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He's like Huckleberry Finn
He's a twenty-two-year-old housepainter living at his parents' house in Southern California, across a four-lane street from a gated subdivision. Now this suburban innocent is striking out on the only type of adventure he can afford: he's ...
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He's like Huckleberry Finn
He's a twenty-two-year-old housepainter living at his parents' house in Southern California, across a four-lane street from a gated subdivision. Now this suburban innocent is striking out on the only type of adventure he can afford: he's getting into his station wagon and going camping in the desert.
Join Mark Sundeen on his rumble-tumble journey across the Southwest, and find that the mystical home of Butch Cassidy, Chief Cochise, and Major John Wesley Powell has been transformed into something entirely strange yet unexpectedly familiar. It's a new West of low-rent trailer parks and high-dollar houseboats, of hot-springs singles scenes and homeless river guides and hapless soul-searchers, for sun-beat old-timers chewing the cud of the land and survivalist teenagers hiding out form the Man. It's a place far from the America you thought you lived in, but close enough to drive to in your car. Car Camping is a modern-day western adventure in the spirit of Mark Twain and Jack London, and you're invited to come along.
Author Biography: Mark Sundeen was born in 1970 in Harbor City, CA. He is co-founder, contributor, and managing editor of the ‘zine Great God Pan. This is his first book. He now lives in Utah.
There's nothing wrong with the desert. You can live wherever you want. My cousin Donny Brown lived a summer in Bullhead City, where if you fell on the sidewalk you'd get a burn, and he said that was fine.
For that matter there's nothing wrong with anything somebody else does. I say let them. Look at all the people moving to the desert to write poems or dig for gemstones or build a house out of mud and twigs. If anyone asks, they say it's great and it's very spiritual and they're getting in touch with the Earth. That's fine with me,
Or what about my Aunt Rachel? Two years ago when she found out she might be part Indian, she disappeared with a man in his big pickup truck. There was no word. Then one day she called her son Donny Brown and said she was finally living her life's dream. She and her new husband had settled on a black farm near Prescott, Arizona.
I asked Donny Brown what a black farm was.
"You know, they painted the barn and stable black, and the fences. They have a black cow, black roosters, a black billy goat, stuff like that. Some black cats."
The reason Aunt Rachel left in the first place was finding out about her father. She and my mom had never known him. All they knew was that he was adopted and that he died in a car wreck in 1942. But when my grandmother was on her deathbed she told them the whole story. Turned out my grandfather's real mother was a prostitute in Tucson who'd been seen on the Fort Apache reservation. He was so ashamed of possibly being an Indian that he made my grandmother promise never to tell anyone.
I didn't seewhat was to be ashamed of. When my cousins and I found out we might be Indian we thought it was sort of cool. People said that now we might get a better job. For a while when I looked in the mirror I thought I saw a little bit of red, but then I realized that even if I was one part Indian I was still seven parts white. I was white. The story about the Apache reservation didn't matter. I'd been white for twenty years and it was too late to learn how to be an Indian. And besides, I thought the only job I could get out of it was in a casino, and I'm terrible at cards.
But Aunt Rachel was changed. She said she'd always felt like an Indian, known it inside, and the news just confirmed her gut instinct. She left L.A. and wasn't heard from for two years. Now she called Donny Brown and told him she was more in touch with the Earth than she'd ever been with anything.
"Does she know how to farm?" I asked him.
"That's the thing," he said. "She invited me out there because she says I have a green thumb. They want to grow some black flowers."
There were three of us cousins traveling to Arizona in the station wagon. One was Donny Brown, one was Shapiro Brown, one was me. They were going to see their mother and Donny said I could come too if I drove my car. I always did what he told me because it always turned into an adventure.
Donny Brown was my favorite person. He was six and a half feet tall and an expert camper. Over the years he had impressed and even silenced me with the way he lashed bicycles to the bumper or pitched tarps in a hail shower. He was the height I wanted to be, and I always liked the way he walked into a room thin and windblown and hungry. It seemed like he'd been out in a cold storm while everyone else had just been lazy on the couch.
Everything always went his way. Now Donny Brown had a good job as a rock singer and a pretty wife who paid the mortgage, and I loved everything about him, including his wife, especially his wife. I had also gone on dates with two of his exgirlfriends. If he ever found out about it he never said so.
Shapiro was a novice camper and I wasn't much better. While Donny Brown was a success, his brother and I were failures. We were both housepainters still living at home. Either of us would have dropped the other in a minute to spend a day with Donny Brown.
We had left L.A. and picked up Donny in San Francisco, and planned to exit California through Death Valley, then make our way through Arizona. Donny Brown was vague about where Aunt Rachel lived, but I guessed we could find out later.
He said we should go to Sedona on the way. I had never heard of it and neither had Shapiro, but we all agreed it made for a good destination. Later we found out that Donny Brown didn't know where it was or what was there or why he wanted to go there. Maybe he had meant to say Sonoma or Salida or any other town. But that was all right, because driving over the Sierras at six A.M. it sounded better to say we were going to Sedona than to say we were going to look for a black farm or to say we didn't know where we were going at all.
Nothing happens in Death Valley and there's nothing to do. I liked it. From the minute we topped Panamint Pass and coasted toward the valley floor, everything was perfectly still. The wind blew and blew with no result. The valley was enclosed by brown, slumped mountains and littered with dark chunks of rock, and just sat there like a picture of itself.
Shapiro and Donny Brown and I climbed the Panamint Sand Dunes, smoked a cigarette, then somersaulted down. It was early April and not very hot. We walked out on the endless salt flats behind Badwater and stood for half an hour above the rocks at Zabriske Point. I thought something bold and dramatic might happen if I waited long enough.
We got in the car and drove to Hoover Dam.
In the desert, things are enormous and you can get on them. That's why people like it there. We reached Hoover Dam late at night and leaned far over the concrete restraint and spat. The spittle whipped in the wind and floated down the dizzying gorge. We drove two days. At night we slept in flat areas off the highway and cooked hot dogs on a fire in the gravel. We didn't talk to anyone.
We got to Cape Royal at the Grand Canyon where a sharp...
Posted May 7, 2001
In his introductory notes, author Mark Sundeen writes, 'You will see that I did not include a lot of fancy words or expensive ideas.' And, he doesn¿t. What he does include in Car Camping is a unique collection of stories, sites and characters set in America¿s western states. Sundeen¿s straightforward story telling takes the reader beyond the crowded freeways and over desert highways on road trips full of his own humorous and ironic observations while adding interesting bits of history about the places his Subaru station wagon takes him. While not intended as a travel guide, Car Camping, Sundeen¿s first book, is an entertaining and vivid introduction to America¿s Southwest from the 22-year-old author¿s point of view. The book is a completely enjoyable read in a little over 200 pages.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.