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Excerpted from the Introduction: Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride from America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom by Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.  No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.


Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride


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America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom

Meghan McCain, Michael Ian Black

(Da Capo; US: Jun 2012)

Michael: This is stupid. I’m in an airplane flying across the country to go spend a month driving back across the country in an RV with Meghan McCain, a woman I barely know, with the vague purpose of “talking to people.” About what? Politics, their lives, how they want the government to function, all of it with the idea that we will somehow gather enough material to write a book together and save the country. I mean, that is just pure stupid.


The thing is, I don’t like talking to people. I barely talk to my wife and two kids. Why am I leaving them for a month to do this? I was perfectly happy to complain about America from my home in Connecticut. That’s what I’d been doing, and it seemed to be working fine. Why did I agree to take my bitching and moaning on the road with this bubbly twenty-seven-year-old blond-haired, rich Republican chick I’ve only met twice? How did this even happen?


The answer: Twitter and Ambien.


During Obama’s first presidential campaign, I got invited to appear on MSNBC to make jokes. You’ve seen these segments on cable news where a comedian comes on and makes a few lame jokes about whatever’s in the headlines that day, and the host pretends to laugh while viewers think to themselves, That guy’s not funny. My job that evening was to be the guy who wasn’t funny.


I don’t remember the context, but Meghan McCain’s name somehow came up during the broadcast. She’d done or said something that flew in the face of Republican orthodoxy, as she often does, and I said to Lawrence O’Donnell that Meghan was my favorite Republican.


A couple of years later, I was doing a talk show pilot for E! and I needed a guest. Meghan agreed to do the show via satellite as a favor to her agent, whose good friend is my agent. Meghan was vivacious, charming, and she sported a new “less Republican” haircut; afterwards my extremely liberal friend Joe asked if it would be all right with me if he married her. I gave my blessing. I figured Republicans are into arranged marriages, so it would probably be fine.


Meghan: The entire project, from idea to execution, happened in only a little over a month. Michael and I sold the book before we actually met in person. I know it may seem a little impulsive and extreme to agree to write a book with essentially a perfect stranger, but I have a tendency to be impulsive and make extreme decisions. I also believe in seizing the day and making the most of every single opportunity that ever crosses my path. One of the mantras I live by is Hunter S. Thompson’s “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” I am a Hunter S. Thompson groupie, and if this particular scenario didn’t encompass seizing the day, then I don’t know what does. Besides, it sounded like a lot of fun, and I love combining anything that includes politics and having fun.


Michael: Right after E! decided they didn’t need my talk show hosting services, I was up late one night nursing the onset of an existential crisis. Swirling in my brain were the facts that I would be turning forty in a few months, I didn’t have a steady income, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, and I had a family to support, with no immediate prospects for employment. When I am feeling like this, I have one friend I turn to for support: Ambien.


The purpose of Ambien is to ease restless souls like mine into a deep and dreamless sleep. But Ambien is also great fun if you just want to get on the Internet and mess around for a few hours, which was my main intention. This is, of course, a mistake, the electronic equivalent of drinking and driving. Ambien relaxes the mind in such a way that you may find yourself saying or doing surprising things under its influence. For me, this normally involves writing nonsensical postings on my Twitter account while eating junk food. As a soon-to-be-forty married father of two, this is what passes for a “crazy night.”


Half an hour after taking the Ambien, I am elbow deep into a bag of Tostitos and cruising my Twitter account (1.7 million followers. Not bragging. Just saying. Okay, bragging. Follow me: @michaelianblack) when I notice that Meghan McCain has just posted something. I respond to her. She responds to me. Then the Ambien seizes my fingers and types the following: “We should write a book together.”


After a few moments, she writes back: “Sure!”


The exclamation mark makes me think she isn’t serious because exclamation marks are rarely the sign of a serious thought. I write back: “I’m serious.”
Around dawn, I wake up on the couch, covered in Tostitos crumbs, and stumble upstairs to join my wife, Martha, in bed. Something is troubling me, though, something I had perhaps done under the influence of a powerful sleeping agent. Just before falling back to sleep, I realize what it is: I think I have just proposed writing a book with a woman—a Republican woman—I have never actually met, based on the dubious facts that I once said something nice about her on TV, she seems cool, and my friend Joe liked her new haircut. The woman in question is also the daughter of the other guy in the last presidential election. Moreover, I’m pretty sure she said, “Sure!”


Shit.
Meghan: When Michael first popped the question on Twitter, I thought that this project could be a significant endeavor—to try and showcase two entirely different perspectives and backgrounds in a civil and funny manner, while attempting to tackle the bigger-picture problems and issues currently facing this country. All of it was right up my alley and it was an easy decision to make. Attempting to fuse two different perspectives and worlds is pretty much what I spend my life attempting to do, so that’s why I said yes so quickly.


I loved the notion of teaming up with someone I barely knew and probably would not have gotten a chance to work with or really know in any significant way if we had not elected to embark on this project. We wanted to use ourselves as guinea pigs in order to look at what is going on in America—politically and culturally. Our country is going through unbelievably difficult and tenuous times, and it sometimes feels like we are becoming more polarized and angry at each other than ever before. There had to be a way to make a connection between divergent points of view, and to then take that unity out on the road as a way to hear Americans through fresh ears.


More than anything, I was enticed by the spontaneity of this plan. Ever since the election, I have had a jones to be back out on the road, so the chance to “go where no one has gone before” while using our fledgling relationship as an experiment in bipartisan mixology was a golden and bizarre opportunity to try something new and unique. I needed no convincing. It really was as simple as, “Sure!”


Michael: So here I am, about a month later, crammed into a coach seat somewhere above the checkerboard squares of the American heartland. From up here, the country looks vast and peaceful. I cannot see any foreclosure notices, no methamphetamine labs. There aren’t any televisions on this plane, so I can’t watch Left screaming at Right on cable news. No Internet. No Drudge, no HuffPo. Just a plane full of passengers heading to the same destination. It’s a decent, albeit shallow, metaphor for the way I’d like my country to be. The people on this plane probably have no more in common than anybody else. Or, I guess the more optimistic way to say it is that they have just as much in common as people everywhere: We’re probably all American, or at least mostly American. We probably all love our families. We are probably all glad we’re not still at LaGuardia, one of our nation’s worst airports. Beyond that, I know that we share at least one important goal: first and foremost, we’d like the plane not to crash.


All this common ground below us. It’s hard to get a sense of America’s size from the air. It’s only on the ground, driving across, that you really get a feel for the enormity of our country. It’s a big place. BIG. The first time I became aware of this fact was when I was nineteen years old and traveling the country as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.


In fact, my love of country came as a direct result of that first road trip. Until then, I hadn’t really thought much about America one way or another. I hadn’t done much traveling, except for a few lousy family vacations to Colonial Williamsburg and the Plymouth Rock, both super-boring. Once we went to Gettysburg when I was eleven. All I saw was a field.


I’d grown up in New Jersey, a state that has earned all the jokes ever made about it. I didn’t bond with my hometown, didn’t do a tour in the Boy Scouts, didn’t put my hand over my heart when we sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at Little League games. This was in the eighties, when Americans were still recovering from the psychic shock of the Vietnam War, and patriotism was often seen as a suspect emotion, something Richard Nixon wanted everybody to feel, mostly so they didn’t start asking too many questions about Richard Nixon.


Sure, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance, but I did it in that same droning monotone that children all over the country do, not even understanding the words, except for “under God,” which I hated saying even at a young age. I used to just clamp my mouth during that part and thought I was a pretty bitching rebel for doing so.


As a whole, the nation seemed like a big and puzzling abstraction, not much more than something we could all cheer for every four years when McDonald’s celebrated the Olympics with scratch-off game tickets. America was fine, sure, but a free small fries was even better.


Michael Ian Black is a popular stand-up comedian who has starred in many television series and films, including Michael and Michael Have Issues, Stella, The State, Wet Hot American Summer, Viva Variety, VH1’s I Love the… series, and NBC’s Ed. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids.
Photo (partial) by Heather Brand

Photo (partial) by
Heather Brand







Meghan McCain is a columnist for the Daily Beast and a contributor at MSNBC.  Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling author, has written for Newsweek, and created the website mccainblogette.com. Her most recent book is Dirty Sexy Politics, and she lives in New York City.


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