America Unchained, by Dave Gorman
Most people either love this book or hate it. In my view, the premise was incurably flawed, but the execution of the book was accomplished in generally an acceptable manner. America Unchained: A Freewheeling Roadtrip in Search of Non-Corporate USA was given to me by Peter Thody, one of my favorite road trip chroniclers, and I am positive that my assessment of this book is flavored by the positive association with his work. The reasoning behind this new book by Dave Gorman goes something like this: " The plan was simple. Go to America. Buy a second-hand car. Drive coast-to-coast without giving any money to THE MAN " In the generation of my youth, "the man" was always a more-or-less euphemism for the local police, but Gorman defines "the man" as being "a generic name for the owners of multinational chain stores, brands and trademarks."
To begin with, I fail to see how managers working for "Mom and Pop" small businesses are any more "American" than managers working for Chevron, Marriot hotels or Best-Buy. A writer who sets out to discover the real America by ignoring creative corporate companies in favor of small independent operations is certainly a form of Don Quixote windmill tilting at best. But one of the great things about road trips is that each person gets to make up his own rules about what constitutes a "real" road trip. And there is no question that the author succeeds in leading us on wild road trip. His efforts to find independent cafes, gas stations and motels are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I also found myself cringing several times as the story unfolded, and his appalling lack of knowledge about basic automotive functions led to some near-disastrous incidents. No one can describe the sounds of an engine about to seize up better than Dave Gorman.
Without giving away too much of this zany adventure, I can tell you that Gorman succeeds in completing his cross-country odyssey in a vintage 1970 Ford Torino Estate (station wagon). The vehicle came with a very appropriate license plate number: 1JWV666. The number of the beast was as perfect for the author as the car itself. Along the way, Gorman does manage to find some very creative and independent business owners, and the descriptions of the ensuing adventures will keep you chuckling for hours. I thought his treatment of some of the folks he met in the south was harsh, but it was unquestionably entertaining. I also enjoyed the numerous descriptions of how he and his traveling companions were rescued by folks who went out of their way to get his aging station wagon back on the road.
The best road trip sagas are those where
the reader feels like they are sitting in the front
seat and seeing the world through the writer's eyes.
And this book certainly delivers that virtual road trip
experience. I have no doubt that you will share the
exhilarating terror that Gorman felt when used the zip
line at the tree house hotel in Oregon or when he failed
to use a lower gear when descending from Whitney's Portal
in California. The book is an enjoyable time-out and
one that will probably make you laugh. I certainly did.