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Travel Show: Mike Wolfe on vanishing American towns

Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger

Mike Wolfe of "American Pickers" addressed a Sunday morning audience at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show with some sobering advice on visiting small-town America: Go before it's all gone.

"Please travel, experience, discover -- not just items and people but communities, because there are so many cool places," the star of the History Channel show said. In the series, Wolfe spends his time with cohort Frank Fritz crisscrossing tiny towns, rifling through barns and sheds in search of antique treasures. They call it picking, and it's been a lifelong obsession for Wolfe that has made him a pro. 

Before the show pitch met with success, Wolfe, who lives in rural Iowa, would travel the country in his van with a bedroll and "fade into the landscape," as he calls it. Loosely translated that means falling in love with the romance of moving, seeing new things every day and meeting new people.

Now he fears those places far from the main roads are vanishing. He said he recently shot a show in a small Arkansas town where just about every business in the community had shut down. Wolfe was there to peruse items in a long-shuttered general store that had been in the community for at least three generations. The owner, in his 80s, told Wolfe that the town once reliant on agriculture was pretty much gone. Even the local school had closed.

"Imagine outliving everything you've ever known, not just your family, but your community. It's a scary thing," Wolfe said, tearing up on stage when he recounted the story.

He told travelers to stop planning on the Internet and just go. "Get in your car and drive. Don't worry about a destination or where you're going to stay; all of that will be taken care of for you when you ... fade into the landscape."

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