Why does it feel better to go West than East?
I’ve driven across country as an adult perhaps a dozen times, in both directions, and I’ve tried most of the obvious routes. One thing I know: it always feels better going West than East.
Maybe it’s the time zones. It’s always magical to drive during one of those long, long days, and suddenly realize that you have picked up an hour. Found time, I call it. Those 25-hour days are fun.
Drive East, on the other hand, you are racing against time. At the least opportune moment — say, as you are hurtling madly across the plains of South Dakota, looking for something interesting to look at — suddenly, you lose an hour. No matter how well you plan for this, you are behind. That’s just how it goes.
It certainly is the surroundings. There’s no getting around it. The further east I drive, the fewer pictures I take. As I drive West, I take more. In North Dakota and Montana, you can drop your camera on the ground and accidentally take a good picture.
Heading West means heading towards open space. Heading East means heading towards crowds. Toll roads. Construction. These things exist west of the Continental Divide, of course. But as I drive west, and I throw my final coins into the Illinois highway toll booths, something special happens. You arrive in the green pastures of Wisconsin, the lakes of Minnesota are nearby, and the glorious mountains of the West arise before you. Heading east, well, it seems the air gets dirtier and the tolls just keep going up.
Heading West means heading towards the sunsets. Heading towards longer, later days, and toward the pastel beauties of the southwest or the green-blue hues of the northwest. The closer you get to the Atlantic, the harder it is the find a sunset that translates into a painting
Centuries of explorers have come to the conclusion I reached long ago. Just as the New World was a new chance for Europeans, America’s West represents opportunity for the unsettled. Heck, for a long time, it represented free land. That’s why the cry was “Go West, young man.” If New Orleans is the soul America, the West is its backyard. It’s the place you go to play.
Heading East has it’s own charm, however.
It’s harder to find beauty — not to mention, space – in New York, Boston, Washington D.C. But it’s there. You just need a guide. And you need to hold your nose.
I’ve often described New York City as a garbage dump full of diamonds. The best of everything in the world is there, if you are willing to get a little dirty and smelly looking for it. For all the romance of driving west, I’ve lived out there long enough to know that it’s full of people who are running away from something, or someone. In the West, it’s not hard to get an entire mountain, or a sandy ocean beach, all to yourself.
Who wants that? I’m going where all the people, and all the hearts are. But I am leaving a lot of my heart west of the Mississippi. And I’ll be back.