In Cross Country, the author of Rats and The Meadowlands documents his family's many trips across the U.S.

You write that you've driven across the country at least 27 times over 15 years—totaling around 90,000 miles. What motivated you?

We keep going back and forth on the number—once we went five round-trips in one year. My kids think we're in the witness protection program. Weddings are the main motivation. There are grandparents on each coast, and we have a bicoastal marriage—my wife is from Oregon, I grew up in New York and New Jersey. We flew once and everyone felt kind of gypped. Actually, my goal in life is to never have to do anything but walk or ride my bike—only summer vacation driving. I really don't like driving—you can argue that I don't like traveling. I'm jealous of people who don't have to drive.

How has the country changed in your experience?

Fast food has gotten faster—food and fuel are the same things. I remember six years ago in Moses Lakes, Wash., thinking, I'm buying gas where I'm buying food! The gas fumes mixed with the french fries fumes. And fast food is now in the suburbs—once it was just on highways. There are incredible swatches of development—the landscape has become "a ruburb," a rural suburb, even in Montana or Wyoming. From Colorado Springs to Boulder, there's traffic the whole way. Kerouac's book today would now sound like the early morning traffic report. Roads have deteriorated—the ones doing well are turnpikes. Coincidentally, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system—and in 50 years cross-country travel is an everyday thing for many people.

Have you modeled your work on other travel narratives?

It's a collage. I thought about all the narratives I could, Greek epics about fathers and sons and swineherds, Mark Twain's Roughing It and Emily Post's dispatches. In the '20s everyone wrote a travel narrative—so I wrote about why everyone wanted to write a travel narrative. Like Kerouac, I wanted to detach myself. On the road you achieve haiku moments—a haiku brain.

Is crossing the country still a personal odyssey?

The whole thing is really a family odyssey—what's the difference? We exist on boredom—the children are required to stare out the window. We have a teenager and every year we think it's the last—but for a teen, when you want a great electric guitar, and you see that used music shop in Trinidad, N.Mex.