Easy Chair Road Trips
by Jim Corbran
Let someone else do the driving
Sometimes a book’s title just grabs you and makes you pick it up; sometimes it’s the cover’s design. And then again, sometimes it’s both. That just happens to be the case with these books, which, although technically not about cars, are about driving. Driving and the experiences that often go with a long road trip. Perfect gifts for the driver/traveller on your list.
Let’s start with the newest release, which just happens to be the book I’m now finishing: Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip, by Matthew Algeo. I’ll admit to never being a big Truman fan—it’s difficult getting past that whole atom bomb thing—but this book is a great, light read. Truman and his wife Bess, a few months after vacating the White House and returning to Missouri, decide to drive back to Washington for a visit in their new Chrysler New Yorker. Just the two of them. Back in those days a president’s Secret Service protection ended when he left office. As did his paychecks—there was no presidential pension back then. Nearly broke, Truman managed to buy the $4,000 car (some say for a mere one dollar) and hit the road—he and Bess, just two regular folks staying in motels and eating in diners. The story of the Trumans’ month-long 1953 trip is itself a trip back in time to when an ex-president wasn’t an instant multi-millionaire with a posse planning his every waking minute.
A couple of summers ago the family spent a week in Ireland, soaking up the local culture and washing it down with pint after pint of Guinness. One day while driving our right-handed-steering-wheeled rental car on the left side of the road, we stopped in a small local book store. And there on the first table I came to was Tony Hawks’ Round Ireland With a Fridge. “What the…” I said to myself as I picked it up. Tony Hawks, as it turns out, is a London-based standup comedian/writer/TV-and-radio game show panelist who, one day in 1989 while visiting Ireland, was driving north from Dublin’s airport when he and his companion came across a man hitchhiking. With a fridge. Hawks’ friend thought nothing of it and that was the end of it. Until years later when, at a dinner party, “after a vast quantity of wine had been consumed,” the hitchhiker/fridge incident came up in the conversation. A 100-pound bet was made that Hawks couldn’t himself “hitch-hike round the circumference of Ireland, with a fridge, within one calendar month.” The bet was on, and the book tells the whole story of Hawks and “his trusty travelling companion-cum domestic appliance” and their improbable and sometimes hilarious trip ’round the Emerald Isle.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon was published in 1982. If you’re unfamiliar with map-reading, the blue highways on a map indicate not the main traffic corridors, but what we might call the back roads. This is Least Heat Moon’s story of him and his old Ford van driving those back roads, and the people and places they saw. What drew me to this book when I saw it in a second-hand book store was the author’s name, which, of course, has a story behind it too. The author’s father called himself Heat Moon, while his older brother was Little Heat Moon; so, coming last, William was Least Heat Moon. Reading his book, you’ll meet people you figured were probably out there all right, but you know you’d never come across them without venturing off the beaten path.
None of these books should be difficult to find in time for Christmas for that armchair traveler on your list. Try your local new and used booksellers, which, if you’re in the city, means Talking Leaves (951 Elmwood Avenue and 3158 Main Street) and Rust Belt Books (202 Allen Street).
Other travel titles which I haven’t had time to look at but certainly am intrigued by their titles: Sand in My Bra, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, and Incontinent on the Continent.
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