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We know so little of our own geography. Why, Maine extends northward almost to the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and its upper border is perhaps a hundred miles north of Quebec. And another thing I had conveniently forgotten was how incredibly huge America is.
On the bus's digital temperature gauge, the outdoor reading is 79� and the indoor reading is 59�. No wonder Madden used to stalk the sidelines in shirtsleeves in December. The rules of the bus are made clear: "Don't wait for anyone, finish any bottle of water you start, drink right out of the bottle, and never take 1-80 in or out of New York—there's always construction." Madden doesn't like the clutter of plastic bottles. One problem: The bottles each hold 50 ounces of water.
Soon the Madden Cruiser headed into the web of California freeways, turning onto 1-580 and then onto 1-205 in the San Joaquin Valley, where endless fields of vegetables were being irrigated. South of Stockton the bus picked up 1-5, the freeway to Sacramento, which would connect with 1-80, the highway Hahn and Yarbrough would drive for 53 hours. "Now, you don't think," Madden said, an hour from his front door. "You've got to turn off your brain for 50 hours."
On the right side, about mid-bus, is a table with two bench seats, and Madden, five deep slugs into his first bottle of water, sat on the bench facing the front. To his right were miles of fields. Straight ahead was road. He was the tour guide, and he relished the role. A passenger found out soon enough that one of Madden's favorite topics is America. He talked about its wide-open spaces with the same fervor he uses for a chalkboard description of a Lawrence Taylor sack. He is loquacious and engaging, but he doesn't burst through walls—as he was portrayed in the famous Lite beer commercials—and he doesn't wave his arms. That is Madden shtick. Madison Avenue Madden. This is the real Madden. On the whole trip, I counted only two booms, no whaps and no significant rise in his voice. You know, as in, "SeeTaylorcominginpastLacheyandBOOM!HelevelsBynerand-WHAP! Rypien'sdown!"
"If anything will impress you as you go across the country, it's how much space there is," he said. "This country, you'd think it was crowded, but you cross it, go for hours, and not see anything. You realize the only places that are truly congested are the big cities. Between congestions are just wide-open spaces. There's a hell of a lot more wide-open spaces than congested cities.
"That's why I've always said that before someone can be a congressman or a senator or president or vice-president, the person should ride across this country. Not drive, because you can't see when you drive. You have to ride, either like this or on a train. If you fly into Washington from New York, or from San Francisco or L.A. or Chicago, how the hell do you know? If a person can't see the country, how the hell can he represent it?"
Ninety miles outside of Reno, I asked the tour guide, "How did you get so interested in seeing the country?"
"Travels with Charley influenced me a lot," Madden said. "I always wanted to travel, because I'd never seen anything. He was a great storyteller, John Steinbeck. I read everything of his. What happened was, my wife was taking this class for her master's or something. It was a literature course, and she had to study an author. She picked Steinbeck. One of the things she had to do was go up to Monterey, where Cannery Row was, and I did the stuff with her. She'd read the books, and they were just lying around, so I'd read them. The Monterey Peninsula, Cannery Row, is still my favorite place in the whole world.