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America Unchained Paperback – 19 Feb 2009
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"The road trip of a lifetime" (The Times)
"An epic quest across America" (Boys Toys)
One man, one car, no chains, and one hell of a coast-to-coast adventureSee all Product description
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The concept, in case you don't already know, is to drive from Los Angeles to New York, without giving money to 'The Man' - which, in practice seems to mean not eating in chain restaurants, not staying in chain hotels, and not filling up the car with chain-bought petrol. And nothing else, really. It really doesn't get any more complicated than that - eating, sleeping and fuelling a motor seem to be the only times that this 'challenge' becomes really relevant. Yet it's the challenge of being non-corporate that takes massive precedence over any insight into the American way of life. Perhaps, as I believe it's inhabitants often tell us, the Midwest really is big, empty, and not all that exciting. Perhaps there really aren't that many diversions there to speak of. But honestly, anyone who's ever run out of petrol before will find a 200 page book on the subject probably a little dull, whether the car's being driven through Manchester or Mississippi. The bottom line is, Dave Gorman's rigid adherence to the challenge he sets himself doesn't really leave him a lot of wiggle-room in writing a book that remains engaging throughout.
That said though, Gorman is a good enough, and entertaining enough writer to ensure that, despite the lack of quality subject matter, the book is readable and enjoyable from cover to cover. He has a very lighthearted tone, at all times, and captures the flavour of being a Brit-abroad very well. His style, including little maps, diagrams and of course the mandatory photographs of the places he's been and people he's met sit well in the book, and help illustrate the narrative nicely. He even manages some fantastically, and perhaps even profound insights into everything from Mormonism to human goodness.
But in reality, these moments are too thin on the ground, before we return to the common theme - what if they run out of petrol?
An enjoyable read, but he could have done with a little more to write about.
Anyway, I saw this, his third book and liked the idea behind it. Here was a man that wanted to travel across the breath of the USA in a 1970 Ford Torino station wagon. During his planned six weeks on the road, Dave Gorman wanted to avoid giving money to 'The Man' - in other words to those huge companies that have chains across America and/or the World. His idea was to only give his dollars to the independent businesses - be it hotels, gas stations, restaurants, general stores etc. I applaud this type of endeavour as its precisely the way I would ideally like to see America.
America unchained was an easy and comfy read. It was a book that I didn't race through - just slowly read it over the course of a week. And, yeah, it was entertaining enough. However, I did find it to be rather pedestrian in places and found myself wishing that something really outstanding or profound would happen. The book did have some highlights to keep me turning the pages but I just felt something was lacking. Maybe it's because I've done a lot of independent travelling myself and have had some amazing experiences that somehow seemed to eclipse the ones Dave Gorman had. I suppose he could only write about what actually happened during his particular journey. However, I can't help thinking that he could have done some better planning in advance. I'm sure had he chosen far more interesting places to visit, it would have resulted in him writing a more appealing travelogue.
It’s an admirable mission, and Gorman writes about it with his typical wit – as always, it’s interesting to see how his adventure pans out, and this one feels more honest, if anything, than his previous work. In the past, Dave went on a Googlewhack Adventure, met 54 other people called ‘Dave Gorman’ and followed his horoscope for 40 days and 40 nights, all in the name of entertainment. Here, though, his journey through America seems to serve a higher purpose – it’s almost not funny anymore, because it’s heartbreaking to read about some of the places that he visited that no longer exist.
And ultimately, that’s sort of the point of the book, and one of the reasons why it’s worth reading – the independent stores that were once typical of America (and, on a wider scale, the rest of the world) are disappearing at an alarming rate, and Gorman’s journey and the book that resulted from it could be the last great celebration of them before they die out entirely. Besides, it’s a hell of a journey anyway – you’re sure to be entertained from start to finish, even if you do struggle to hold back tears along the way.
So I urge you to read the book, to watch the D.V.D. and to go out and buy something from an independent shop, because the only way that places like these can thrive is if we support them ourselves, if we ignore our own laziness and shop at a corner shop instead of at a supermarket when we next need to pick up a loaf of bread and a bag of sugar. If Dave Gorman can do it all of the way across America, then what’s to stop you from doing the same thing in your own back yard?
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