On the Road with Kesey and Truman

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Today's the end of my guest blogging stint on BoingBoing and I'm in the mood for a summertime road trip. Unfortunately, my car is 1999 AWD Ford Explorer with a 5.0 V-8 and gets, maybe, 16 miles to the gallon. The thing about it is that nothing ever goes wrong with it. It's a great vehicle, gas mileage aside. Wired magazine ran a great article explaining that the greenest vehicle is the car you already own. So, If I do go somewhere, I'll rent a Civic instead.

A great road trip requires more than just driving. It should be something like and retracing the route of Lewis and Clark. Or retracing the route of H. Sargent Michaels 1905 "Photographic Guide for Motorists from Chicago to Lake Geneva."

Matthew Algeo new book, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, is the account of a great road trip. The book's conceit is marvelous: almost immediately after leaving office, ex-president Truman and his wife Bess got behind the wheel of a new Chrysler New Yorker and drove from Missouri to New York and back, as plain old private citizens.

truman drinks coke.jpg

Harry loved to drive, so he and Bess loaded up the trunk with a few suitcases and took off. No bodyguards, no secret service. Harry and Bess ate in roadside diners, stopped at country gas stations, and just made like normal people, as well as the recently retired leader of the greatest nation in the free world could do. Impossible to imagine Clinton, Bush, or Bush doing that (Carter, maybe.)

Algeo retraced the route, visiting the places Turman stopped at. He uses newspaper accounts and interviews with the still living but now usually elderly people that interacted with Harry – waitresses, hotel clerks, even a cop who stopped him on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for driving too slow – to weave together a terrificly interesting story.

So, I need a road trip. Maybe I'll retrace the route of the Ken Kesey's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test trip, or Hernando Desoto's quest for the fountain of youth through the Southeast. I'm still thinking of more.