Skip to main content

tv   QA Neil King Walking to New York City  CSPAN  August 23, 2021 6:01am-7:01am EDT

6:01 am
>> you think this is just a community? >> no. it is way more than that. >> creating wifi enabled lists. >> comcast supports c-span as a public service along with these other television providers giving you froopt row seat to democracy. >> this week the u.s. house is expected to begin work on voting rights and the $3.5 trillion budget resolution as well as the infrastructure bill. it all starts today when the rules committee meets to work out the structure of the debate. on or listen live on the free c-span radio app. ♪
6:02 am
susan: neil king, jr., welcome to c-span, first of all. neil: pleasure to be here. susan: i wanted to start our conversation with the photo you posted on twitter on march 29, this is you in washington, d.c. as you are beginning a walk from washington to new york city. how and why did this long sojourn come about? neil: i had puzzled over this for years, where it had struck me, if you wanted to walk from new york to washington, d.c., and i live right by the capital, what would it entail? how would you do it? i was taken by the idea largely because those of us who live in washington or live in new york, we do our best to blaze between those two places. some of us call it the acela corridor, which i like to joke is named after a shortened, accelerated version of the
6:03 am
word accelerate. even though the train is not that fast, it is still our fast train. it was fascinating to walk through the acela corridor, what would that entail? i was taken by the absurdity of it. i started to look closely at the history of the area, what routes i might actually take, and it became more alluring and fascinating, and i finally got around to doing it. inating,t around to doing it. susan: you wrote on social media the trip was intended as a history infused exploration of susan: you wrote on social media the trip was intended as a history infused exploration of our national psyche, but the events of the last year gave the project an additional sense of urgency. -- gave the project an additional sense of urgency. do you want to tell me more about that? neil: i was going to do it last year at the end of march, the end of march last year raised a lot of complications. so i had to scratch it. it was quite fortuitous in a
6:04 am
way, i'm not saying covid, but doing it are your later when all that had happened, all of us being shut in, walking around behind masks, that long covid winter which was pretty horrific stretch, the events we saw play out on january 6 at the capitol, the contested election. there was a lot of bad blood in the air overall. it made my desire to go out, i think it was the fifth day of spring, see it unfold. look up close and very slowly at the country, meeting people along the way, trying to understand where were we as a country at the moment. this is not a science, but it really made the historical setting, the moment, just so perfect in so many ways. susan: you are a writer. this is in the tradition of some very famous writers.
6:05 am
did you feel a writer's legacy? neil: profoundly, actually. funny you asked that question. if you go back to the 1830's and 1840's, there was a stream of travelers that came from europe to the young united states. let's figure this place out, let's travel through it. there were travel logs. they would go to boston or new york, then they would come down to washington. i had read a lot of those accounts. they were fascinating for a bunch of reasons. i wanted to write a longer version. my goal in some ways was to go in with that kind of wide-eyed, never having seen it before, almost kind of naivety those people brought to the united
6:06 am
states and try to judge it what i saw. it was very much in that tradition. susan: we have the map you posted on social media. let's take a look at it. in general, how long did this trip take? it's a long walk. neil: it took 26 days of various forms of motion. i will point out that in new york, i spent an entire day. in philadelphia i actually spent three days doing a lot of things but i wasn't moving. in lancaster, i also spent a day. in princeton, i also spent a day. there were basically five days of non-motion and about 19 days of motion. my days averaged -- the longest day was down in northern maryland, i did about 24 miles, that was pretty grueling, the third day.
6:07 am
the days averaged probably about 14 miles a day. susan: how much preplanning was involved? neil: a lot, but i also allowed for a lot of slack for things to just happen. it's fascinating. if you go into that area, it is extremely hard to find lodging of any kind throughout that whole area up to york. through that whole area i did airbnb's and people's houses. there was a very interesting inn that i stayed in. when i got to southern pennsylvania, i got to an interesting inn called the jackson house. in york i stayed at some airbnb's. you had to plan the lodging. there were places that i also planned to meet various people, because i did not want to leave all the encounters up to chance. i met with historians and writers and various people like that. in many ways, the best was the serendipitous ones. susan: how did covid impact this process?
6:08 am
neil: surprisingly little. a year ago, when it was pretty clear that covid was coming on fast, places i wanted to go were closing and i was being told they were closing. in this case, number of those places were opening. i didn't really -- i had my mask and put it on when necessary. i was in uncrowded places. when i dealt with people, for the most part they were either vaccinated or we were across some distance. it wasn't that big a factor, oddly enough. susan: how did your family react to the idea? neil: a certain amount of bemusement. a lot of people see you walking up i-95 and going into service stations and eating cinnabon's, so it's like, what? there was a certain amount of bafflement but over time i was very persistent and stubborn that it was going to happen.
6:09 am
they were totally supportive and generally appreciative. susan: as you were coming into the studio, you remarked how you used to be on this network all the time. i went to our video library and i found your last appearance on the network, i wanted to show a bit of that. [video clip] neil: i did an informal poll. of the three i asked, what was the thing you want congress to do, one said corporate tax reform, the other said immigration reform, and the third said yes, both of those. if we were to look at corporate tax reform, senator, you are of the mind that your own caucus can actually rally around a a distinct corporate tax reform plan that would advance, and but -- what would that then look like? susan: there is a lesson. we are still talking about the same things. that was 2014. what has been your journey from last time we saw you to today? neil: at the end of 2016, i left the journal and went out and did
6:10 am
some consulting research with some friends of mine through 2019. at the end of 2019, i decided to take an adult gap year and do a bunch of things that were writing related. one of the things was going to be the walk. then covid got in the way of that. i ended up taking a job at the rockefeller foundation, where i am doing various writing and consulting work with them. susan: you also posted a rather poignant essay on social media about dealing with some health problems, which were especially thought-provoking during the covid year. can you tell us about that story? neil: it's all of these things play into everything. at the end of the summer of 2017, i had one of those diagnoses where you hear the
6:11 am
word cancer told to you by a doctor, never fun. i embarked on a whole journey that was a classic cancer journey with chemo, radiation, and surgery and very bad odds at the start. i advise anyone don't pay attention to the odds. it was two and a half or maybe three years of a lot of uncertainty. as a like to say it reset my sense of time, and it cleansed my vision of a lot of things in ways i am grateful for now, at least at the moment, i would like to say, i am in a clearing but i'm not in the clear. i don't know, who knows? susan: are you feeling well? neil: totally. susan: some other projects related to this period is something called gotham canoe. what is that?
6:12 am
neil: when i left the journal i did a lot of writing of different kinds. i published this piece in the new york times that was about cancer and covid, had written some things for the atlantic and other places. i wanted to have some freedom to just put things out without having to wait for someone to proof it or edit it. so i created this site, which is about finding wildness and beauty anywhere, including in cities, which part of the gotham part. i post things there and write, and a lot of other people, primarily friends, have written a variety of things for it. it has been fun. it is not a for-profit venture. it's just another place to post writing. susan: another project that people can find online is a long piece you wrote about searching for frederick douglass' roots. why were you so intrigued with that and spent so much time? neil: i'm glad you brought that up. it really feeds into all of this. during the covid year, i had the
6:13 am
pleasure of being able to spend a lot of it on the eastern shore of maryland across chesapeake. i was doing work remotely like a lot of people. while i was there, i became not just aware of, because a lot of people know frederick douglass spent most of his teenage years in that area. obviously he was still an enslaved person at that time, the late 1820's, 1830's. what became obsessive to me is this this farmer he had been sent to spend a year when he was 16 was a mile and a half no notice of any kind that he
6:14 am
had ever been there. project, sto people to see how many people knew that douglas had spent this year there. the two things that were important about the walk, with the importance of place, acknowledging the history in certain places that might have been washed away or forgotten, and also a different view of this fight we are all having over which statues to have and which ones to maintain, teardown. part of my point is, we can have that debate about which statues to take down, but we should also be debating which things to note, which things to either
6:15 am
celebrate or highlight that we might not already be celebrating or highlighting. a lot of my walk was animated by the desire to find those places and be in those places. susan: all of the threats come -- the threads come together. before we get into the specifics of the walk, i think a lot of people were very curious about the logistics around an enterprise like this. i had a series of questions just about how you get ready and prepare. what shoes did you choose? [laughter] neil: particular lightweight walking shoe that had good treads. i really wanted them to dry quickly and not have it matter if i walk into rivers with them. i did do a moderate amount of fishing on the trip. susan: one pair of shoes for the entire walk? neil: yes. susan: wow. that is a great commercial for that brand. how did you prepare for the physicality of it? did you do practice walk? neil: i did a lot of walking every day. i was averaging probably nine miles or 10 miles a day for the year. for the last month or so, i just
6:16 am
put weights in it that would equal about 19 pounds, 20 pounds. i would train my back and that kind of thing. i would do 12 or 13 miles a day with my pack on. that really did make a big difference. susan: what was in that backpack? neil: when i left, if you add up the weight, i took my laptop, 2.1 pounds or something, the charger. i had very few clothes. i think i brought essentially three very lightweight thermal shirts, obviously a rain slick, a warmer patagonia down jacket, and a couple of pairs of socks. i got in the habit of every night i would do laundry and hang it up, and constantly be turning it that way. i went very minimalist. i had a couple of books, oddly, i tried to be very spare at what i brought.
6:17 am
some people might scoff at 18 pounds and say probably could go to 12 pounds. it was fine, the weight was never an issue. susan: what electronics did you bring? neil: we call them phones. the reality is these things are everything but phones, cameras, recording devices, mapping. i brought an iphone which was invaluable in every imaginable way, and i brought a laptop. susan: did you use gps? neil: i did. i also had the torn out pages of detailed atlases which were helpful. i did use the gps. susan: how did the weather treat you?
6:18 am
neil: surprisingly well considering april is the cruelest month, but also one of the rainiest months. i also had one day that was seriously complicated by heavy rain, otherwise i got hit a couple of times but it was not a big thing. one day, brilliantly, i was snowed on, but it was brief and beautiful. susan: did you create playlists or books on tape to guide you on your walk? neil: i did not listen to one second of anything in my ears, and i did not intend that to happen, i just got so that when i was walking i do not want any interference, so i never listened to books on tape, podcast, anything else. we can talk about this more as this goes on. i became entranced by thinking and looking, and i did not want any other distractions. susan: you took photos, obviously, but did you record in any other way? did you stop to take notes? or did you do it all at the end of the day? neil: that's a good question. i got quite good at the notes function on my phone, which if you get good at it you can dictate. i would actually do, i'm sitting here now, talking to susan. then it would write it out. i would take pretty voluminous
6:19 am
notes as they just happened or my observations as i went. at the end of the day, i would have 1400, 1500 words in that form. and my pattern was in the morning, i would get up around 5:00, kind of a machine about all of this, and i would write a full account of the day before. and i actually sent them out to several hundred people. i had a list of people i was emailing. i call them dispatches. they became very popular. it was pretty funny. it was a great discipline because i really wanted to get a first draft of everything, and then it gave a certain satisfaction. i would head out at 7:38 knowing i'd counted for the day before, and then i repeated it every day. susan: you are alone by walking on some urban and country roads by yourself in you posted your route beforehand. didn't you have any security issues? neil: know, but i had quite a few, seven or eight people that popped up that recognize that i must be that guy doing this thing.
6:20 am
the first one was in york county on easter sunday. i'm walking along the highway on my way from york to wrightsville on the way to susquehanna, and a woman pulled her car in the parking lot and said, you are that guy walking to new york. it was so funny, we took a selfie. i posted it on twitter. there were a number of times or that happened. susan: what does that suggest to you about the power of social media? neil: it has quite amazing reach. i was really glad for that, because it brought some really interesting people. i was walking down the delaware canal from new hope to washington's crossing, and i was trying to think about washington's crossing of the delaware, christmas of 1776, which i was going to do the next day. this guy is walking the other way, he's on the phone, sees me. he's like oh, i got i've got to
6:21 am
go. are you that guy who is walking to new york? he turned and we started walking together. for 25 minutes, we walked and he started talking to me about washington's crossing, that he was quite knowledgeable about what that night was like in the soldiers and the boats. i joked, where you sent here to be my tutor? he was super helpful saying i'm going to leave now, so when you go forward you receive these graves of patriots buried along the river. he pointed out these things. there were some any moments like that where people just popped up mysteriously, suggested things or gave me directions that proved to be really useful. susan: and places to eat along the way. neil: all kinds of things like that. it was really amazing. susan: you also have a number of local media interviews along the way, reporters found you on twitter and interviewed you.
6:22 am
what was that process like? neil: it hit a chord, because we were all just kind of breaking out, the mask mandates were pretty strong in most places. the interest was high. i did an interview in york, i did one in lancaster for both print and television, i did one for bucks county north of philadelphia, i did several radio related things on siriusxmu and other places. at the end, new york one, the big new york station, i have sent them a bunch of videos i had taken from a trip and they did an interview the morning that i crossed over into manhattan. they ran a bunch of the video clips of me kayaking under the jersey turnpike and all of this crazy stuff. it was a funny six minute long thing, which is pretty long for television.
6:23 am
susan: you suggested is because people were just coming out of the pandemic. is there a quixotic effectiveness? -- aspect to this? you are doing something people could not even think about getting started on? neil: i think there is an element of fascination people have something that resembles a pilgrimage. unlike if i had chosen a lot of point a to point b, there was fascination about washington to new york, why would you do that and how would you do that? it did stir a lot of interest. susan: we are going to go to some of your journey. let's go back to the early part. you talk about how rural it gets outside of washington, d.c. on your way to pennsylvania.
6:24 am
what were the differences that you noticed about the way people live in cities versus rural america? neil: you really notice if you pay attention to the kind of rings of cities, how they are organized and how they finally become rural. i paid a lot of attention. it was rings of wealthier, bigger homeowners, than a ring of people who have smaller houses, service workers of different kinds. you sort of expand into planned developments, then it slowly gives way to building suspense for when i was going to see my firstborn -- first barn, the first smell of bona fide manure, cows. it took about a day and a half before i actually got into that kind of territory. then i got into some very sparsely populated areas, particular in northern maryland, going up towards the mason-dixon line.
6:25 am
that was really a fascinating stretch. susan: the town names you posted on twitter are pretty colorful, railroad pennsylvania, freedom, maryland, new freedom, pennsylvania. what kind of glimpse do they give you? neil: i was fascinated by my approach to the border, because as we all know for a large portion of our early history a really important border between maryland and pennsylvania, slavery and the free states. i think that is one of the reasons for these. i think it is one of the reasons for this new freedom. there were a lot of things around in that area that had freedom in their name. young man fancy was funny because it popped up on my phone as a place, but unclear what place. there was no mention on google or anything like that. i had to go down a road called young man fancy drive and get to
6:26 am
top -- the top of this hill, and young man fancy actually was a young woman's farm that went back to the 1830's and someone back in the day had named it young man fancy. i ran into her and she said this is it, this is my farm. that was a really funny moment. susan: the mason-dixon line seems to be of particular interest to you. here is a picture. tell me what we are seeing here. neil: this was an extraordinary find. i was up on a hill at a distance from this farm, i looked and the road, that two lane dirt road is the mason-dixon line. you can see it continuing past the house. that is an 1830's stone farmhouse, probably built by a german-american. no one was living there. you can see the drapes. i had a feeling that the owners of this farmhouse have a new house up on the hill was kind of
6:27 am
my deduction. i was so fascinated by the fact that at one time, when that person built the farm, that balcony sticking out would have literally been on the edge of that line between freedom and slavery. the whole thing was so poetic. i spent a fair bit of time just walking around the property and taking photos and videos. you can see the well. it is just such an amazingly well-preserved remnant from that time. susan: you wrote of the mason-dixon line that you thought about it so much that you had dreamt about it. why was that so important? neil: i guess because for the number of people where the crossing was a dream, such a huge thing and terrifying thing to make that journey. when you're walking along those roads, it is easy to identify in some ways with that would have been like, because you can look
6:28 am
at the woods and figure how people would have had to try and scramble from place to place, and whether they would trust some farmer or house along the way for being on their side or not. it is a very powerful symbol in our history. susan: when you got to york, pennsylvania, the graffiti intrigued you. we've got your photograph to look at. why was graffiti of particular interest? neil: i had spent the day with a popular historian, former newspaper editor. he took me to this wall, quite a large wall. it basically changes, not daily, but he called it the city's daily newspaper. people just change things according to what events are going on. i quite interpret what this is. yet i can't quite interpret what this is. this is something that is sanctioned by the city. it's actually a pedestrian bridge that goes over a railway. i found that to be interesting
6:29 am
and colorful. susan: what about graffiti in general as you walked through urban areas? did you have any reaction to the prevalence or what it was doing to expression. neil: i did not spend -- it's interesting painting on walls, when you get to philadelphia which has a robust tradition of murals on walls, it is a huge part of the city. there was a lot of that public art. i did see graffiti along the roadways, people like to leave their names or tags on railroad bridges, that kind of thing. that wasn't something i paid huge amounts of attention to. susan: something that did seem to catch your attention, old cemeteries. neil: i spend a lot of times in cemeteries. susan: why? neil: they tell you a lot of the place you are going through in terms of early settlements and names. i also find them fascinating because of what they say about time in the evolution of time.
6:30 am
you go to some crumbling, falling apart cemetery, where the gravestones are toppling, you will never be forgotten type of sentiments, turns out they have been forgotten. i was also fascinated, near young man fancy, where i noticed a bizarre moment, where up through the 19 teens, there was a standard for someone died at 72 years, however many years, they always said years, months, days. sometime around 1916, 1917, they stopped doing that. i still want to figure out why. susan: another fascination seem to be rivers and bridges. you crossed the susquehanna and the delaware and we have eight
6:31 am
photographs of one of those crossings. why were rivers and bridges so fascinating? neil: this is the 1930's bridge that goes over the susquehanna, which is carrying the lincoln highway, which was built around that time or sort of established around that time. those are the footings for what was actually a series of bridges, including some of the footings for the civil war era bridge which they set on fire so the confederate forces cannot get across the susquehanna. the other bridge is highway 30. in the old days, the susquehanna, which is one of the oldest rivers in the world, was the ultimate frontier. it was difficult to cross, getting across it meant you were in a different place. these kind of river crossings were of huge importance and people would wait for days for a ferry to take them across.
6:32 am
now we just lays over these bridges. i spent some time there. actually we went swimming in the river. it was rather cold. i felt i had to take a dip on easter sunday. i felt this reverence every time i got to these big rivers, because they are such a vital importance to the history of our country. now because transportation methods are trains and everything else has moved on, we don't rely on them in the way that we did. but they are worthy of a lot of respect. susan: between york and philadelphia, lancaster county, you seemed quite taken. first of all, you talk about thaddeus stevens and james buchanan. neil: i walked into the town of lancaster, such a potent moment in our history.
6:33 am
james buchanan was the last president before the civil war, he was very much of a southern sympathizing pennsylvanian, they called him a doughface. they called those types of democrats doughfaces. i would say he is a tragic president because i don't think there was much he could have done either way. thaddeus stevens was an incredible, fiery abolitionist. a truly righteous person. both were lawyers, both lived in the same town. thaddeus stevens is one of the two or three most important people in the 19th century. because of him, lincoln was convinced to do the proclamation. those who came after push forward on reconstruction for the length of time that that lasted. stevens was just instrumental in the house of representatives. in lancaster, there was this seesawing of whose reputation was going up and down.
6:34 am
james buchanan, the only president from pennsylvania, his reputation very much in the doghouse. thaddeus stevens is about to go through this big renaissance. susan: there is now a second president from pennsylvania. joe biden is born in scranton. neil: interesting point. susan: the other group of people that you took photographs and wrote about where the mennonites. for people who are not familiar, what is the mennonite religion? neil: there with these different types of baptists who came to the united states, mainly in the 1700s, from different parts of northern europe, were breakaway sects from mainline protestantism. they had different views about when you should be baptized and went through a lot of grief. the quakers and other founders of pennsylvania were very welcoming to all of these different religious sects. so the amish and the mennonites
6:35 am
were the first big settlers of lancaster county. it is an amazing place to this day, when you go there, you are in many ways going back in time. a lot of these people, particularly the amish, stick to their horses. it was a fantastic two days when i walked through because they were plowing the fields, using mules. there are a lot of differences in terms of their accommodations with modernity. i did not have many interactions with the amish. they are more standoffish. the mennonites, on the other hand, i had some fantastic encounters with. susan: i have a couple pictures from this period. i could tell from the enthusiasm of your postings, that was the special time. what are we seeing here? neil: this was a guy who is a horseshoer. a farrier, they are called. i saw his sign on the highway and i could hear he was horse shoeing, i ended up spending 45 minutes. watched him shoe that horse.
6:36 am
it was fantastic because the guy whose horse that was, his buggy was right outside. he was all equipped to pull the buggy. we sat and talked. he was very welcoming. he gave me a satchel of cookies when i left. that was a fantastic conversation we had, long conversation about what was happening in the world. susan: you just walked up and introduce yourself? neil: he said, what do we have here? he found it bizarre a stranger was walking in with a backpack on. he was welcoming, and it was a fun conversation. susan: we have photos of mennonite children you experienced as well. let's take a look at those. neil: this is an amazing sequence. i am walking along this road, coming past the school, and i see these kids playing softball. i go back into the play area, there are two diamonds, there
6:37 am
playing this rowdy, aggressive, full on form of softball. all of the women are wearing full length dresses and white bonnets on their head, and they are incredible softball players. it was very aggressive. they were sliding into bases, the whole nine yards. i was just in awe. at the end when the bell rang, recess was over, the teacher came over and asked what i was up to. he then wanted me to give a talk to the kids. they all gathered around. at the end of that, after about 10 minutes, one of the girls proposed to the teacher that they sing for me, which completely astonished me. i went into the school and they ended up singing two mennonite hymms. it was an amazing moment, because it was their way of thanking me for being there.
6:38 am
it had come completely unprompted from the kids themselves. they were overjoyed to do it. i was blown away. susan: you posted a sketch of a historical character called benjamin lay. who was he? neil: goes along with thaddeus stevens. i wanted to go out of my way to pay homage to these people. benjamin lay he was a four foot tall, hunchbacked dwarf, quaker, very fiery, strongly anti-slavery abolitionist. he in the end was essentially pushed out of the quaker meeting house north of philadelphia. he died well before the revolution. but he was friends with benjamin franklin. the quakers, this is right around the 1870's, swore off all slavery in their own right and then became a major force. particularly in pennsylvania. one of the main reasons was this
6:39 am
man because he was a fervent advocate of eliminating slavery. susan: pretty much lost from history. neil: he is a truly extraordinary character. susan: from there, you go to philadelphia. were you happy? neil: i was regretful to leave lancaster county, because it was so extraordinary. i was a little apprehensive about what it would mean to be getting into freeway areas of the country. in reality, a lot of that was wrong what i thought. but i thought was coming up was not quite as congested as i thought it was going to be. susan: because of the pandemic? neil: part of it was the routes i took. it was not until a week and a half later when i had an encounter with i-95, which was a moment i was really anticipating with dread but fascination. then i get into the trafficked areas of the country. by then i was 40 miles from new
6:40 am
york, that part of new jersey. susan: philadelphia has this river. one of the famous sites is a victorian era boathouse. you made some musings on social media about the change in american life from hard work to more leisure activities. what were you thinking about? neil: when you look at our history, there are two things going on in the second half of the 19th century. one is the coming and going of the civil war. the other is the industrialization and creating of a different kind of workforce, which brought about the existence of weekends, looking at countryside as a place to go to for leisure. it was the beginning of kind of fun in a more organized way, athletics, baseball, golf, horse racing. the boat houses along the
6:41 am
schuykull -- there was one that had been built in 1859, just before the civil war. all of the others are 1865 and after. that became the mecca for that particular organized rowing. i was mainly making the point, the late 1860's was the beginning of fun in america in some ways. susan: north of philadelphia there is something called the mercer museum. it seemed like it was a significant stop for you. where are you in this picture? neil: this guy was a fascinating figure. this was the studio of his tile works. it turns out i know the woman who recently took over. she did me a very solid favor by insisting i sleep there. that bed, this is not a lodging. she turned it a lodging for the night.
6:42 am
it was this medieval setting, had a big fireplace. i got to spend the night there and it was incredible. the mercer museum is downtown. and mercer's whole thing was that he was very eager to preserve and save parts of american heritage before it was consumed by the industrial revolution. so cider mills, sawmills. he went around the country and around the world and collected the axes and saws and everything we had used to create the country and created this museum which i highly recommend people go to. it is something unlike any other museum. henry ford said back in the day it was the only museum worth visiting in america, and he did his own version of it in detroit. susan: he made his money from the tile work? neil: he was kind of independently wealthy, but in the end it was a very famous tile maker. he has a wild mansion right next to the tile works.
6:43 am
it is also worth visiting. susan: so the next part puts you in the footsteps of george washington. to stop we are going to talk about. valley forge. neil: the fascinating thing, i went to valley forge. those are the very made and rough replicas of places that the troops stated that winter. i was fascinated by valley forge. and has become an iconic place, 7076, 7077, that winter. washington, the troops, lafayette, they are wintering there, there is not a battle there. i wanted to go there to understand how and when we decided to care about valley forge. i met a great historian, and she has written about when we decided to care about valley forge. it took about a century before we cared about the place, and started to memorialize it and expand it. now it is a major attraction.
6:44 am
that kind of layering of when we care, how we recognize events that occurred there is i think really interesting to look at. new hope. new hope was actually -- this is standing on the bridge across the delaware. susan: this is where washington's crossing happened? neil: washington's crossing is actually south of here. i walked that afternoon down washington's crossing, a friend of mine had come down with two kayaks and we kayaked across. right where george washington had crossed on christmas eve of 1776. very different weather. very different circumstances. we were not standing up. it was fun. i was greeted on the other side by a hiking club that had come, 15 people. it was really funny and charming that they showed up there.
6:45 am
susan: they came to meet you? neil: yes. susan: george washington's footsteps, another person beginning to be viewed because of slaveholding's. i am wondering what you are thinking about george washington's contributions to our country when you are following in the footsteps. neil: i know, it is fascinating. i totally welcome and applaud our way more nuanced, wide-eyed understanding of what these people were, and it is a reality that washington was a major slaveholder and not a particular benevolent one, even though in his will did free his slaves. the thing that fascinated me were not things that i knew that much about washington. when the revolutionary war started in 1775, he left mount vernon and led the continental army without once going home, he was gone perpetually for six
6:46 am
years, trying to keep that effort going, which is really quite amazing. the degree to which, we look at him as the ultimate founding father, and i think most people would make the argument that had it not been for his stubbornness and keeping that small band of patriot soldiers together, particularly in the first six or seven months, they could easily have fallen apart. that aspect of it i came to understand a lot better. susan: so the i-95 corridor from new jersey up to new york, many new jerseyans identify themselves by what exit they live off of. what was your experience like? neil: i focused on this place called cranberry, which is a fascinating town on exit 8a. i spent a good morning there, i
6:47 am
met with a bunch of historical people saying it was the best preserved 19th-century town in america. it is spotless. the freeway is right there. i was fascinated by the place, because you have this perfectly preserved, 19th-century cranberry, and right on the edge of town there is a sea of huge distribution warehouses, amazon, cosco, wayfair. i decided i wanted to go between those warehouses and under the jersey turnpike on this brook called cranberry brook. long story short, it was going to be impossible to do on foot, but the people in cranberry that i met made a point of saying you are going to borrow the kayak, and i went up the river on a kayak, underneath the jersey turnpike. susan: what was it like under there? neil: the whole thing was amazing.
6:48 am
i was going up the river. other than the quality of the water, it was probably totally unchanged. it was the most mysterious stretch of the entire trip in a lot of ways. big lily pads, blue herons, ducks of all kinds. i also had to go around fallen trees. went under all 12 lanes of the jersey turnpike which was loud. that i got to the other side, came back later that day and recovered it and brought it back. i was now very distinctly in a different place, the other side of the jersey turnpike. susan: you could have approached new york from a couple of different ways. why did you decide to go into staten island? neil: i spent a lot of time trying to understand how the colonial, pre-training era people made the trip from washington, d.c. made the trip to new york. that is what they did, they
6:49 am
would go up philadelphia, across the delaware, go up through cranberry, they would end up going through south amboy across the river, then across to staten island and make their way up, and then finally go across the hudson, basically where jersey city is now. i wanted to mirror that exact route. it took some doing, by the way. susan: one person that helped to get you was named stu conway. i think we have a video of how he helped you out with this part of your journey. [video clip] susan: tell us about this. neil: i had to get across what was called the arthur kill. i went down to the yacht club. it was the afternoon before, i went there and started talking, and i said, who might be willing to take me across the arthur kill?
6:50 am
somebody said i think i know a guy. i got a hold of this guy stu conway, who sailed around the world, fantastic person. he and his friend came in that morning, he said i will meet you on the dock at 9:00. it was quite windy. it was treacherous. he took me across. they had driven an hour into perth amboy to do it for me, did not know me, just wanted to do a favor. that was a great moment. susan: when you got to staten island, what did you see? neil: staten island is a fascinating place. a lot of people think of it as the landfill which has now been turned into a nature park of sorts. it is a very mixed place. it is all of america and one island. there are parts that are wild and untouched, rural, places
6:51 am
that are cookie-cutter suburban housing, parts that are quite urban. it is the boro that is by far the least understood, and i had never walked through it. i found a lot of really bizarre pockets that very few new yorkers are aware of. i had a great time. i walked 13 miles through staten island. susan: how many days into the trip? neil: two days away from being done. day 24. susan: we have the photograph of your first view of manhattan. after all this time, what was your emotion? neil: i was coming at the bayonne bridge, and i was not anticipating it being there. i was just walking up the
6:52 am
pedestrian ramp and when i saw it, i was totally overwhelmed. i sat there for 20 minutes taking it in. you can see the shimmer of the harbor. it brings to mind these kind of f scott fitzgerald quotes about ever renewing nature of new york, its beauty. this is a city that has been through so much, through the covid period, when you see it there it just looks so unscathed. i was overwhelmed by the side of it. susan: another river you had to cross? another person who helped you out. this is kevin murray. what was his role? neil: kevin was a fantastic -- he took that picture. kevin i tracked down at a place called urban paddle, kayak operation. he was originally -- we were going to go across the river. it got windy and the chop was severe and in the end, he borrowed a boston whaler and took me across. kevin is a fantastic person, one
6:53 am
of many i owe thanks to. he took me across the marina in the boat. susan: did you pass the statue of liberty? neil: off to the right, we did. that was quite a sight. then became into the marina that is right by the 9/11 site. i was shocked, i had not visited, and i covered 9/11 in the wall street journal. it was quite powerful to go there. that was the beginning of my five hour walk through manhattan, which was also quite moving. i was struck because i had been to so many monuments, memorials. it was the first one, unless i'm missing something, it was the first thing i had been to that memorialized something all of us had experienced and left a mark in our country. it was quite something to be there, take that site in. it is quite a powerful place. susan: how did you book end the trip? neil: i joked it was going to be
6:54 am
a ramble to the ramble, the famous area of central park with all these twisting paths. in some ways, i said when i got to the ramble and walk through those twisting paths, i officially ended. but truth be told, the real end was when i met my wife, walking down through central park and i came along the reservoir. it was an incredible day. i think -- i can't say this for certain, but that it was the first totally explosive spring, we are going to get out of this, we are going to survive. the place was packed, couples were out on the rowboats on the lake, the blossoms were crazy. it was great seeing my wife. that was the official end of the trip. susan: about four minutes left. two wrapup questions. my walk to new york taught me many things, almost too many to count.
6:55 am
what are some of those? neil: the chief things are, i like to say the place, the value of place in american life, the concept of common ground, the importance of talking to people on the same patch of ground no matter how different we might be. i had conversations with people whose politics i might necessarily agree with, but i enjoy spending time with. just slowing down. i have said to people that it is an easy calculation, it is at least 20 times as rich and valuable what you encounter. there was also the openness, i felt spiritual openness that the walking gave me. when i saw the image of manhattan, it left an impact on me that was kind of surreal and
6:56 am
almost religious that probably would not have happened if i had not walked for 25 days to get to that. susan: here is one last thought, you wrote i completed my 26th day ramble, if anyone line stands out its one by a a mennonite teacher in lancaster county, "do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." neil: that was in the basement of the church where the kids sang to me. i asked him to explain their faith, and he read that line to me. anyone who is a new testament person will recognize. i was not that familiar, is a line from st. paul to the romans. it's a fascinating line, saying don't let the world form you, form yourself, transform yourself through the renewing of your mind, which is a constant process.
6:57 am
to me, the walk was a renewing of my mind in many ways. it is something i would wish on a lot of people to do something similar, because it did leave an impact. susan: next is to create this into a book. when will that happen? neil: over the next few months. i'm hoping it will be sold i will find a publisher in the next few days even that matter, then i will have five or six months. i have already written a lot of stuff for it. i definitely want to expand the historical aspects, philosophical rumination side of it. the core of it, which was just the incredible people i meant, extraordinary, spectacular, unexpectedly beautiful sites along the way. pretty trafficked part of the country. people say i already think i know that place, you don't. i think the book is going to drive home some of those points. susan: neil king, we are delighted to have you back.
6:58 am
neil: it was really a pleasure. i appreciate it. ♪ >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. including these. >> at sparklight it is our home too. right now we're facing our greatest challenge. that's why sparklight is working around the clock to keep you connected. we're doing our part so it is easier to do yours. >> sparklight supports c-span alistening with these other
6:59 am
providers giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> this week the u.s. house is expected to begin work on voting rights and the $3.5 trillion budget resolution as well as the infrastructure bill. it starts today when the committee meets to work out to structure of the debate. cronch span. onat or listen free on the c-span radio app. >> here is what is coming up on today'son the week ahead of e house. then come out commercial reporter kristina peterson will give us a preview of the house of representatives agenda this week. breaking defense editor-in-chief aaron mehta will discuss the military impact of the taliban takeover of afghanistan. later, dr. robert pearl will
7:00 am
talk about the covid-19 pandemic's impact on the u.s. health care system. join the discussion with your phone calls to my facebook comments, text messages, and tweets. -- phone calls, facebook comments, text messages, and tweets. washington journal is next. ♪ host: the evacuation, the rescue of americans and afghans from kabul's airport becomes more fast-paced but perilous by the day with the u.s. military going thousands out daily and president biden announcing some commercial airlines will join in moving evacuees and refugees around the world. the president's deadline for u.s. troop withdrawal is august 30 first, next tuesday. it is monday, august 23. we will spend this first hour here on the program playing some of the news briefing yesterday by the p


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on