Laozi, also known by numerous other names, was a semi-legendary ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, credited with writing the Tao Te Ching. Laozi is a Chinese honorific, generally translated as “the Old Master”.


 He is best known as the author of the Laozi (later retitled the Tao-Te-Ching translated as Book of the Way), the classic manual on the art of living, and one of the wonders of the world. In eighty-one brief chapters, the Tao Te Ching looks at the basic predicament of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit.
 The Tao Te Ching is the main book of Taoism, which holds that humans and animals should live in balance with the Tao, or the universe. Taoists believe in spiritual immortality, where the spirit of the body joins the universe after death.

There are many versions of the Tao Te Ching, the Tao Te Ching, as translated by the inestimable Stephen Mitchell, at Chapter 80 reads:

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing

labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

I’ve long appreciated the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching and other eastern writings, especially the writings of  Dogen, Ikkyu and other Zen writers. I’ve studied such writings for years. I think I first read the Tao Te Ching over 40 years ago. I cannot say, however, that I have always abided by its word- although I’ve always respected the truth of its message.  It is, however, a message for men with gray hair, for those who already own a fair degree of wisdom.


Until the last decade or so I was a younger man with the desires and ambitions of most young adventurers.

I had, throughout my life,  owned countless wagons- or at least trucks and SUV’s- and they took me everywhere.

I have been- for nearly half a century, a writer and photographer and traveler. My heart, until recently, would beat only if I were connected to the highway by spinning wheels.

I had small garden for many years, but these gardens invariably went to seed when I left, at harvest time, to visit distant lands.

In the last five to ten years, however, much has changed, both inside me and in the world outside of me. What I mean by that is that I changed and the world about me has changed. Those preoccupations which have long meant so much to me have changed.

Traditionally, I did not enjoy the labor of my hands- save for use in photography. Today- although I am not a craftsman- I love to work with my hands, primarily in the garden.

Travel has changed. In the past, I loved to spend every free moment traveling. The rails and highways were my friends. I lived to go new places and to meet new people.



Today for many reasons, I am reluctant to travel. In short, travel has become- especially since Covid-loud crowded and expensive, everything I’ve always sought to to escape when traveling.

Travel sites speak of little else. These blurbs hit my inbox recently:

  • This summer travel season is set to be the busiest yet, with record-breaking crowds traveling by air and by car in the coming weeks.
  • According to AAA, more Americans will be traveling during the week of July 4th than ever before, with 43.2 million driving and 4.17 million flying. A further 3.36 million will be traveling by bus, cruise, or train, also setting a new record.
  • With summer just around the corner, many are finalizing their summer travel plans. Some will head abroad, and some plan to stick close to home, but regardless of where people are planning on traveling, it’s clear that a massive number of people will take a trip this summer.

For the last forty years or, so, if once was willing to sacrifice, one could literally get away, one could find interesting people in new places and once could, if one was willing to sacrifice a bit, do so relatively cheaply.

With a little effort and study, it was not difficult for the majority of decades in  which I have traveled, to find a fair degree of solitude.  And this was important to me because, in short,  I went to get away. And with a little effort one could escape whether it be into the mountains, to a seashore or even in the heart of the city.

This is no longer true. After covid, the world came to a screaming halt, and a strange intermediary period followed.

The covid ended and it seemed as though everyone charged for the nearest, bus, train or highway. The rush has never stopped. Hotels and airlines and gas companies scrambled, not only to recoup past losses, but to use these circumstances as an excuse to gouge the newly released masses.

This from the AP (7/13/23):

After three years of pandemic limitations, tourism is expected to exceed 2019 records in some of Europe’s most popular destinations this summer, from Barcelona and Rome, Athens and Venice to the scenic islands of Santorini in Greece, Capri in Italy and Mallorca in Spain.  While European tourists edged the industry toward recovery last year, the upswing this summer is led largely by Americans, boosted by a strong dollar and in some cases pandemic savings. Many arrive motivated by “revenge tourism” — so eager to explore again that they’re undaunted by higher airfares and hotel costs.

The most mediocre hotels in the most mediocre of city have been charging  hundreds of dollars a night for a stunningly average room; and people have been overpaying for these room simply to be someplace other than home.

The price of travel has skyrocketed everywhere and remains there-including National Parks, especially National Parks. This from today’s New York Times:

Largely freed from domestic travel restrictions, Americans have been flocking to national parks in record numbers this spring and summer. Several parks — including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park — have already set monthly visitation records. Many sites are gearing up for their busiest years in history. And so, in place of serenity, many visitors have instead found packed parking lots, congested trailheads, overrun campsites and interminable lines.

Everywhere is packed not with those seeking the the thrill of adventure , but , rather, they are simply there, seemingly because they have been told to be there.

In traveling since Covid, I found many people traveling seem to have no purpose, they drive aimlessly from place to place, blocking the sidewalks, going nowhere, faces blank and eyes empty.

Travel has become a commodity. Travelers appear indistinguishable from shoppers at Walmart at Christmas, looking only to buy the latest bauble.

More headlines:

One travel writer in bemoaning the current gridlock of Nashville, wrote:

If you’ve been to Nashville lately, you’ve probably noticed how packed it is. There’s a current trend of bachelorettes and their bridal parties flocking to Nashville for one last wild weekend before heading to the altar — and they’re not the only ones overcrowding Nashville. Music lovers and travelers searching for that Southern charm aren’t going to find it in Nashville anymore.

Um, darling; Nashville has been packed for well over a decade. But no matter, cause she’s got a secret solution, “Memphis!” And not only does she know the secret town, she knows the clandestine place to stay and the covert places to frolic after dark in this undiscovered town called Memphis.

I know you’re dying to pack your bags, so I won’t keep you in suspense,  and in good travel writer form, I’ll simply pass her inside knowledge along without vetting it.

The heart of the universe is “the Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis,” which “ha[s] an amazing view of the city…”

And there’s more:

The Hyatt Centric has a breathtaking view from its Beck & Call rooftop whiskey bar, where you can see the famous “M Bridge” light show that lights the way to Arkansas over the Mississippi River. The rooftop also offers views of the Memphis Pyramid, downtown Memphis, and so much more.

Our intrepid guide does not mention that in 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops megastore, which included shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with an outdoor observation deck adjacent to its apex.:  Hot Damn.

How’s that for hidden southern charm?

And the price for this journey to paradise? Well our vacuous guide doesn’t say, but with  very little effort, one can find that  a night at the Beale Street Memphis will run you a mere 233 a night plus 32 a night for parking plus 30.00 for taxes.”

Though fear not, for once you are at the Hyatt Center- you’ll find yourself within spitting distance of Beale Street and grab food and drinks at “the infamous B.B. King’s Blues Club or try some of the many other famous spots up and down the strip.”

Can you smell the identical smell of Cysco chicken tenders and fries wafting from doorways of each painfully fungible tourist pit?

And while our guide assured us that “Beale Street is filled with blues, soul, rock-n-roll, and jazz music every night,” I can assure you that based upon my lifetime of traveling America, Beale Street is just one more giant corporate commodity which bears no resemblance the blues clubs which gave birth to the likes of Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon back in the day.

Beale Street itself and the clubs which line Beale street are plastic tourist traps. Go there, spend way too much. Learn nothing.

Wanna go looking for the heart and soul of America? Does such an animal still even exists?

Why not find out for yourself? Go out and explore-don’t go out and wander just because a travel hack with a

laptop told you to. Go out and experience America, directly, on your own, first hand.

Here’s a good place to begin exploring:

Buy a thirty day pass on Amtrak- good for ten separate trips during those thirty days.  Sleep and eat on the train. Travel cross country a couple times in  October or November when the hordes have gone home and the temperatures have dropped below 110.

Load some great America literature onto your phone: McCormac, Steinbeck, Oates. Listen to the magic of their prose as you slide over great plains unwinding below vast northern skies.

There’s magic out there, but you need to find it on your own.

Here’s a short blurb on McCarthy’s latest novel- a novel he wrote in his 90s, a novel set in pre-Katrina New Orleans:

What a glorious sunset song of a novel this is. It’s rich and it’s strange, mercurial and melancholic. McCarthy started out as the laureate of American manifest destiny, spinning his hard-bitten accounts of rapacious white men. He ends his journey, perhaps, as the era’s jaundiced undertaker. Come friendly bombs. Come rising oceans. The old world is dying and probably not before time, and The Passenger steals in to turn out all the lights.

This is America, embrace your cultural heritage. Learn jazz and blues on the road and not in tourist traps. Here’s just one synopsis of one jazz  piece waiting to blow your mind:

Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come:
Another revolutionary album from 1959, The Shape of Jazz To Come isn’t just a great album, it signaled a whole new direction in jazz, as musicians sought to break free from conventional structures like chord sequences and compositional forms. Ornette Coleman’s quartet, fronted with his long-standing collaborator Don Cherry on trumpet, would play one of Ornette’s memorable themes as the ‘head in’ at the beginning, and the ‘head out’ at the end, just as a standard jazz band would. However, the improvised solos in between these melodies dispensed with chord changes and form, in a technique known as ‘time, no changes’. The Shape of Jazz to Come includes some of Ornette Coleman’s most memorable compositions , including ‘Peace’ and ‘Lonely Woman’, and, despite its radicalism, is steeped in infectious, bluesy swing.

Travel along the west coast or through the Rocky Mountain National Park. Fall asleep each night to the rhythm of the tracks. Go to the bar car, meet people who don’t stay in Hyatt’s. The month on the train will set you back the price of a night and a half at the Beale Street Hyatt.

No, we haven’t been bribed a dime by Amtrak.

During trips stop at big and small empty towns, stop at towns you’ve never even heard of.

Talk to people, find a town that hasn’t been ruined by hack travel writers. Go there, eat home cooked meals in half empty restaurants. Buy a local a beer, learn why their town is special.

Find out what’s left of America, learn what towns and cities-big and small- are truly still worth experiencing, worth seeing.

We’ll be doing just that in the months and years to come.  In the interim- let’s share notes- discretely and quietly. Let’s find out what’s left of America.