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the Literary’s Hot Asphalt Guide to the 45 States


(states in suspension, you know who you are)

Seventeen days were spent driving across the country, and we saw some things. 4000 miles driven*, a body of water swum (or waded) in in each state^, grand hikes taken, scrumptious meals consumed. 13 states plus the DoC were taken in§, digested and spit out in taciturn notes, quips, proverbs and awards. Here are some of them…


*exactly. Speedometer hit 4000 as we were gliding off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn, after having been punched to zero in the Shell parking lot, corner of Beach and Rosecrans, Buena Park, CA

^in which the Literary spent at least one night. States (such as Texas) quickly and frighteningly sped through to get to the other side, with minimal stopping and little-to-no cultural interaction, neither hospitably provided nor enticed to go-out-of-the-way-to-find suitable waterly bodies†

†some were just this, ‘waterly bodies’ as opposed to actual, substantial, bodies of water. One ‘lake’ in particular (that of the Great Salt Plains in Oklahoma) offered a greater amount of bodies of little air-drowned fish on the beach, than of water

§17 states if we include the last four to NY, which of course we do, only not in the consideration of the awards et al. below


Best Art Museum

There is a city on a hill full of green space and the greenest, prettiest space of them all is that surrounding the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Beautiful architecture, free admission, and one of the best sculpture park/gardens we’ve come across. Built on the former estate of William Rockhill Nelson, founder and publisher of the Kansas City Star, an absolute beast of a man, whose widow was the onetime boss of, among other people, the young Ernest Hemingway.

High Light: “St John the Baptist in the Wilderness”, by Michelangelo Merisi, Caravaggio. Caravaggio might be the most across-the-room recognizable painter of all time. There are colors, and then there are colors.

Best Art Museum with Exactly One Exciting Painting?

Cincinnati, one good Rothko

Best Lake

Lake Lincoln, Cuivre River State Park, Missouri. Mark Twain-esque dark-and-woodsy, a Wendell Berry heron flying the length of a bend as we swam out to deeper waters. Named after our greatest frontier President, whose early environs we had the great pleasure to stumble upon (see below).

Best River

This was close. But New River, West Virginia, just edged the other contestants as far as gorgeous scenery and great accessibility. You can camp along the banks, it’s absolutely free, the gorge is beautiful, more Wendell Berry herons, trains blasting through the night (that one got a little old), and a surprisingly warm river that fulfilled our WVA contractual bathing obligation.

Runner Up: Green River, Kentucky

Thoughts: 2700 miles in? Tom Petty. Seriously, folks, how great is Tom Petty?

Most Ridiculous Municipality

You might think the candidates for this prize were all in the bumpkin countryside, rancid outposts of cracked-concrete gas-stations and dejected general stores frequented by slow-talking imbeciles in overalls and calloused fingertips. And most of them were. But taking the ridiculously-small-by-contrast cake is the town(?) of Edmundson, Missouri. Population: 834 Distance to St Louis: 10 miles–distance to St Ann, a city of 13000 people, and Bridgeton Terrace, a city of 11000 people: less than half the distance to the goal.

This is the Wikipedia entry: “Edmundson is a city in St. Louis County, Missouri, United States. The population was 834 at the 2010 census.” What? No. You don’t get to be a ‘city’ in a county of one million (with a pop density of 2,000 per sq mile) with a population of 834.

City motto? (this is not a joke) “Front Door to the St Louis Lambert International Airport”. Yes, and at least it’s the front door.

Best ‘Back Door’ to the St Louis Lambert International Airport?

Fuck you Edmundson

Most Hilarious Findings Upon Further Research

Champ, Missouri. Pop: 12 Founded by (idiot) Billy Bangert. From Wikipedia: Champ was founded in 1959 by Bill Bangert, a former track-and-field athlete who was once mayor of Berkeley, Missouri [also in St Louis County, only 8 miles as the Wendell Berry heron flies from Champ]. Bangert was the mayor of Champ for 18 years, and later moved to [of course] California.” Yeah, Bill, you’re still the champ.

The county has seven different cities with populations under 300. Edmunson is the only one under 1000 bold enough to have a motto.

Most Ridiculous County

St Louis

from the Notebook: Bluewater Lake→40→exit 63 (Prewitt) ont Hwy 42→7mi

Most Touching Show of Public Responsibility

Sitting outside at a cafe in St Louis, we ignore a cantankerous homeless man asking for money and mumbling up and down the sidewalks. A soldier on leave, in uniform, sits all alone eating an ice cream he’s just purchased from some local chain, listening to a street jazz band. Everyone is turning away or else apologizing to the homeless man. Strangers walk up and say ‘thank you’ or ‘We all really appreciate what you’re doing for us’ to the soldier in uniform. The soldier gets up, still holding his ice cream cone. He is, as they say, just a kid. Whether or not it’s the uniform he stands up very starched and straight. Whether or not it’s the uniform he begins to cross the street to his car and, seeing the homeless man for the third or fourth time come ambling by, turns around and crosses back over, calling out to the man, and hands him a few dollar bills, saying, ‘Here. Good luck.’ or some such tiding. We sit and stare from our chair and try to imagine the incredible responsibilities this kid has had on his conscience, and how much he feels he must represent what he is wearing, and how much he feels anymore after all.

Best Presidential Birthplace

Folks, this trip was chock full of Presidential birthplaces and childhood places, adolescent places and one-night hooker stop-offs. Coming in at number one was the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln, nestled in a gorgeous valley at Knob Creek Farm, Kentucky. The lesser-visited section of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park, this location is a far-prettier, far more accurate, and all-around lovelier site than it’s somewhat ugly counterpart over in Touristville, where the high school, surface streets, liquor stores, laundromats, gas stations, flower shops, Amish buggy repairs, and mortuaries are all named after the Bearded One. The actual birthplace (where the toddler Lincoln spent two years and of which he held no recollection) is no longer any fun, primarily because of the big monument they erected in the middle of a farm hill to house a (completely unaffiliated with the Lincolns) old, ugly log cabin.

Best High School Mascot

Can you guess what the young’uns cheer for in the town of Hooker, Oklahoma? That’s right. Horny Toads! Horny Toads! Gooooooo Hooker’s Horny Toads!!

Thoughts: Another Wendell Berry heron, my god. (Song title? “Wendell I caint a’get you outta my mind”)

Worst-Looking Subway (sandwiches) Employees

Albuquerque, NM

from the Notebook: 64 est to 41 to I69→to “Audobon Pkwy”9005 ext “Hatcher Green River Prkway” 9007 to “Bowling Green”→70 east to Brownville (Houchin Ferry Camp $12)→ (Mammoth Cave Camp $17)→Ferry: to 6pm

Go to Part II


From → What's Ours

  1. Ashley permalink

    “Worst-Looking Subway (sandwiches) Employees” When we drove across country a few years ago someone told us “there’s a good looking woman behind every tree in NM…I’m sure you too noticed the lack of trees!

    ps-love reading about your trip across and reading back some 🙂

  2. Laura Hier permalink

    love it, quite amusing. I am glad you liked the Lincoln named lakes and homes ect. He is one of my favorite guys.

  3. Erika permalink

    Totally enjoyed reading this, especially the part about the silly, tiny town. And, yes, Tom Petty is great. Still sad you didn’t go through Groom and see the cross.

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