Political News

The COVER/LINE Great American Road Trip 2017

Posted July 19
Updated July 27

Stop No. 8: Los Angeles, California

You guys, I did it! I made it to California! After 4,250 miles, 14 states and zero speeding tickets, I got into Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. Philadelphia, the first stop on this trip, seems like months ago, newspapers are probably stacked sky high outside my door back home, and I think outside of holidays, this is the longest I've gone without seeing Kate. I feel a sense of relief that the I don't have to hop in the car for five+ hours today, and looking at the map I've been marking up along the way, I feel accomplished, like, dang, I drove all that?!

What Los Angeles is Talking About:

Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday the city is likely to host the 2028 Olympic Games, with Paris getting 2024.

Los Angeles' Must-See Political Spot:

The Donald Trump star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's located in front of the Forever 21 on Hollywood Boulevard, and it's neighbors with Kevin Spacey's star. The star has become a pop culture lightning rod for Trump's presidency, and is often defaced. Fun fact: yours truly was the first to report the star was vandalized during the campaign. I swung by one morning before the second Republican debate, held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley in September 2015, and snapped this pic of a yellow "X" across the star that was embedded across the internet. When I went yesterday, the words "F--k you B---h!!!" written across it. I spent about 30 minutes there watching people. Everyone stops to take pictures, most people just laugh, some take a picture with their middle finger in it, and I saw one young girl do the Pepe sign.

Meet Phillip Proyce, founder of Lady White Co.:

I'm ending my road trip interview series in one of the the most COVER/LINE ways possible, talking about fashion and politics. Phillip Proyce founded Lady White Co., an L.A.-based company that creates vintage-inspired athletic wear.

"The first thing we did with the brand is we wanted to see if we could make a white T-shirt in Los Angeles from start to finish only using all-USA raw materials," he says. They made the shirt for a year-and-a-half before expanding to other products.

Making clothes in the US means the factories they work with must pay their workers fairly and offer safe working conditions, he says. "It helps logistically to have all of our supply chain within like a 15-minute radius."

About 50% of Lady White Co.'s sales are overseas, and Proyce says retail owners these days are "cracking jokes about Trump or just Made in USA goods. You can tell there's certainly a stigma now to how they view our products as made in America, with [Trump's] face attached to it."

Proyce doesn't see things like the White House's "Made in America Week" as particularly helpful, but says if the US were to do what some other countries do by helping clothing brands travel internationally for trade shows, "that'd be a huge help."

"We're already kind of swimming upstream to make stuff here in the US," Proyce says. "I don't think the president's going to have a huge impact on that one way or the other."

Stop No. 7: Provo, Utah

What day is it? What time zone am I in? Where am I going right now again? The daily grind of drive-do journalism-sleep-repeat has taken its toll, and the further west I go, the earlier I have to wake up to file by Eastern Time. But my trip is coming to a close. California is closer than ever, and Politicon is three days away. My Monster energy drink and sun flower seed consumption is reaching its highest levels.

It's 1,067 miles from El Paso to Provo, Utah, and it's some of my favorite views of the trip. From the New Mexico desert (below) and an Arizona sunset, to the mountains of Utah, the American West is gorgeous, a 10 out of 10.

What Provo is Talking About:

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has endorsed Provo Mayor John Curtis in the US House race for former Rep. Jason Chaffetz's seat.

Provo's Must-See Political Spot:

So it's technically not a spot, it's a day. I made it to Utah for the 24th of July, AKA Pioneer Day. It's an official state holiday commemorating the Mormon pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and it's kind of like a second 4th of July (there are fireworks and you'll see a lot of people dressed in red, white, and blue and stars and stripes), but with more bonnets and handcarts. For those who are unfamiliar, the whole reason Mormons are in Utah is because they faced persecution and were driven from their homes (in Missouri in 1838, the governor literally put out an Extermination Order against them) so they walked across the continent and settled in what was then Mexico. There are rodeos, some instead celebrate "Pie and Beer Day," and in Salt Lake, there's a Days of '47 parade. Utah's history of being settled by religious refugees is why some Republicans there including the governor have been supportive of refugees and opposed to President Trump's proposed Muslim ban. I saw this float of "Refugees of Utah" that said "Welcoming New American Pioneers" on the side.

Meet Kendall Wilcox, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges:

One group that wasn't in the Days of '47 parade was Mormons Building Bridges. Founded in 2012, they march in Pride parades in Salt Lake City and across the country wearing traditional Mormon Sunday clothes -- white shirt and ties for men and dresses for women.

It was started when Erika Munson, a Mormon mother of five, thought "let's make a show, let's make a gesture to the LGBT community that Mormons don't hate them," co-founder Kendall Wilcox says.

The first year, they thought maybe 20 people would show up, but 350 people came. "It has been ever since then the biggest entry into the Utah Pride parade," he says.

They've applied to march in the Days of '47 parade for five years but have so far been denied. Wilcox says if they get in, the reaction would be positive. "The community of Mormons Building Bridges are not trying to be apologists for the church, nor are they trying to be apostates. They're just good old-fashioned, good-hearted Mormons trying to build the middle ground."

Stop No. 6: El Paso, Texas

You could spend an entire two-week road trip in Texas alone. I split the more than 600-mile drive from Dallas to El Paso into two days (nine hours in the car on a weekday when I also have to write C/L was just not going to happen) and drove through miles of oil fields, and through Eastland, where gas station bathrooms had no water and turned guests away (the city was put under boil advisory for three days because of a leak in a water supply line). In Midland, I was confused about how steep hotel prices were until I saw their packed parking lots filled with new trucks and found out workers come in from around the area to work in oil fields there (weekend rates are much cheaper). Marfa was an pre-filtered Instagram dream come true (and I hated going to the Marfa Prada without Kate).

But the biggest surprise was El Paso. During the trip, whenever I tell people where I'd be stopping, they'd sometimes wonder what I'd be doing there or have a negative reaction. But, guys, I really really like El Paso. When we think about The Great International Cities of America, we tend to think of New York or Los Angeles or another big costal city, but El Paso is just about as international as they come. Mexico is literally right there. Everywhere you go, you see the mixing of English and Spanish, of American culture and Mexican culture. It also has all the signs of an emerging hipster hotspot, with shipping container coffee shops and rooftop pools.

What El Paso is Talking About:

Collapsed storm drains caused three sinkholes to appear in West El Paso, which are being repaired. This weekend, a sinkhole swallowed a whole car.

El Paso's Must-See Political Spot:

The Wall. President Trump hasn't made any physical progress on one of his most memorable campaign promises, but in El Paso, there's already been a wall for years. You can drive alongside it (take Paisano Drive) and walk up to it in places. Every so often you can see Border Patrol agents parked in their trucks. It's one thing to hear about The Wall, it's another thing to see one that predates Trump's candidacy.

Meet Josh Cocktail, Director of Outpost:

Life on the road can be a grind for touring musicians, and Outpost hopes to make it better. It's a "sustainable rest stop for artists traversing throughout the country on tour," says director Josh Cocktail.

Artists can drop in to an Outpost location to do laundry, shower, and pick up provisions for the road like chips, toothbrushes, toilet paper and tampons (it's not, however, a place for them to spend the night). They can even record.

"Artists need somewhat of an oasis when they're on the road to creatively stay passionate about what it is they're doing," Cocktail says.

The program was started by the Participation Agency, based in New York, and El Paso is the first location. "When we first started connecting out this program, we knew that in needed to be in cities that were very easy for artists to access that were on US tour routes," he says. "A lot of brands really focus on New York and LA, because they look at them as the most populous cities and they're culture hubs," but putting Outpost locations along US tour routes can help musicians step outside of their bubbles.

El Paso is "a city that should be visited," Cocktails says, and one that will grow. "I think El Paso's the most community-oriented border city because it's one community. People that live in Juarez work in El Paso and people that live in Juarez go to school in El Paso." He remembers touring as a musician himself and being surprised at just how close Mexico was.

"I think artists appreciate being able to go into a city that most likely they're not from ... and be able to kind of experience a new community," he says. "It's a big country. There's a lot of places to go."

Shoutout to my Grandma:

A sidenote to my El Paso stop: My grandma lives there and during the presidential campaign, she'd always call and ask when I was coming by for work and I'd have to tell her the campaign was probably not going to come to Texas. So when I came through on the road trip, I surprised her and she asked if she could come with my to my interview.

She ended up making friends with everyone at Outpost and now I'm wondering if I should bring her with me to interviews more often. Probably yes.

Stop No. 5: Dallas, Texas

One week down, one week to go. The 319-mile drive from Little Rock to Dallas takes me to the middle of my road trip. Both "Feels" by Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell, Katy Perry & Big Sean, and "There's Nothing Holding Me Back" by Shawn Mendes, have been on the radio constantly, and they've grown on me.

Coming into town on I-30, I drive across Ray Hubbard Lake, a 21,000-acre body of water that at points seems to stretch to the horizon. Dallas feels enormous, but it's still only the third-most populated city in the state. Everything really is bigger in Texas.

What Dallas is Talking About:

The nine immigrants who died in the back of a semi-truck in San Antonio is A1 in today's Dallas Morning News, and NBC 5 talked to a Dallas trucker who said the problem has been going on for years.

Dallas's Must-See Political Spot:

The George W. Bush Presidential Library. One wing of the museum goes through his presidency and includes items like the megaphone he spoke through at Ground Zero and wreckage from one of the Twin Towers. Another wing houses the Portraits of Courage exhibit featuring his paintings of veterans. Guys, W. actually can paint really well:

Outside are the statues of W. and H.W. that Bill Clinton made famous just 10 days ago when he stood in between them. I asked if the library had seen an increase in people recreating the pic and was told no, and then went out and recreated the pic. I call this "Hunter hiding in the Bushes":

Meet David Vobora, Founder of the Adaptive Training Foundation:

Former NFL player David Vobora started the Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas in 2014 after meeting Travis Mills, a US Army staff sergeant who lost all his limbs. "He's an athlete who trained and blew me away with some of the things that he was able to accomplish," he says.

Today, trainers at ATF work with adaptive and Paralympic athletes and wounded veterans and provide a nine-week course free of charge, thanks to donors.

There's no real guide for adaptive training. "We didn't know anything when I first started," says trainer Hunter Clark. "You can Google 'adaptive training' and find nothing because every single person that's gone through this program is a case study."

He says it's been three years of trial and error, "creating a list of things that work and a list of things that don't work" and finding ways to replicate movements for people who may or may not have working limbs.

Sometimes that means using non-traditional equipment, like the Spun Chair, high-end furniture that can be used for a core workout. "One of our donors saw them and was like, 'I bet you I could get those donated to the foundation,'" Vobora says.

The most recent group graduated Thursday, and Vobora says he often goes home "crying like a baby" because of the progress athletes make through the course.

"It's humbling, you know. There's things in here that I can't do that they can, and vice versa, and that's how you champion each other," he says.

The one word he says that's off-limits at ATF is "can't." "Don't tell me what you can't do," he says.

Stop No. 4: Little Rock, Arkansas

After my interview with Beverly Keel in Nashville, I'm determined to listen to more songs by female country musicians. I spin plenty of Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain, Kacey Musgraves, Dixie Chicks, and Miranda Lambert on the 349-mile drive from Nashville to Little Rock. Side note: Thank you to everyone who sent in playlists or music recommendations! I'm currently working my way through them (and I'm still accepting suggestions -- coverlinehunter@cnn.com). Not everyone put where they're from, but I think the playlist that came from farthest away is from Ashley in Australia.

Arkansas always has a special place in my heart. I lived there as a kid in the '90s, right after former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton became president, and the first midterm election I ever covered from the campaign trail was the 2014 Arkansas Senate race. I remember coming home from my first day of school there and asking my parents what "y'all" meant, because everyone kept saying it, and the verb "fixin'" was also new to me.

What Little Rock is Talking About:

A 22-year-old man has been hospitalized after he was handcuffed by police for allegedly shoplifting at a Home Depot, then allegedly fled from police, attempted a carjacking in the drive-thru of a nearby Chick-fil-A and was shot by police.

Little Rock's Must-See Political Spot:

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Fun fact: Clinton has an apartment on the roof of the building, where he stays when he comes to town about once a month, and he's known to play cards with his high school buddies when he's back. My favorite item at the library is Hillary Clinton's Grammy, from 1997 for Best Spoken Word Album for "It Takes a Village" (this is your semi-regular reminder that she's won more Grammys than Katy Perry):

There are also some fun items from the Clintons' childhoods, like this high school campaign sign:

Meet Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service:

To get into Little Rock you can fly into the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport and take the Clinton exit to get to downtown. The Clinton library has revitalized an entire part of the city. Presidents usually come from big states (Trump = New York, Obama = Illinois, W. = Texas), so to have one from Arkansas feels like an outlier, and the couple has left their mark on the city. And yet, Hillary lost the state 60% to 33% in 2016 (she did, however, win Little Rock).

"When you say Trump is appealing to his base, I would say Arkansas is his base," Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas, tells me.

A lot's changed in the two decades since Bill Clinton won his last election here, and it has a lot to do with demographics. Democratic strongholds in the state have shrunk while Republican ones, particularly in the north, like Bentonville, where Wal-Mart is headquartered, has grown. "We've had a big population shift," Rutherford says.

Other politicians have lost their home states when running for president, like Massachusetts for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Tennessee for Al Gore in 2000. And of course there's New York for Donald Trump in 2016. But what Trump pulled off was rare; the last time a president won the election but lost his home state was a century ago: New Jersey's Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

Stop No. 3: Nashville, Tennessee

This day is the longest drive of the trip so far -- 645 miles from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to Nashville, Tennessee. It's five states in just over 10 hours (shout-out to that little sliver of West Virginia I cut through briefly), and a slog of a drive. An hour outside of the city, I pass Bowling Green (#neverforget).

The next morning, my first stop is to Broadway in downtown Nashville. It's a mix of Beale St., Hollywood Boulevard and the Las Vegas Strip, but with way more bachelorette parties. Pedal pubs packed with bridal parties in matching shirts stream up and down the street blasting turn-of-the-century teen pop favs like Britney and Spice Girls. The musicians performing inside the bars and restaurants are legit some of the best I've ever heard. This city is a blast.

What Nashville is Talking About:

The 2018 Tennessee gubernatorial race is expected to be the most expensive in state history, with the possibility of TV ads airing a year before the election, according to the Tennessean.

Nashville's Must-See Political Spot:

The venues where losing presidential candidates hold their election night rallies become the stuff of political legend. There's of course the Javits Center in New York where Hillary Clinton was supposed to speak under faux shattered glass, and the Boston Harbor fireworks show that never happened because Mitt Romney lost in 2012. Nashville has War Memorial Plaza, where Al Gore held his election night rally in 2000.

The space is empty when I go, but I imagine what it must have been like that night, packed with supporters. As the story goes, it was after 3 a.m. when Gore was about to give his concession speech. He had already conceded to George W. Bush, but then rescinded his concession because of how tight the race was. His campaign chair Bill Daley was the one who went out to tell the crowd they weren't going to get an answer that night about who the 43rd president of the United States would be.

Meet Beverly Keel, co-founder of Change The Conversation:

The entire top 20 of the Billboard Country Songs charts this week is songs by men, with the exception of a Lady Antebellum song (they're just 2/3 men) and three songs with a guest female artist with a feature credit.

It's nothing new. Country music for a while now has been dominated by men, something Beverly Keel, the co-founder of Change the Conversation, is trying to, well, change. The group was founded in 2014 to fight the lopsided gender imbalance in the genre.

"You'd be hard pressed to hear a lot of female voices on country music these days, and the belief in country radio is you shouldn't play two female songs back-to-back and that women don't want to hear other women on the radio," she says.

In 2015, radio consultant Keith Hill in an interview described songs by women as the tomatoes in the salad of country, something that "galvanized" the town. "It gave us a symbol," she says of the tomato, which is on the business card she gives me

"What we want is an even playing field," she says. "We're not saying play a woman because she's a woman, but if the songs are equally as good, the woman should get a chance along with the man."

In today's "bro country," women are often portrayed as the "pretty little thing" sitting in the passenger side of the truck instead of the ones driving the truck, Keel says. "Young women today aren't hearing their life experiences on the radio, so the next Taylor Swift may be discouraged to launch that career as a teenager or in her early 20s."

She sees what's happening in Nashville as part of the larger conversation about women nationwide, including political movements like the Women's March. "It's one piece of a bigger part of women in pop culture, which is one piece of women in America."

Stop No. 2: Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

I don't think we spend enough time talking about how beautiful Pennsylvania is. And also how big it is. The drive from Philadelphia to Punxsutawney is 273 miles through forest-lined highways, and it seemed even longer because I was driving late. When night falls, the gorgeous scenery begins to look a little spooky. I spot four deer lurking off the side of the road, and it's the kind of night that you're half expecting some sort of creature or man in a mask to walk out. I get my high beams on and I'm driving cautiously.

About 20 minutes out from my hotel, Google Maps leads me to a dead end. Orange construction signs block the route; if there were ever a moment a masked man was going to walk out from the woods, this was it. I lock the doors *just in case* as I pull a five-point turn. I eventually find an alternative route to the Punxsutawney Cobblestone Hotel, the one hotel in town. And sure enough, there's a waist-high groundhog figurine at the entrance of this town that's home to Punxsutawney Phil and the Groundhog Day tradition.

What Punxsutawney is Talking About:

A father and his 16-year-old daughter were injured Monday when a gasoline-powered engine exploded, according to WJAC.

Punxsutawney's Must-See Political Spot:

It's actually 54 miles southwest of Punxsutawney, but if you're in the neighborhood, you might as well go see the Trump House in Youngstown, Pennsylvania. The home is painted red, white and blue, with a giant cut-out of Donald Trump out front. Even though it's been up since the campaign, you'll still see people slow down when they drive past it and people parking across the street to snap pics.

Meet Randy Rupert, chainsaw artist:

Back in June, Donald Trump Jr. posted a photo a friend sent to him of two kids standing in front of a giant wooden Trump statue. Regular readers will know I'm a political art obsessive, and I knew I needed to track this down.

The creator of the 7-and-a-half-foot statue is Randy "The Wizard" Rupert, a Punxsutawney artist who makes wood carvings using chainsaws. It was commissioned by the owner of a nearby golf course, who told me his goal was to make a Trump Instagram account. Mission accomplished.

"How it eventually got to Donald Trump Jr., I really don't know," Rupert says.

Before creating the statue, Rupert studied Trump. "I found a lot of reference pictures of Donald Trump to help me through the process," he says. "Just to get his face structure right, his profiles, both sides."

His wife wasn't a fan of the piece, Rupert says.

"She's definitely not a fan, but it's my business -- I'm not going to turn away business."

And since he made it, he's gotten questions about making more.

"I'm receiving calls all the time, you know: How much was he, where did he go, can you make another one, can you make smaller ones?" he says. "Yes, I can."

And just for the record, to get your own 7-and-a-half foot Trump would cost about $6,000 and take six to eight months.

Stop No. 1: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Like all good road trips, mine started late; it always seems to take longer to pack up the car and get out of town than you think it will. It's 139 miles from our nation's capital to our former capital, Philadelphia. It's the birthplace of America, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, more recently, the site of the 2016 Democratic National Convention -- "Hilladelphia," as I called it last year.

Driving into town, I pass the Wells Fargo Center, which was transformed during the DNC into a fortress of barricades and Secret Service personnel, while outside, Bernie Sanders supporters, Jill Stein fans and anti-Clinton protesters demonstrated throughout the week. Clinton won 82.4% of the vote in Philadelphia County, but Donald Trump won the state of Pennsylvania.

What Philadelphia is Talking About:

The chancellor of Pennsylvania's state university system, Frank Brogan, announced he will retire in September.

Philadelphia's Must-See Political Spot:

Independence National Historical Park. It's got Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and the Liberty Bell. It's also the site of Clinton's final 2016 rally, a concert held on Election Day eve with Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and the Obamas.

Meet Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter:

Toure is the founder of the group Black Guns Matter. We met at the Gun Range in north Philly, and he wore his Black Guns Matter shirt, black with a Run DMC-esque logo. Sales of the shirts raise funds for the group, and they also make him look jacked, he says.

"We founded Black Guns Matter because we kept seeing and traveling, there's the same issues in every urban demographic," Toure says. "In urban areas, it's told if you got the firearm, you must be the bad guy or you must be law enforcement or you must be military. It's never told that you can just be a hardworking citizen that just wants to protect what's yours and protect your life."

People are either "missing the information" about legal gun ownership, he says, or they think, "That's not for me, that's for country redneck white dudes."

Toure is also a rapper, and he says he sees a difference in how guns are handled in hip-hop versus country.

Hip-hop "has been based on misinformation," he says, and "on promoting tales that help people go to prison," while for country music, "it might just be 'I got my shotgun, I got my beer' -- whatever the story is, it's still more of an appreciation of their rights."

He sees a change in how guns are represented in hip-hop as a way to help change misconceptions.

"There's a few things that get people together, but music and guns is one of those," he says.

Videos credit: Ryan Alexander


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