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Looking for America

Looking for America, with Easy Rider

Over the course of the next few weeks, Rita Lobo will be documenting the course plotted by Captain America and Billy. This Friday’s installment takes a trip on Route 66

Screen grab from Easy Rider (1969), produced by Columbia Pictures Corporation, Pando Company Inc., and Raybert Productions 

Easy Rider defined an era. Shot over four and half decades ago, the picture’s powerful imagery still inspires free spirits to follow in the footsteps of the anti-heroes and discover the country

When Easy Rider came out 45 years ago, a whole generation was inspired to grow their hair and dream of freedom on the back of a motorbike. And though not many of us have grown up to ride a Stars and Stripes themed Harley Davidson across the Arizona desert, those images of the open road have been a bit harder to shake.

The film was shot in the spring of 1968, with only a rough plotline, and strict instructions not to shoot in Texas under threat of arrest- it seems Texas was not interested in being a part of the counterculture movement. Dennis Hopper, who plays long-haired Billy, but also wrote and directed the picture, insisted on shooting as much of it as possible outside and using natural lighter. “God is a great gaffer,” he said. The result is an explosion of imagery and beauty on the screen.

Fans of Wyatt and Billy have been attempting to recreate their journey for decades, in order to experience some of the scenery for themselves. Even though the central plot of the film involves Billy and Wyatt trying to make it to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras, they certainly did not pick the most direct route from LA. But they did pick the most scenic.

In the four and a half decades since filming wrapped, a lot has changed. The Arizona desert and Monument Valley remain untouched, but the motels and cafés the two riders pass along the way (and get turned down from) have mostly closed. The quaint southern towns they stop at have also changed a lot, Morganza, in Louisiana where George spends his last fateful night, has been reduced to a ghost town as locals fled the rural poverty towards bigger cities.

In many ways, following the Easy Rider route from LA to New Orleans is like travelling through a cross section of Modern America; from the liberal western coast to the deep south, through national parks, native American reservations and remnants of rural living. It is still a poignant trip, and one that should not be undertaken recklessly. For any riders out there who want to go look for America, here’s a tip ditch your phone and your watch, get a map, and hit the road. Oh yes, and don’t sell any drugs.

Part 1: Setting forth

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