After 20 days, over 50 conversations, about 12000 miles, and a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches I'm on my way back to Brooklyn.
I met cowboys and ranchers and lawyers and police officers and waitresses and teachers and sandwich artists and gun makers and factory workers and students and mechanics and eccentrics and small business owners.
They generously gave me hats and maps and books and photographs and fireworks and mugs and pens and nuts and home cooked meals.
I made a few new friends, promised a lot of people coffee or a drink in New York sometime, got in some debates but no fights, and got interviewed for a local paper or two.
I've got lots more stories and pictures and video to share as I collect my thoughts and reflect more deeply on everything I experienced. I'm not sure what exactly I'll make of it all, but I do know that my view of the country changed - not that my values or beliefs are different - just that I feel a kind of complexity that I can't quite yet describe. It was heartening to spend time with people - grappling with questions together and asking hard questions and disagreeing and challenging assumptions.
I'm lucky to travel quite a bit, but rarely for this long and never alone. That experience stirs something new in me that is beyond just missing familiarity of place or the comfort of things. It is homesickness in a way that is new to me: a knowledge that I am displaced - present here and yet belonging somewhere else. It makes me think of the many people who are much more displaced and with so much less power over the experience. Impossible for me to imagine a pain like that.
It is hard as the end nears. I trace my path hours into the future - a drive through the gradually flattening landscape as Appalachia slides towards the sea, onto an Amtrak train from Baltimore headed into Penn Station, and finally to a perfect little apartment on a sleepy block in one of the world's great cities, where my favorite person lives and makes it the only place I know how to call 'home'.
Scott Illingworth is an Assistant Arts Professor in the Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and a freelance theatre director.