There is no better way to truly understand what it means to be an American than to get out on the open road and visit some of the small towns that dot our glorious landscape. That is exactly what author Brad Herzog did, in a motor home he named “Phileas", as he set off from the comforts of his Monterey, California, home to see if the American dream was alive and well. The result is a highly entertaining and enlightening journey that goes deep into the heart of America, and finds beating there some unique and interesting people, places and things…each with a story to tell.
The running theme in Small World is that Herzog visited small towns that shared names with great non-American cities – places such as Athens, New York, or Moscow, Maine, or Bagdad, Arizona. And there are many of these strangely-named towns all across the country, each with its own flora and flavor. Herzog, who also wrote the award-winning States of Mind, turns traveling life’s backroads into an art form as he coasts into towns that boast populations in the low double digits, haven’t seen much of the outside world, or have seen it but don’t care at all to emulate it.
With an open mind, the author sets out shortly after the horrific events of 9-11 and meets folks who live on the outskirts, the edges, and the forgotten byways of a country that too often emphasizes the big city mentality, and he finds plenty of surprises. Like a colony of nudists in Athens, New York, who swear the answer to intolerance and war is to be in the raw, or the Hare Krishnas of Calcutta, West Virginia, co-inhabiting an undoubtedly Christian fundamentalist area. Then there are the fun-loving hippies of London, Wisconsin, in stark contrast to the God-Guns-Glory folks in Jerusalem, Arkansas. And the Mexican migrant town of Mecca, California, where the American dream is alive and well in two languages. In each tiny hamlet, the author discovers a world of differing ideas, mentalities (some undoubtedly more backwards than others) and idealisms, all of which have been altered by the events of September 11th, 2001.
The goal of the author was to find the real America, and to see what stories existed in the places most of us will never visit, or even pass through. With a great deal of humor, insight and warmth, he takes us along on his journey of discovery, and we get to experience the same sense of fascination and discovery as he talks with and learns from people who struggle to survive and make sense of their world. Most of the people he meets are welcoming, some are much more suspicious. Some are idealistic, others narrow-minded. Some are happy, others still seek their place in the sun. But ultimately, the heart of the nation lives and beats in these small towns, and it turns out that we all share the same lifeblood, whether we are city dwellers, farmers, ranchers, suburbanites or wanderers like Herzog. The people may dress differently, talk differently, even believe differently, but the end result of this amazing journey is this – we are all connected.