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Defining 'America'
[Small Town America] Four slices of the American Pie
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2010-02-18 10:01 (KST)   
This is the first of a five-part summary of a series of reports documenting life in small towns along four major highways in the United States. The reports were NOT surveys but an attempt to come to a fuller understanding of the land and the people which comprise significant parts of American life but are typically un-represented by main-stream media.  <Editor's Note>
Before we begin, I need to make sure you understand what I mean by "Small Town America." I don't mean "America" as in "North America," "South America," "Central America." And I don't mean the "United States of America" (also known as United States, United States of America, America, the States, US, U.S., USA, U.S.A.), a political republic comprising of 50 states. I'm referring to the local social, historical and physical conditions that form the basis of lives people actually lead inside that political unit, and upon which everything else rests.

Due to the practical conditions of time and money, I only visited small towns in what is referred to as the "Continental United States," also known as the "Lower 48," which refers to the 48 states located on the North American continent plus the District of Columbia, but excludes the states of Alaska and Hawaii and all off-shore U.S. territories and possessions, such as Puerto Rico.

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AS FOR THE ROUTE, that took some time to figure out. I'd already done some traveling both north-south and east-west and had read quite a few books on other's journeys so I had some idea of what was involved. While planning I needed to take into account more than just where I wanted to go; it needed to be doable, meaning where to sleep, where to eat, where to toilet, where to find power to recharge the computers, where to connect to the internet all had to be planned to fit within the constraints of time and money.

The final consideration was what I call "living the life." This goes back to my backpacking and rock-climbing days: two short routes don't require the same dedication as one long route. Thus I wanted to be on the road from start to finish, no matter how many highways were involved, because I'd learned through previous projects that you need to spend at least 10 days, maybe more, before you're really there and things seem perfectly normal. Otherwise you're just outside looking in.

After false starts, everything fell into place. We -- by then my wife, Sueko, had decided to be part of the project -- would take US-95 from the Mexican border to Canada, transit through Canada, and take US-395 south to where it disappears into Interstate-15 at Hesperia, Calif. (originally it went to the Mexican border). That took care of North-South.

East-West was another story. Back at the start of the last century there were quite a few highways that crossed "ocean to ocean." The one that stood out for me was the Lincoln Highway where on September 1, 1928, groups of Boy Scouts placed some 2,400 concrete markers along the route from New York City to San Francisco to mark and dedicate it to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. The transition from the end of US-395 in Hesperia to San Francisco was long, but straightforward.

The fourth and last highway was right in our back yard. We live in Congress, Ariz., just a few miles north of US-60 which originally ran from Virginia Beach, Va. to Los Angeles, but now ends at Brenda, Ariz., about an hour from our house. The transition from New York City to Virginia Beach would take us through Washington, D.C. and the Lincoln Memorial. US-60 runs through Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederacy, and has monuments to both Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, important figures during the Civil War. Thus the east-west highways would take is through both the south part of the North and the north part of the South.

©2010 D. McLane

As you can see, there's some ambiguity as what constitutes the South, especially because of the so-called border states -- the slave states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia -- which bordered a free state and were aligned with the Union.

Going back in time to the founding documents -- Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) and Constitution (September 17, 1787) -- were signed by representative of the thirteen British colonies which became eighteen present-day states as Maine was part of Massachusetts, Vermont was part of New Hampshire, West Virginia and Kentucky were part of Virginia, and Tennessee was part of North Carolina. Plus the total land area ceded by Great Britain in 1783 included not only the thirteen colonies but additional land to the west.

The land area of the Continental United States didn't reach it's current size until 1848, and the land area of the full United States didn't reach it's size until 1898. The 48 states comprising the Continental United States weren't in place until 1912, and the 50 states comprising the full United States weren't in place until 1959.

©2010 D. McLane

The history of the population of the United States is as complex as that of the land and states. In brief, at the time of the signing of the founding documents the population was something like 3.5 million. By the time of the Civil War it was 31 million. By the time the last state was added to the Continental United States it was 100 million. Today it's over 300 million.

More importantly for the Small Town America project is how the population is distributed.

©2010 D. McLane

As you can see, there are many states which don't have a population center over a million while the states that do are mostly in the north east, or California.

Just for fun I did a rough estimate for where I live. In round numbers, Arizona has a total population of 6 million, with 4 million, 66%, living in Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale. The land area of Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale is 2,300 mi2 (5,957 km2) 2% of the 115,000 mi2 (297,849 km2) of the state as a whole. So most people in Arizona live 1,800/mi2 (703/km2) and the rest at 18/mi2 (7/km2). While 1,800/m2 sounds pretty tight, just think, New York City is 23,000/mi2 (8,984/km2).

COMING NEXT: Following the water from Mexico to Canada


In case you're interested, this preface, along with the other four parts of the summary will be expanded to full-screen PDFs available for download from my personal website where the images can be larger and references provided. The PDFs won't be free but along the lines of the going rate for Kindle books. However, the first 100 people who send an e-mail referencing this article to me, davemclane@actual-life.com, will be put on a free-download list. Please include any suggestions you think would make this project more meaningful.

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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