so savory, seductive, and raffish a town—a place “too Latin to concern itself with sin and guilt,” where (as Republicans should note when they meet there in convention in August) nature is luxuriant and a little sinister, “and, even today, ultimately unconquerable,” and where all the myths are at least half true.
To one historian, it is “a bit of Sparta in the midst of Babylon.” But for all its severe serenity, the United States Military Academy has had an uncommonly turbulent past. When the historian and novelist Thomas Fleming pays it a visit, he finds the place eloquent of treachery in the Revolution and bitter division as the Civil War neared, and still very much aware of the small cadre of graduates who at Chapultepec and Gettysburg, in the Meuse-Argonne and on the Normandy beaches, showed what they’d learned there on the Hudson.
You may like it or you may hate it, but once you get on the road, you’re going to be eating it. And it may be something of a consolation to look back on the history of the rise of McDonald’s and Colonel Sanders and their rivals and know that part of their success is due to an American genius for standardization that has substantially reduced the hazards of sitting down to a plate of food. Joseph Monninger details how an effort simply to hand out burgers quicker and cheaper changed the way Americans live.
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s biographer tracks their footprints in the windy, shifting sands of Kitty Hawk … voyaging the Columbia River as we approach the two hundredth anniversary of its discovery … the last real prairie, and why it defines us as Americans … the California wine country … and, because our editorial offering is as bounteous as the land it celebrates, more.