Sunday, June 29, 2008

Let's face it, 'On the Road' is passe

Goodbye, Ken Kesey. Goodbye, Jack Kerouac. Goodbye, John Steinbeck. Goodbye, Marlon Brando in "The Wild Ones." Goodbye, "American Graffiti."

The Great American Road Novels, and the movies they inspired, had their cultural day quite some time ago. Quaint as they seem today, they still were wonderful remnants of the westering spirit driven by manifest destiny, American to the core.

But today, in the age of $4 (and soon to be $5) per gallon of gas, anything that rides (or, for that matter, flies) behind a reciprocating engine is obsolete, passe, over the hill. Suddenly that entire substratum of American culture seems to be nothing more than a museum piece to be studied in universities.

Somehow I don't think Priuses, or even Vespas, will drive writers to produce lasting literature. Those thrifty vehicles are just too virtuous, too earnest, too eager. The old road epic that rode aboard V-8 Fords and thirsty Chevys and blown Harleys depended on what we now realize was wasteful obliviousness to their source of energy. Who cared what fueled the vehicle so long as it drove heroes on their adventures?

Somehow it's hard to get excited about the Great American Staycation Novel.

On an entirely different yet closely related subject, Jonathan Karp, a veteran of the book publishing industry, tells why he thinks most books should be mulched in an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post.


  1. Oh - you're wrong. You're wrong...

    check out Peter Moore's website and books - he's written two travel books from a vespa. I will do it one day too. Around America. I'll definitely pick you up and take you for a ride when I'm up your way :)

    PS - no whinging about the price of gas - it's $8.00 per gallon US down here in the 'podes'

  2. Robyn is exactly right ... and there are lots of other great Vespa travelogues as well.

    But even a Vespa snob like myself has to tip his helmet to "Further" and Kesey. What a great bus and a great tale)!

    Thanks for nothing, Bush, for killing off the Great American Road Trip.

  3. Well, Robyn and Pete, I was thinking of road FICTION, not travel narrative. Shoulda made that clearer in the post.

    Travel narrative -- nonfiction -- will last forever, and will continue to be written.

    Now it should be mentioned that Pete, a fellow retired journo, is a Vespa freak. He has twenty-seven of them in his garage in varying stages of repair, and addresses himself to them whenever his barked knuckles (he is a little twee with the wrenches) heal enough.

    He buys his gas at the corner station by the quart. I'm jealous.

  4. 27! Ah, don't I wish. Herself laid down the law years ago: I am permitted only ONE example of whatever obsession claims me at any particular moment. (I am, however, permitted multiple obsessions, phew.)

    You did hit the nail on the head re: my mechanical aptitude.

    As for Vespa fuel: It angers me no end whenever I fill up the two-gallon tank and the bill, which used to be about $3 and change is now $7-something. My only consolation: I try to fill up at the pump with the highest previous sale -- so far $93 is the record. That does take the edge off...