This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Monday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

Tom Zoellner made his first real road trip in July of 1987. An Arizona native then enrolled at the University of Kansas, it was his first time east of Kansas. He drove east on I-70 with no real agenda, arriving in St. Louis in time to see fireworks explode over the Mississippi.

“Off the Poplar Street exit, I parked illegally and ran down to the water, touched the river that I was seeing for the first time, wandered through the crowds in the park, knocked on the gray-plated wall of the Arch, listened as the wife of then vice president George H.W. Bush made a brief speech to the crowd, yelling ‘Happy Birthday America!’ at the end,” he recalls.

And then he kept going. Into Illinois and up the Great River Road, and through Hannibal before heading back to Kansas. He didn’t stop to sleep.

That trip, Zoellner writes, remains a formative experience decades later, “a founding event whose anniversary I have tried to preserve.” He transferred to a different college, became a journalist, authored seven books and got hired as a professor. But traveling the country both by car and on foot remained an obsession, a way of exploring America and taking stock of its fortunes.

That preoccupation forms the backdrop of Zoellner’s new book, “The National Road: Dispatches From a Changing America.” The fourteen essays within it aren’t travel essays so much as a journey into the uneasy soul of the nation: what unites us, what divides us and what lies in the middle between the gleaming cities of the coasts.

Zoellner travels back to St. Louis to explore the meaning of “town” in a fractured metropolis and the post-Michael Brown era. He journeys to Spillville, Iowa, to report on Trump’s immigration policies, and the little Czech settlement where Antonín Dvořák once spent a sabbatical. He visits a host of landmarks for the Church of Latter Day Saints, including the Temple Lot just outside Kansas City, which Joseph Smith believed was the site of the original Garden of Eden. (He also visits the spot where Smith was lynched, in Carthage, Illinois.) He attempts to climb the tallest mountain in each of the 50 states because — well, does there have to be a great reason? This is a writer who loves the open road.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Tom Zoellner will join us to discuss his new book, his trips to St. Louis and what he believes holds this restive nation together.

Has a road trip ever changed your life? Where did you go, and why? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to [email protected] or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.