Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights; Of Cloudless and Carefree American Days

Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights; Of Cloudless and Carefree American Days

by Bob Greene (2)

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With the color and richness of a novel, Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights leads us across the country to chronicle the people, places, and passions at its secret heart. Greene tells the stories that don't make the headlines - funny, gripping, warm, chilling, sentimental, exhilarating. A small-town cop saves a child's life by double-checking, on a hunch, a…  See more details below


With the color and richness of a novel, Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights leads us across the country to chronicle the people, places, and passions at its secret heart. Greene tells the stories that don't make the headlines - funny, gripping, warm, chilling, sentimental, exhilarating. A small-town cop saves a child's life by double-checking, on a hunch, a closed case of suspected abuse. Frank Sinatra, on his last concert tour, shares off-the-cuff wisdom about fame, craft, and shifting fortunes. The Mall of America, on the Minnesota plains, stands as a surreal symbol of our nation at its best and worst. An impoverished father gives his son the best trip he can - on the free trains out to Atlanta's airport boarding gates.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Greene (Rebound) here presents a collection of 104 columns, many of them laments for the days when life in America seemed simpler and Americans more civil. His premise is that "[t]he real truths of our lives don't make the morning paper or the six o'clock news." He tells of a surgeon who saved a woman's eyesight, a farmer who won 11 ribbons at an Ohio county fair, a 47-year-old man afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease who located the selfsame car he had driven at age 17, a businessman who worked until he was 94 and a high school soccer player who requested that his game-winning goal be disallowed. But this is not a feel-good view of the country; Greene also writes of present-day urban violence, parents abusing their children, children persecuting their peers for real or fancied differences. Included in the mix are anecdotes about the famousJack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Stan Musial. In all, the message in this collection is a depressing one: Greene seems convinced that the fabric of American life is unraveling and is likely to unravel further. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Greene (The 50 Year Dash, LJ 10/1/96), a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has compiled a book of essays from his columns that tell the tale of everyday life in 20th-century America. These are stories that don't make the headlines. They concern, for example, the symbiotic relationship between a 110-year-old mother and her 82-year-old daughter, who live as roommates in a nursing home; the 78 acres of land known as "The Mall of America"; the case of a small-town cop who saved a child's life by double-checking, on a hunch, a closed case of suspected child abuse; and an ode to Robert L. Manners, who owned 37 Big Boy restaurants. The theme that unites these stories is how "the small moments of our livesthe thing no respectable editor would ever think to feature on the front pagegrow in importance as time passes, resonate even louder in our memories and in our hearts." Greene writes deftly; his gift for home truth is refreshing. Recommended for public and academic libraries.Susan Dearstyne, Hudson Valley Community Coll., Albany, N.Y.
Kirkus Reviews
Syndicated Chicago Tribune columnist Greene (The 50 Year Dash, 1996; Hang Time, 1992; etc.) collects a hundred or so transitory essays celebrating the old human virtues and decrying the new human vices. Clearly, journeyman observer Greene is against moral shortcuts, meanness, and the demise of courtesy. Let there be no doubt: He is all for the eternal verities, homely and straightforward. His views, all under the rubric of "human interest," are Janus-like, totally despairing and happily sanguine by turns. Now he espies endemic moral rot (e.g., parents who beat one of their children and stuff him in a drawer, out of sight); then, just when that seems to be the paranoid theme, he comes up with positively folksy goodness (the persistent cop who senses something amiss and finds the boy's hiding place). One page may despair of "the coarseness of language, the celebration of violence, the constant devaluation of civility." The next page may cheerfully report true parental love or sweet generosity. With datelines from such precincts as Rensselaer, Ind., Ebensberg, Penn., and Bexley, Ohio (his hometown), Greene tells, in eight or nine hundred adroitly crafted words, of wise old people, murdered babies, enthusiastic boosters, grouchy customers, devoted daddies, and brave kids, and all kinds of dramatis personae short of a faithful dog. He interviews a Berkeley student known as "the Naked Guy" (for clear reasons). He discovers inspiration at county fairs, Yankee Stadium, and the vast Mall of America. Greene's quotidian passing parade may be one of rampant nostalgia and of sentiment verging on the maudlin, but truth to tell, he's pretty good at it. The stories are generallyentertaining and, sometimes, if you're in the right mood, truly moving. A talented journalist in the old tradition serves some traditional apple pie with a bit of corn, and it may just suit a reader somehow predisposed to good feeling.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Sunday Morning

It was just after seven-thirty on a Sunday morning, and the streets were silent. Jack and I walked past the elementary school building and Jack noticed a pile of furniture stacked by the side, where the bike racks used to be.

"Look at those chairs," Jack said. "The little ones."

We veered off the sidewalk to approach the pile.

"Do you think they could be ours?" Jack said.

"If they are, they're at least forty years old," I said, picking up a chair and holding it in one hand.

The chair was wooden. The style was old-fashioned. The chair was so small that it could not comfortably hold a person much older than seven or eight.

"I'll bet you these are the same chairs that were used when we went to school here," Jack said. "They're pretty sturdy. They could have lasted all this time."

The elementary school was being remodeled. On this August Sunday morning, the little wooden chairs awaited Monday pickup by a salvage crew. Jack and I, best friends all our lives, both of us half-a-century old now, were walking the streets of the town where we grew up. Neither of us lives there now. We had flown in with nothing much more important in mind than to do just this: walk around and see things.

To us, the pile of elementary school furniture was like a prized find at an archeological dig. Soon enough the streets would be filling with people on their way to church, but we were still pretty much alone as we left the furniture and headed toward Main Street. A police officer, cruising, waved, and we waved back. In a town of 15,000, that kind of thing can happen.

On the other side ofMain Street was Paul's Food Shoppe. "I wonder if it still has the wooden floors," Jack said. In the middle of a block we crossed without a traffic light because there was no traffic. The store was closed, but through the front windows we could see that the floor was still made of well-worn wood, the nailheads visible.

"It was always so much smaller than the Kroger's across the street," I said. "But it always did good business."

"People liked the service," Jack said. "Paul's gave personal service. You could call Paul's with your grocery list and they'd deliver to your house."

Across the street, the Kroger's supermarket was gone, a chain pharmacy in its place. Paul's remained. We saw the food on the shelves, and Jack, who knows about the twists and vagaries of business now, mentioned the name of a giant national food manufacturer that he noticed on one label through the window and said, "They're such a slimy outfit," and began to explain to me about the national conglomerate's low business practices.

But I didn't want to hear it. I'm willing to listen to just about anything Jack wants to talk about, always have been, but a silent Sunday morning in front of Paul's grocery windows was not the time to remind ourselves that we now knew secrets and shames of the real world. "Paul's really did have good service," I said, cutting him off. "My grandmother had them deliver her groceries all the time."

The record shop where Jack and I each bought copies of Meet the Beatles the day it arrived in our town is now a store that sells sheets and towels; we looked in that window, too. Connell's Flowers is bigger than we remembered; Seckel's 5 & 10 is gone. We took a right and passed the house where my mother used to live when she was a girl. We stopped on street comers and debated which way to turn next.

Each of us had been back here many times before; each of us has thought, more times than we can tell, about what the streets and buildings mean to us. We hadn't done it together, though, not like this, and the Sunday morning grew later and the streets began to fill.

In the nicer sections of town the homes were still lovely, but very few had the names of their owners displayed on address signs in front, the way they used to. Instead, the signs on the lawns bore the names of security firms, announcing to would-be burglars that the homes were wired and connected to the police station. It's like this everywhere now, all over America, in our new age of fear and discretion. Don't let strangers know your name; just tell them you are wary and well-protected. Security on those streets we walked was once something that was taken for granted, and the security was of a sort that people did not have to order from a company and pay for once a month.

"Do you think they're just going to haul those little wooden chairs away?" Jack said.

"My mom's old house was really beautiful," I said, looking in the sky for Sunday-morning rain clouds.

Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queens Nights. Copyright � by Bob Greene. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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