Of all the hobbies I have, this one is without a doubt the hardest to explain to people when they find out. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “What’s the deal?” I blame a Nashville thrift store and National Geographic.
In my early 20s, I frequented thrift stores for vintage and mid-century modern items. Especially anything with tightly kerned Helvetica. One of my scores (from Pre-to-Post Modern) was a great collection of maps in a yellow plastic container with a lid.
Turns out that National Geographic had released this collection, hence the colors, and I fell in love with the collection of items and promptly paid the $10. Once home, I looked briefly at the maps – packing them away for safe-keeping – and then I used this box as my storage for any loose items around my home-office desk. Not only was it a great item (and Helvetica!) but it was a constant nudge to explore new areas when I had the opportunity.
Getting to Know America
I talk at length about my initial motivations for visiting county seats in my testimony for both Tennessee and Florida – the first two states I completed. However, my feelings have evolved and matured since 2012 when I started in earnest.
There’s so many things I get out of visiting county seats – an understanding of how places came to be, an appreciation for both the history and trajectory of an area in terms of socioeconomic growth/decline, and an excuse to go to places that I otherwise would have no reason to see, ever.
These encounters, though usually brief, help me paint a much more nuanced picture of the country and have been tremendously helpful in helping me understand what life is like outside the ‘city’.
A Common Way of Living
The majority of America’s land mass is open, wild, and lightly trod. Rural communities abound that have slowly come to be over time, and others were thriving and are now ghost towns. The attitudes, preferences, sensibilities, and vernacular of the different areas I’ve been to are definitely different, but they’re the same in as much as they all share the same colloquial pride in who they are, what they stand for, and the traditions and personalities that have preceded the current residents of an area.
It fills my heart to converse with a general store clerk, diner chef, gas station attendant, or fellow patron of an establishment I happen to walk into. The inherent goodness that you find in the inhabitants of these areas really make you think twice about the benefits of living in a metropolitan area.
I’m a father of two and I’m constantly thinking about things I have learned on the road, learned in preparation for my excursions, and learned in research after-the-fact, trying to figure out what a building used to be or why a land feature is the way it is.
Where We Are Now
The Close-Up U.S.A. box that I’ve had for a decade now is the design inspiration for the site, as I have always had a soft spot for the visual language of that era. I’m working to pull together documentation from various sources (Evernote, Word Docs, Dropbox, Facebook, iCloud) before enough time passes that my experiences are lost to technology and time.
In the same spirit of starting a quest to see every county in America in order to push me to explore, I’ve also started a podcast to force myself to share the interesting pieces of history I’ve found digging around online after visiting areas on a county seat jaunt. This is the first experience I have podcasting, so I’m sure that I’ll learn a ton about that along the way.
I also plan to use my travels as source material for creative endeavors: goods for sale (posters, shirts, stickers), writing songs, and Lord knows what else.
One question I get often from people is “Do you really think you’re actually gonna get to every county?”
With a full time job and no sponsorship of any kind, I have no way of knowing. It’s a noble goal, and who knows how close I’ll get. As of Jan 1, 2020 I’ve already completed 4 states. My first goal is to visit at least one county in every state, which is very doable. I’m eager to see more and can’t wait to make it to my next state. After that, I’m just enjoying the ride.