18 things I learned driving across the country

A version of this article appeared in Tuesday's issue of COVER/LINE, a CNN Politics newsletter about the intersection of politics and pop culture. You can subscribe to COVER/LINE here.

It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage

A post shared by Hunter Schwarz (@hunterschwarz) on

For more than two weeks in July, I drove across the country, from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, where I moderated a panel at Politicon for COVER/LINE. My trip was 4,250 miles, across 14 states, and I met people along the way who talked to me about their work and where it intersects with politics. It was unlike anything else I've ever done as a journalist, and after the first day, I was already wondering why on Earth I ever pitched the idea to my editor.
Driving cross country is a lot of work as it is, and adding journalism, a daily newsletter and shifting interview schedules to it made it all the more complicated. But after returning to Washington, I find myself missing the road. It was a new office every day, a chance to meet new people and hear their stories. I learned a lot about the people I met and their politics. Below are a few random things I learned during my trip:

    1. America is beautiful

    I lost track of how many times my jaw dropped from how gorgeous this country is, from the lush green forests of the East to the majestic expanse of the West. America, you are a 10/10.

    America, you're a 10 out of 10 😍😍😍

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    2. We all live in bubbles

    Washington has gotten a lot of grief for being a bubble (and it is!). It's eye opening as always to step in others' bubbles and get a sense of how they see the world.

    3. There are Subways *everywhere*

    I wish I could say I ate at local authentic hole-in-the-wall restaurants the whole trip, but when you're driving on deadline, you have to deal with a lot of fast food chains, especially Subway. It's actually the biggest restaurant and retail chain in the US, with more than 26,000 locations, according to the National Retail Federation.

    4. Gun ownership differs depending on where you live

    A Pew poll this summer found 46% of rural adults own a gun vs. 19% of urban adults, and I learned about that IRL talking to Black Guns Matter founder Maj Toure in Philadelphia.

    5. Trump supporters have a different perspective than most Washingtonians

    In Washington, Trump is viewed through the prism of his stalled agenda and soap-opera-like administration drama, but in rural Pennsylvania, I met a man who said since Trump took office, his employees bought new trucks and life has gotten better. Since I was driving all day, I wasn't able to keep up with each new twist and turn of what happens in DC, and it was a reminder that that how people view politics in Washington isn't how people view it in other places.

    6. Nashville is a favorite city for bachelorette parties

    I saw so many groups of women in matching shirts when I was there.

    7. Women are grossly underrepresented in country radio

    I spoke with Change The Conversation co-founder Beverly Keel about the gender imbalance, and saw it for myself on the Billboard charts. Smh

    8. Bill Clinton has an apartment on the roof of his presidential library in Little Rock

    And he comes back about once a month, Clinton School of Public Service dean Skip Rutherford told me.

    9. There's no guidebook for how to train people missing limbs

    At the Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas, I spoke with trainers who have to make up workouts themselves for the wounded veterans and adaptive athletes who train there.

    10. George W. Bush is a really good painter

    It's one thing to see pictures of his paintings, it's another thing to see them up close yourself at the Bush Presidential Library.

    11. Hotels in Midland are most expensive during the week

    Because people come in to work in the oilfields then leave on the weekends.

    12. Marfa is an Instagram dream come true

    It's more than just the Marfa Prada too, by the way.

    13. El Paso is a cool city

    One of the biggest surprises from my trip was how much I fell in love with El Paso. Whenever I'd tell people about the cities I was stopping in, they'd give it a hard time, but, guys, El Paso is great. Outpost director Josh Cocktail thinks it's one of America's up-and-coming cities, and I don't disagree.

    14. Utah basically has two 4th of Julys

    OK, so I knew this one before since I used to live there, but the 24th of July, commemorating the Mormon pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, is patriotic and also has fireworks.

    15. Making clothes in the US is difficult

    Lady White Co. founder Phillip Proyce talked to me about all the challenges he faces making clothes for his brand here, and I found out politics finds its way into fashion, whether or not you want it to.

    16. Ronald Reagan starred in a movie about the Secret Service

    I learned at the Reagan Presidential Library it was called "Code of the Secret Service" and it came out in 1939.

    17. Tomi Lahren is still on her parents' health insurance plan

    Which she revealed during her panel with Chelsea Handler during Politicon.

    18. The people who really know everything that's going on in the White House are the social secretaries

    At the COVER/LINE panel at Politicon I spoke with former Obama White House social secretaries Jeremy Bernard and Ebs Burnough. The job is much more than just planning parties; they're some of the few people who know what's going on in the East Wing and the West. Burnough talked about the steep learning curve he had when Obama took office, like having to plan Inauguration events and move the new first family into the residence at the same time. He remembered being asked what side of the bed former President Obama slept on, to which he responded "I don't know, I haven't slept with him." Bernard, who was the first man to ever be social secretary, said he's had multiple conversations with Trump social secretary Rickie Niceta since she's taken the job.
    PASADENA, CA - JULY 29:  (L-R) Hunter Schwarz, Ebs Burnough and Jeremy Bernard at the 'CNN: Behind the Scenes World of D.C. Politics' panel during Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center on July 29, 2017 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon)

    BONUS: 19. COVER/LINE readers have good taste in music

    I asked COVER/LINE readers for their music suggestions, and I loved spinning the playlists sent and artists they recommended. I'd gladly put our reader's tastes up against any political newsletter because I know they'd win.
    Videos credit: Ryan Alexander