While watching the Penguins and Capitals play the favorite game of our neighbors to the North, an ad for a German car company included a tune from the folk duo of Simon and Garfunkel.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the song that the two recorded almost 50 years ago that is almost the same age as the Pittsburgh Penguins. What I do remember is that the song has haunted me every time I heard it.
A tune about a couple’s journey through tumultuous times trying to find themselves while discovering the wide world outside the places they once knew. Everyone lives in their own fishbowl until they decide to jump out and swim in a different pond, taking that trip from different state to state or city to city. Discovering ourselves.
Ironically the song mentions Pittsburgh as well – a place I’ve seen only from an airplane.
I was just a kid when I went looking for America – it felt like every summer my parents would pack up our car and head in every direction on the compass to some out-of-the-way destination. I spent hours in the backseat of a car reading and sleeping on Interstate highways as we traveled the East Coast from Bangor, Maine all the way down to Daytona Beach, Florida.
In those trips, I found my America. I found the parts of the country that excited me from the sports stadiums to the national monuments to the quirky foods to the dark and lonely roads that scatter this country. I developed a love of french fries, an obsession with soda, a desire to see where pro and college teams play, the love of the cold from dipping in the Atlantic Ocean in Maine and a need to understand.
I found America when I saw the crack in the Liberty Bell, viewed the ships in Philadelphia harbor, looked up at Lady Liberty and saw the places where men fought over war that has been labeled “civil.”
I discovered different foods like clam chowder or carolina barbecue or shrimp scampi or fried catfish or pizza that wasn’t made in the South. Although along the way I discovered that there are so many great things you can find in convenience stores like beef jerky and slurpees.
I also saw the Meadowlands, Veteran’s Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Fulton County Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and many college fields.
Most of all along the way I saw different things and different ways of life. It was the need to understand the culture that I enjoyed so much. Going to New York and seeing the fast pace of life after coming from the South where things moved so slow. Or even going to Maine to see how vast America is.
Then there was the plane flight from Virginia to Pittsburgh to Seattle, flying over so much of the country to get to a place on the map that looked so far away. Talk about culture shock for me – going from the sunny South to the dreary Northwest. I admired the floating bridges of Seattle, the rain forest that was just hours away, the mystery of Snoqualmie Falls and the intrigue of Mount St. Helens. The more I heard about Seattle the more I felt like it was so far away from Virginia even though it was America.
The same America where sports teams will draft players who have multiple arrests: just recently the Minnesota Vikings who took Dalvin Cook and the Jacksonville Jaguars took Cam Robinson. The Cincinnati Bengals who will draft a player, Joe Mixon, that knocked a woman out because she slapped him. Or the Cleveland Browns who took Caleb Brantley even though he’s accused of battery on a woman like Mixon.
This is America. America where sports has become so interwoven into our culture that baseball’s World Series is known as the “Fall Classic.” College football is a religious day in the South only proceeded by high school football and followed by church.
Unfortunately we’ve become a product of our entertainment. We’ve let ourselves be bought by glitz and glamour. We’ve sold our souls for the promise of athletic achievement while giving up on common courtesy and humanity. We are happy to use public funds to build sports arenas but balk at helping those who have nothing. All the while sports owners use their funds to return to their mansions and luxury cars.
It’s the worry that our team might lose or we may never see them win a championship that keeps us hoping for next year yet we miss life passing in front of us. We miss the things that Simon and Garfunkel went looking for on their trip through America. We don’t enjoy the wire that we all walk in life and how much joy can be found in the little things. We don’t understand the pain that everyone else goes through. We don’t appreciate others. We don’t value other parts of America.
America isn’t just a piece of land, or an ideal, it is people. It’s humanity but it should also giving and caring. It’s time we all went looking for that.