Homesickness is a bummer. There’s no other way to put it. But often, the ache of missing the familiarity of home can be softened, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. For Matthew Muspratt, a lawyer working in Africa, comfort came in the form of Google Street View. Sitting at his desk in Kigali, Rwanda, he virtually traversed the whole continental U.S. on an epic cross-country road trip, one click at a time.
One major thing Muspratt took away was how his “road trip” gave him valuable insight into the “small town America” that everyone likes to talk about, but few really bother to see. Witnessing the “gutted Main Streets” of dying rust belt towns hit home for him. As an expat who hadn’t lived in America for about a decade, all he had been hearing about his home country was what he’d been seeing in the news. He felt homesick for the real thing, which, as we all know, is much more complex and nuanced than what is being portrayed in the media.
What I personally found the most interesting about his journey was how he spent the time to look up questions he had about quirks he noticed small towns. Instead of talking to locals about his queries, though, he had Wikipedia. He kept a journal of screencaps and interesting stories from these towns.
Even the smallest towns in the most middle America often betray something larger. Swedish flags in Bishop Hill, Illinois, (pop. 128) tipped me off to a significant early Scandinavian immigrant colony — and the tale of its founder’s murder over love and family feud. Jerkwater Road in rural Indiana led me to a lesson about boilermen aboard olden-day steam locomotives who jerked spigot chains at unmanned water stations (in middle-of-nowhere jerkwaters) to fill their boilers.
He concedes that a Google Street View road trip isn’t comparable to an actual cross-country road trip. But the appeal of spending an hour clicking your way down a scenic, two-lane country road is very real; compared to the grim news and constant bickering we find almost everywhere else on the Internet, it even sounds relaxing. Almost as good as hopping in the car for an evening drive with no destination in mind to clear your head. Almost.
Here are some of our personal favorite stories from across America…