From the monthly archives: "July 2013"

I’ve just finished reading Phil Caputo’s travel book “The Longest Road” for a future review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and TwoAmericanRoadTrips.com, our web site that will debut soon.

Caputo, typically, had to make his token complaints against “sprawl.” He noted Miami’s “ghastly sprawl” and worried later — despite seeing the vast open spaces of middle America — that his grandchildren were going to inherit a country of sprawling metropolises with nothing in between.

Sprawl — urban or suburban — is one of America’s great evils, at least according to our elite writers and thinkers and worriers. Steinbeck whined about it way back in 1960, when he saw Seattle’s post-WWII growth spurt mowing down trees to build houses for suburban pioneers.

Sprawl is a mythical evil, a bogey man of American life probably invented by the New Yorker magazine that you’re not supposed to think about, just hate.

Here’s my sardonic definition of what sprawl really is, urban or suburban. It’ll be the first entry of my new Politically Incorrect Devil’s Dictionary:

“Sprawl: The unnecessary, cancerous growth of your city’s boundaries created by greedy people you don’t like who had the nerve to build their ugly new neighborhoods, roads and shopping districts on empty farmland after you did.”

Self portraits 188For the rest of the summer, you can catch me on WPTS 92.1, which is the University of Pittsburgh’s radio station. Every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. I try to play a good combination of old time, jug bands, string bands, blues, bluegrass, country, punk, rock, alt this and that, folk, etc. It’s been great fun so far, and people seem to like it. Or, the four libertarians on twitter who have killer taste in music seem to like it.*

You can stream it live on Wednesdays at 3 (though sometimes I start a little late) over this way. During those hours, I tend to tweet @wptsrequest, but I don’t have a lot to work with, so if you want a request, I suggest giving it to me a week early.

It’s a good show, if I say so myself. Even if I am a radio pipsqueak, turns out people are right, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

* Somebody fund this gold and gave us four a radio show. Unpopular politics¹+unpopular music²= $$$

¹ No, Rand Paul does not count.

² No, Mumford and Sons does not count.

The great Phil Caputo, author of “A Rumor of War” and other fine books, took a sweet 16,000-mile road trip in the fall of 2011 with his trophy wife, trophy dogs and trophy pickup truck with Airstream travel van.

The 80 Americans he met from Key West to Nome are the main attraction in “The Longest Road,” which is being reviewed and promoted everywhere and will be available July 16.

As I found out while trying to get a publisher for what became “Dogging Steinbeck,” road books are tough sells — unless you’re famous.

Maybe Caputo would like to join Ethan Casey and me this fall on our West Coast book-promoting tour, which we are calling Two American Road Trips and is further explained at our Facebook Page.

“The Longest Road,” as described on Amazon:

One of America’s most respected writers takes an epic journey across America, Airstream in tow, and asks everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large.

Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.

Call it TART, for short, but don’t confuse Two American Road Trips with any stinking Big Government rescue scheme.

TART is the unofficial acronym of “Two authors, two road trips, two Americas,” a co-venture in travel book promoting and selling that’s being put together by me and my new pal Ethan Casey of Seattle.

Ethan — billed as a liberal and author of “Home Free” — and I — billed as a true-blue libertarian — are going to hit the highway this fall and appear together at libraries and indy bookstores from coast-to-coast.

We’ll each spew our versions of the America we saw from the front seats of our cars. Ethan out-drove me, wracking up 18,000 miles in the fall of 2012 to my puny 11,276.

So far we’re only officially booked into venues in Seattle and Mt. Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb.

But more dates are going to come, especially in the Bay Area and Monterey County, aka Steinbeck Country, during late October and early November.

Anyone finding this page knows the pain I’ve caused Steinbeck fans. But here’s a little blurb from the PR department about young Mr. Casey:

In the fall of 2012 Ethan Casey drove clockwise around America during the election season.

The result is “Home Free,” an entertaining and edifying work of personal reporting in the spirit of his previous travel narratives, “Alive and Well in Pakistan” (“Intelligent and compelling” – Mohsin Hamid) and “Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti” (“Heartfelt” – Paul Farmer).

“I’m now turning my attention to another society struggling through a time of confusion, economic and political distress and transition,” says Casey, who’s working hard to finish “Home Free” by fall. “America is susceptible to the same forces and trends as any other country.”

 

1000992_10100888966231447_827789867_n1) Every knee-jerk patriot who so loves his loyalty to flag and country is celebrating treason right now. Yes, treason.

2) The Declaration of Independence is a dynamite piece of work, it really is.

3) Bill Pullman’s presidential speech before the final battle in Independence Day. Tell me he doesn’t give his all.

4) The X version of “Fourth of July”, which I played on my radio show yesterday afternoon. It’s such a gut-wrencher in many different ways. What a ridiculously great song. In order of quality of versions it goes 1) X 2) Drunk Matt Welch 3) Dave Alvin, for what that’s worth.

5) Maybe the bad-ass words of the Founders have melted into offensive hypocrisy, perhaps they did right away (or by the time John Adams rolled into office with his Sedition Act shenanigans), but again, that Deceleration is a kick-ass “fuck you” to people getting involved your business of living.

Hell, the World War I Christmas Truce failed, but I still think about and toast it every December 24. Maybe I could celebrate, if nothing else, the sheer audacity of people throwing off their King and saying, nah, we can do better. Henry David Thoreau wasn’t the perfect American woodsman, but his Civil Disobedience does the poetry of liberty better than anything. There’s a place for the pretty words of even the Founders. They knew. They knew so well the dangers of government tyranny and they still were all awful presidents — thereby proving their warnings that it’s the power that’s the problem.

6) Yes, six. I think under my libertarian anarchism there is some stupid, poetic core that wants America to be what its reputation says it is. You know, that wacky, anti-collectivist nation. The world’s cool Bohemian cousin who is kind of scary, but captivating. The life of the party. Can you imagine if we really were the bad-ass, individualist, cranky, cool nation of only Lysander Spooners and Rose Wilder Lanes? Who kept to ourselves, but always left the front door open to immigrants?

That’d be nice.

The fact that I have a lingering disappointment in America always surprises me. We’ve got such great geography, history, folklore, culture. We could have been a contender…We could have been the America that conservatives tell themselves that we always were and are and forever will be. (But better, cause we’d also have Mexicans and gay people.)

And now my patriotism for the year is done. Because again I’m wondering and worrying over where America’s trimmings of liberty are what keeps people from realizing how bad it is, and how much worse it can get. We have the amendments, we have that wonderful document of (mostly) negative liberties (God, what an awesome idea), and then we have a million tiny chips in each one. The Fourth is in particularly bad shape, but since it’s still there in law, are we going to notice if it becomes utterly meaningless, like my friend Bob’s sandals that were eventually held together only with duct tape?

Is it ever going to feel like a people in the street, this time it’s serious, this time we make a stand moment in a nation devoted to pretty words about being the freest place in the world? Are we just lulling ourselves to sleep by repeating what we were supposed to be as a country? What kind of shield is a piece of paper, anyway?

My debut solo speaking performance on behalf of my book “Dogging Steinbeck” occurred without a hitch or a lawsuit Wednesday night in the lovely Toledo suburb of Perrysburg.

Thanks to the promotional efforts of Richard Baranowski of the Way Library, I was written up nicely beforehand by Arielle Stambler and in a local paper by Baranowski. About 60 multi-diverse humans attended, all lovely, all eager to learn about how I discovered that “Travels With Charley” was a literary fraud.

No one threw anything or even booed. And 12 people forked over real money for my book.