I have been lucky enough to travel some, and either blessed or cursed in that the most restful moments I have ever known are those in which I can watch the world slide by. Our planet feels to me both small and huge all at the same time - one can be anywhere within the space of a single day, yet every spin of the earth spent wisely only serves to expand the horizon. As people our similarities and differences ebb an flow from one place to the next. Everything and all of us a little bit different. Everything and all of us a little bit the same.
I've been steadily moving from one location to the next for years now, enjoying the immense privilege of being born into the comparative comfort of middle England - a lucky springboard into a life of mostly doing whatever the fuck I like. Yet a desire has been growing inside to do something with a bit more purpose, to bring together the different elements of a sometimes scattershot existence. I feel rarely achieve more than scratch at the skin of a place, moving on in the face of opportunities that appear or tending to seedling relationships that reach for the sunlight.
Many at some stage aim for the big American road trip - particularly if you are shot through with so many cultural touchstones in the makings of your brain. The USA is a country that looms so large in modern history and culture that the internal promises to one day go out and look for it are easily made - to search under the furniture things that used to be and might be still, or things you were not sure to believe ever really existed in the first place. The America of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, of Nina Simone and Mavis Staples. The America of Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks, of Patti Smith and Debbie Harry. The New York of Ghostbusters and the Los Angeles of Point Break, big city Robocop, small town Gremlins. Of Chuck Jones and Walt Disney. Of Chuck Yeager, the Mercury Seven and the New Nine. Of Sigourney Weaver kicking ass in space like nobody ever before or since. The never-was and always-is Wild West of Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood. The America of Tom Waits.
But today’s USA is also the land of the drive-through bank. The America of non-stop televised pharmaceutical badgering and the sinister machinations of managed news. Of labyrinthine superstores with their canyon rows of poisonous psychedelic breakfast serial and the vulgar privilege of a hundred flavours of Pop-Tarts and a hundred more of Oreos. The pumpkin-spiced everything, pole-axing you with guilty choice. The abandoned homeless wandering the streets in every big city in the same way third-world countries have dogs. The militarised police force. The steel-and-glass mega church. The community massacre.
Skydiving is an excellent prism through which to view a society - it gathers humans from every corner of being, as much through adventure and travel as by simple proximity to a big patch of grass to land upon. I have never encountered anything that so precisely and thoroughly strips away fortune’s grace and favour, and insists so thoroughly you leave your preconceptions by the door. The most superficially unremarkable person you meet on the ground may well be an unimpeachable deity of something, decades deep in legends. The dropzone insists you come only as you are, and the sky makes you stay.
If you were going to have a proper peep at the insides of a place, is there anywhere else you would want to investigate more than the USA, and to do so by skydiving in every part of it?
“Do you want to go to all fifty states?”
“No. Wait. Yes.”