Uneasy Rider: The Interstate Way Of Knowledge


"Engagingly curious open-mindedness . . . an amiable deadpan worthy of Richard Ford."  —Pico Iyer, Time

in this offbeat and original road book, cultural observer Mike Bryan takes issue with the traditional idea that the "real" America is to be found somewhere on our scenic backroads. He argues instead that it is right out in the open on the interstates, and he travels the big highways of the Southwest to prove the point.

Bryan engages motel operators, state troopers, ...

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Uneasy Rider: The Interstate Way of Knowledge

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"Engagingly curious open-mindedness . . . an amiable deadpan worthy of Richard Ford."  —Pico Iyer, Time

in this offbeat and original road book, cultural observer Mike Bryan takes issue with the traditional idea that the "real" America is to be found somewhere on our scenic backroads. He argues instead that it is right out in the open on the interstates, and he travels the big highways of the Southwest to prove the point.

Bryan engages motel operators, state troopers, and traveling salesmen. He discovers the world's only "No Smoking" ranch; hobnobs with elusive novelist Cormac McCarthy; spars with Bob Sundown, who prefers his covered wagon to any car. Between encounters he contemplates everything from America's pioneering spirit to its history of road building. In the end, he discovers that the interstates, far from producing the homogenous society he feared, nourish a rich community of eccentrics. And that ultimately, as this deeply romantic travelogue shows, there is no such thing as an "ordinary American."

"A wonderful writer, he manages to transmit his enjoyment of the places and people he encounters."  —Austin American-Statesman

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Written as an antidote to those on-the-road books that purport to find the "real" America hidden along its back roads and byways, this upbeat account claims to have found the real thing right out there in plain sight along the interstate highways that run between Dallas and California. Bryan, who is from Texas and has written about baseball (Baseball Lives) and golf (Dogleg Madness), says that most road-book writers seek to find "the rare, the poignant, the quaint, the throwback, the eccentric, the forgotten, and the arcane," while what he found is "the asphalt and concrete wave of the future," and it's not that bad. That includes-within a few miles of each other in Texas-a snake farm, a religious theme park, a flag service car company that escorts extra-wide vehicles and a booming stud farm. Making his way west, Bryan rides with state troopers along a stretch of I-20 near Abilene, visits a town so small it can't afford to put up a sign on the interstate but is famous locally for being the place New York City dumps its sludge, and talks to everyone in sight: truckers, motel workers (desk clerks turn out to be terrible gossips), toll collectors, hitchhikers, border patrolmen, road repair crews, even a man riding in a covered wagon. He visits trailer parks, a courtroom, a dairy farm, hot springs and-in El Paso-the reclusive novelist Cormac McCarthy. There's also room for a bit of his own autobiography, including a surprising amount about his low sperm count, and a discussion of JFK's assassination. This lively book takes some unexpected turns, and although Bryan claims anyone can get into a good conversation at a truck stop diner, the ones he finds are especially entertaining. Instructive, too. (Mar.) FYI: Bryan praises McCarthy's prose but clams up about their meeting at a Mexican restaurant, except to mention that both fear for the future of good writing.
Library Journal
Bryan's previous books have explored the worlds of golf (Dogleg Madness, 1987; Grove, 1990. reprint) and baseball (Baseball Lives, LJ 4/1/89). In his latest effort, Bryan rolls along interstate highways, with frequent stops and some surprising results. The title is a bit of a misnomer, because he limits his travels mainly to Texas, with brief forays into parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and California. He emphatically states, "I say we see a great deal more on and near the interstates: America as it is and as it is becoming; the real thing, like it or not." That's in Chapter 1. By the end of Chapter 2, Bryan is admitting, "any preconceptions I might have had about what was percolating out here on the interstates were rapidly evaporating." This after encounters with a rattlesnake rancher, religious promoter, flag service operator (for oversized loads), and stud farm owner. Although the book lacks the focus and continuity of a single journey, Bryan has an expert touch with interviews. His book should be read in small portions over a long period of time. Recommended for larger libraries with a demand for personal travel narrative.-Janet N. Ross, Sparks Branch Lib., Nev.
Kirkus Reviews
Much of this drive-through view of the Southwest is disjointed and overly opinionated, a perplexing blend of Americana, cathartic anger, and ego.

From the outset, Bryan (Dogleg Madness, 1988, etc.) searches for an ever-elusive unifying theme that presumably is built on the synecdoche of the interstate highway as representative of present- day America. This works to the extent that the people he meets are a varied and industrious lot. Bryan visits a snake farm where tourists can purchase mice to throw in the pits, and he rides with Texas state troopers apprehending speeders. He spends time with casino dealers in Laughlin, Nev., and with the manager of the sludge dump in Sierra Blanca, Tex., which receives its product from New York City. Motel owners, truckers, hitchhikers, ranchers (including the proprietor of a "no smoking" ranch), restaurateurs—they are all here, and one admires Bryan's doggedness and benefits from his wide-ranging interests. However, an equally large segment of the book is comprised of frequently demeaning observations about Texans, Republicans, Christians, and anyone else not smart enough to have moved, like Texas-born Bryan, to New York City. For instance, people who voted for Nixon in 1960 were "neither imaginative nor creative." A particularly extraneous and self-pitying, as well as unnecessarily graphic, section concerns Bryan and his wife's failed in-vitro fertilization treatment. A visit to his aged grandmother elicits a curiously cavalier reaction to her deteriorating mental state: The "lilt and twinkle in her eye" when she is unable to remember something from her past is "enchanting." Her burial in the book's last chapter is likewise bloodless.

Had Bryan stuck to his often praiseworthy descriptions of lost Texas towns or the small but meaningful pursuits of citizens on and along the interstates, this would have been a far greater pleasure to read.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679742654
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage Departures
  • Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
  • Pages: 364
  • Sales rank: 1,557,718
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2003

    Skip this book

    This is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read. The author wanders around the West in search of a good story and fails to locate even one. Eventually even the author tires of his trips to cheesy tourist attractions and budget motels, and instead latches onto a local highway patrolman in the hopes of cribbing some good travel tales. The author fails at even this, choosing instead to spend his time in a coffee shop. He clearly runs out of material well before the end of the book and attempts to supplement with excessively personal information and unrelated anecdotes. I would recommend this only as an example of a painful attempt to complete a book despite a lack of writing skills and an apparent case of writers block.

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