The Lost Continent Bill Bryson Presented by Danielle Zeigler
Amalgam: The Perfect Town • Based on the backdrop of towns in TV shows from his childhood • Never encountered it through the course of childhood road trips • Surely existed somewhere, though • This perfect place must exist in our nation so attached to small-town ideals.
Change & Sense of Loss • Cannot ever go home again • At least, not the home remembered • Businesses gone • Empty lots • Grass in sidewalk cracks • People driving 30 miles for a loaf of bread
Midwesterners • Directions vital • “Innate need to be oriented” • “European cities, with their wandering streets and undisciplined alleys, drive Midwesterners practically insane” (15).
Disappointment in Small Towns • Used to be a gas station and Dairy Queen, maybe a motel, on the outskirts of town • Now, a mile or more of fast-food places, discount cities and shopping malls, all surrounded by immense parking lots and no sidewalks • “The town had no center. It had been eaten by shopping malls” (46).
Billboards • “In places like Iowa and Kansas they were about the only stimulation you got” (49). • Older billboards far superior to those of today. • 3-dimensional elements • Coming attraction advertised with signs every several miles • Often adorned with interesting quotes and information, like oversized postcards • Now, simply show the attraction and directions
Daylight Savings Time • States go their own direction in this regard • “It made you realize to what an extent the United States is really fifty independent countries” (53). • Arizona
South • Often see a white person’s nice house right next door to a black person’s shack • That would never happen in the North. • Ironic, considering the past relations • Voices from the North on Southern radio • Indirectness and slowness make Southern speech unique
Almost Amalgam • Columbus, Mississippi nearly achieved perfection • Savannah, Georgia and Chestertown, Maryland also nearly his ideal • Cooperstown, New York also close, but too many tourists • Began to realize that he would never find it all in one piece • “I would have to collect it piecemeal—a courthouse here, a fire station there” (67).
College Towns • “Only places in America to combine benefits of small-town pace of life with big-city sophistication” (71) • Nice bars and restaurants • Interesting shops • Worldly air • Feeling of youth and vitality
Warm Springs, Georgia • Franklin Delano Roosevelt died there • Path leading to the Little White House lined with rocks from every state • Some cut in the shape of the state, buffed and engraved • Others just “featureless hunks” • What will the state quarter of Kansas look like?
Hotels • Bryson gets personally offended by the hotels in Savannah, Georgia. • Beautiful old buildings interspersed with massive concrete chain hotels • Ruin the mood and ambience achieved in some cities
Idea of Vacation • “Not to expose yourself to a moment of discomfort or inconvenience—indeed, not to breathe fresh air if possible” (94). • RVs like life-support systems on wheels • And why are tourists fat and dress like morons?
Appalachia • Beautiful scenery • Why haven’t urban professionals flocked to this area of beauty? • Instead, it is inhabited by the truly impoverished. • White people living in poverty • Also seen in places like the Smoky Mountains and Vermont
Gettysburg • “It is a pity, verging on the criminal, that so much of the town of Gettysburg has been spoiled with tourist tat and that it is so visible from the battlefield” (132). • Fort Hays in Hays, Kansas
Tourism in Amish Towns • Fascination with Amish way of life causes millions to come and gawk • Non-Amish businessmen established tourist stops that the Amish cannot even patronize • Tourists left to take pictures of each other since the Amish never come to town anymore
Nebraska Football • No “fair play” in Cornhusker vocabulary • “The University of Nebraska would send in flamethrowers if it were allowed” (208). • Sitting in the midst of Nebraska fans is an unnerving experience, “particularly when you consider that a lot of them must work at the Strategic Air Command in Omaha. If Iowa State ever upset Nebraska, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they nuked Ames.”
Kansas • The Quintessential American State • Home of Dorothy and Superman • Place where people still say “by golly” and “gee whillikers” • Visiting Great Bend was like traveling through a time warp • Between Great Bend and Dodge City, people stop wearing sneakers and ball caps and start wearing boots and cowboy hats
Santa Fe • “Too rich and pretty for words” (229) • Oldest continuously inhabited city in America, founded in 1610 • Everything made of adobe • Not just a front for the tourists, either • Simply the indigenous building material • Savannah hotels could take a lesson
Compartmentalization • No commercial activities inside a national park • Unrestrained development outside, even though the scenery is just as beautiful • “America has never quite grasped that you can live in a place without making it ugly, that beauty doesn’t have to be confined behind fences” (95).
Compartmentalization, cont. • Smithsonian now has everything categorized and organized into its set place • National Air and Space Museum • No sense of discovery or element of surprise • Clinical and uninspired
Genuineness and Ugliness • “There was just modern commercial squalor—shopping centers, gas stations, motels. Every once in a while there would be a white church or clapboard inn standing incongruously in the midst of Burger Kings and Texacos. But far from mollifying the ugliness, it only intensified it, reminding you what had been thrown away for the sake of drive-through burgers and cheap gasoline” (156).
The American Way • Little room for sentiment • Don’t preserve the past for its own sake • Past revered only as long as there is money and modern conveniences in it • House from the movie Paper Moon
Food for Thought • Which is worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored?
Tourism Discussion • Good or bad? • What will make it succeed in Rural America? • Would it be better for some towns to just throw in the towel and admit defeat in the battle of attracting outsiders, or should they keep fighting for those tourist dollars?