RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

I'll Be Damned If I'll Die in Oakland: A Sort of Travel Memoir
by Al Martinez

For every rule, there is at least one valid exception. It has been our policy since the inception of RoadTrip America to review and recommend only those books that have direct relationship with road tripping in North America. Al Martinez' new book I'll Be Damned If I'll Die in Oakland: A Sort of Travel Memoir technically crosses that line since some of the travel tales he shares with us drew their inspiration, if not actual itinerary from places like France, England, Tanzania and Greece. Nonetheless, Martinez is an accomplished road wanderer and any journey with this long-time LA Times columnist is certainly worth taking.

The part of a road trip that I like the most is when the unexpected happens and one has to adjust to whatever is happening, Al Martinez seems to attract those moments with the regularity of a lightning rod. Snorting bears, hungry lions, sudden snowstorms, dangerous-looking road angels and inexplicably delayed flights from terminals in China and other places are all handled with the Martinez sense of humor and derring-do. Although it becomes abundantly clear that without Al's remarkable wife Cinelli and her calm approach to dealing with life's minor emergencies, Martinez's career, if not his life, might have been much shorter, and our literary lives would have been the poorer.

While I might not willingly have chosen Martinez's approach to his worldly wanderings, this book will delight you with his adventures in Baja California, Barrow, Alaska, New York City, and one particularly funny tale surrounding his dog Barney's penchant for running away. Cinelli chased him down a Louisiana highway late one night in her sheer nightgown while the author tried to catch both of them in a too-hastily packed camper. Actually, one cumulative effect of reading I'll Be Dammed if I'll Die in Oakland is a slight chuckle arises as soon as one reads the words "Add…(x) to the list of things I will not eat…" because this ever-growing list of both food and drink is a common thread throughout the book. Martinez's prose has the unique ability to make even commonplace events and seemingly minor gastronomical events wildly humorous. If you ever have the occasion to prepare a martini for this author, be warned. He takes a dim view toward anything sweet.

There is pervasive curmudgeonly quality to this memoir that seems a bit overwhelming, in places, but after all is said and done, Martinez shares some very personal observations about growing up and the often tortured process of acquiring wisdom. The lively dialogue and the author's funny observations about marriage, sex and work all blend into a wonderful road trip read. Now, if we could just get him to stay in North America…


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