Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon, is one of the best travel books I have ever read, as important today as when it was published in 1982. At one time, back roads were designated on maps as blue, to distinguish them from the four-lane interstate highways. The blue highways were two-lane roads that meandered through the American landscape, allowing a person to actually see America, rather than zipping by everything at 65 mph. William Least Heat Moon, at a low ebb in his life, separated from his wife and having had the courses he was to teach cancelled, decided to set forth to see America on the blue highways, saying:
With a nearly desperate sense of isolation and a growing suspicion I lived in an alien land, I took to the open road in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected (5).
Throughout the book, Moon crisscrosses America on the back roads, living out of his truck, which he has named Ghost Dancing. His first traveling chapter begins in Missouri on US Route 70, and he works his way around the entire country from there, traveling 13,000 miles in all, avoiding interstates, thus making connection with real people and places, not national chains and sterile rest stops. He learns the history of the places he stops and joins in with local people to experience as much as he possibly can. It is impossible to convey in a brief summary the richness and depth of his experience.
In today's world, because of corporate homogenization and GPS telling us the most efficient route from point A to point B, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between any two places in America, all of the roads looking the same, all of the chain restaurants having the same menu, and all of the big box stores laid out in exactly the same way. William Least Heat Moon chose to do something different, and the result is a celebration of what makes a country great, its quirks and anomalies. Blue Highways is graced with the serendipity of the journey of the person with the open mind and heart.