At Large No. 9 is an “American” issue. Like the pioneers that struck out West centuries ago, we didn’t know what we were starting. As with anything begun new, and without instructions, you can’t see the ending from the start. So long as it’s free of constraints and conceived in liberty, as far as At Large is concerned, it’s American, and print-worthy.
We knew what we wanted: America, The Dream in its holy versions.
“Whatever you want, as much as you want,” a flight attendant tells me during American Airlines’ beverage service 34,039 feet above Wichita, KS. I’m aboard an Airbus A321 (twin-jet) heading W/SW from New York, NY to Idyllwild, CA, and I’ve just asked for coffee and a club soda. Out my starboard window the flint hills are colored amber by waves of summer tallgrass stretching toward Apple Valley. From here, both the beginning and the end of my immediate journey are out of sight. I’m floating above a country at work; an eternal midway in the American Dream. Three-hundred-million people striving, engaging, encouraging, seeing; some at the beginning, some near the end, eyes full with their life’s work. They come from the Red Hills, from Dodge City, from nearby Rattlesnake Creek.
They come for challenge, for growth. They come from Vauxhall, Brunswick, and Moorestown, NJ for one version of The Dream photographed by Danielle Levitt: strength. The pursuit of numbers — five more pounds, one more rep — undertaken with sweat and recorded in body mass (p. 246). I’m reminded that even simple goals involve hard work and adrenaline.
We’re bearing 257° at 551 MPH, according to my in-flight entertainment’s 3D Map. Off our nose are the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests. To our N/NE, Detroit, rising again, sprawls along lakes Sinclaire and Earie, churning out its inventions. And its inventors, like At Large cover star, Big Sean. On his Platinum and Wood track, playing in my headphones, Sean says about The Dream: [they] stopped being dreams when I turned ‘em into goals.
Crossing the Old Woman Mountains to the dry lakes: Danby, Bristol and Cadiz, broken and spotted with lava fields at the north end, Route 66 stretching straight along the foothills’ base towards the rest-stop towns of Amboy and Chambles. Look at the size of this country spanning a continent’s width. See its geography, the makings of its people, the city-etched greeble in its bedrock, the farmland’s plaid swatches. See an archetypical Arkansan, see his diametric opposite, see two equal Americans.
See the churches in Texas. Hear them sing in Dallas. Hear Nick Jonas’s roots, the minister’s son caroling Joy to the World. See his name written on a Grammy Award before it was written on a driver’s license, then watch his journey end with the Jonas Brothers before he could legally drink.
It would seem impossible. How do we map America’s astral plane from inside it? How can we find its spiritual center? Where’s Kansas?
Heading SW, bearing 209° at 546 mph, I realize that At Large’s “American” issue is neither recipe nor recording, but rather a benediction for what The Dream is made from: new headings.
Watch Jonas relaunch his career, solo, unconstrained, fueled with an ethos he’s summed up on page 150: “Fuck it. I want to do this. So, I got aggressive.” See that abiding American spirit resumed by a 50-year-old rock climber, Jeff Jackson, who traded Colorado’s granite cliffs for Maui’s towering glass faces to surf (near mortally) for the first time, only to discover surfing’s true soul bobbing between sets. Call it moving meditation, a mystical philosophy also undertaken by Seth Heller during a pilgrimage to bouldering’s birthplace, the Tanks in Hueco, TX.
See Palm Springs, Hemet, San Clemente roll up the horizon. The West: See America’s manifest destiny riding horseback through Compton’s streets. See inner city aspirations in Melodie McDaniel’s photographs (p.122). See America first. See “whatever you want, as much as you want.” Then see more, even if it means joining the friendly skies and becoming a flight attendant to do it, like action adventure photographer Jeff Johnson did (p.40).
At Large No. 9 is a perpetual midway, working, engaging, seeing. Becoming: the only thing you have to embrace is change, and with the same guiding spirit that is America’s founding impulse — a dream. As Jean Baudrillard said, “It is never too late to revive your origins.” With that, we’ve restored ours. I hope you enjoy the changes.
— Erik Rasmussen