It's an American travel staple: the cross-country road trip. Weeks behind the wheel, heading down highways and rural roads, holing up in motels, pulling into roadside diners, breezing through small towns, taking big cities by storm and, I hope, getting to know this great nation of ours in a way the National Security Agency could only dream of.
Tomorrow, I'll set out on just such a trip, starting at one end of the United States and heading clear on through to the other. You guessed it -- I'm headed from Baton Rouge, La., to Fargo, N.D. It's your classic cross-country, rotated 90 degrees. Who needs sea to shining sea when you've got bayou to Red River?
I know the East Coast, I know the West Coast, I know the Rockies. I've seen a lot of the South; I've been around Texas. But nine of the 12 states I've never visited lie in a swath that bisects the country from the Gulf of Mexico to the Manitoba border. So like a draw play in a Big Ten football game, I'm heading straight up the middle, to find out what summertime is like in the heartland.
The truth is that I have little idea of what to expect besides "really hot," given the time of year. The problem is, I'm a New Yorker, and before that I was a Bostonian, and both groups are pretty clueless about that central strip of the country.
So how about a little help?
If you've got frugal tastes and live in or know your way around Louisiana (New Orleans not included), Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, the eastern portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, I want to hear from you. What special summer events take place in the next month? What towns are worth a look-see? Where are the nooks of culture, the historical treasures? What diners and ice cream shops and farmstands and restaurants are worth a stop? I'll even take suggestions for local radio stations. If you're a heartland urbanite, why is your city better than theirs? That's right, Kansas Citonians, have it out with Little Rockers and Omahafers and Desmoinières. (I made up all those descriptors. See, I really know nothing.)
One more thing: As much as humanly possible, I'm vowing to avoid any businesses or buy any brands that we have in New York. Why go to Pizza Hut when you can go to Pizza Ranch? Why have a Coke when you could have a Jic Jac? I'm looking for local hamburger chains, potato chip brands, breweries, motel chains -- you name it. No, seriously, name it.
Leave a comment below, write a message on the Frugal Traveler Facebook page or get in touch on the @frugaltraveler Twitter feed, where you can also follow my trip day by day. See you on the road.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.