December 19, 2005

"A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow"

An American
Hitchhiking Odyssey
by Tim Brookes


From Booklist
In 1973, Brookes, then a British student, spent three months hitchhiking across America, dazzled by a girl from Iowa he had met at Oxford. In 1998, Brookes, now a writer, teacher, and longtime Vermonter, decides to re-create that experience and hitchhike to the same places again. He's not crazy: he periodically takes trains or buses and carries a cell phone in his daughter's sock. He tracks a few of the people and most of the places he encountered the first time, but this is no self-referential wallowing. He's not interested in reliving the past but in illuminating the present, and he carries both a cheerful lack of anxiety and a disarming lack of pretense. In crisp, short chapters, he recounts conversations with the folks who pick him up and his responses to the places he goes: a gospel church in San Francisco; a previous wife in Seattle; a desolate reservation in South Dakota. He finds kindness and gratitude, and he clearly has those within himself as well. GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Meaningful Quotes:
To hell with the past, I thought. You can't get there from here.

The vagabond when rich is called a tourist.

"I went into the woods" Thoreau wrote, "because I wished to live deliberately. To front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach. And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

"Agh," Tomas groaned from under his bedcovers. "You are one of those born with the propeller in the arse. You have to move all the time."

This is a European's America, glittery and bizarre, but also flamboyantly free of tradition, common sense, the tyranny of good taste.

Ah, America: girls in shorts and t-shirts, their muscular legs promising competence and go-anywhere adventurousness.

"What is the source of the world's suffering?" asked Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher-postman. "It lies," he decided, in the fact that "we hesitate to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us."

...that old-fashioned heartland calm, the evidence that sun, local food, and hard work in the open air might not be the secret of life, but they'd do until the right answer came along.

My grandfather's idea of a good day was waking up, having a cup of coffee, scratching his dog behind the ears, and being able to go out and see horses. And that's not bad. We get oversold on larger-than-life.

No wonder hitchhiking appeals so much to adolescents, or to the adolescent in me: It's full of decisions to make, at our own behest, and the discoveries that come with them.

Hitchhiking is starting to look like a spiritual exercise. It fosters patience interspersed with gratitude. It demands faith, hope, and other people's charity, and demands the Buddhist virtues of selflessness and an acceptance of 'not knowing.' It enforces St Benedict's principles of poverty, chastity, and obedience - to the rules of the road, and the rules of change.

You've got to make yourself vulnerable before you need something from someone else. And you've got to need something before you can feel gratitude. And unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you never have any chance encounters. All the most remarkable people I've met on this trip, I've met by chance.

Any spontaneous decision has about it not only joy and energy but a mysterious ring of truth. Any spontaneous act involves abandoning self-protection.