Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Thousand Miles from Nowhere

A Thousand Miles from Nowhere
© 1995 Graham Coster
275 pages

Great literature has been produced from travelers' tales, from those who walked or rode trains or even drove -- but none from a truck, says Graham Coster. In the hopes of filling in a niche, he hitched rides with British and American truckers transversing North American and Europe, to learn about life behind the wheel of a big rig. The memoir is based on three trips undertaken in 1993, but as Coster was not himself a driver, there are only three things he writes about: the drivers, the landscape, and country music. (Also: candy bars. One wonders if Mars, Inc underwrote his trip!) The landscape is almost absent, mentioned only as the background scenery. In Arizona, Coster ruefully notes that his time spent with truckers has altered his perspective: he has visited the state before, noted its beauty, but once embedded in the work routines of a cab it's nothing more than a low hill with a series of truck stops behind it. The places, unless they are extraordinarily abominable (New York City, the bane of truckers) are all ironed out by the constant transience of driving life. The drivers themselves all make for fun company, swapping stories about experiences on the road and ruminating over friends they've lost. In the United States, Coster is more out of his element -- praising presidents who truckers loathe, making jokes about people they admire. Ruminations on music, and especially country music, rival the conversations with drivers for page-space. Coaster is intrigued that the drivers he meets in England and Germany both like American country music, and in the US, they seem to listen to nothing else. It's not an accident that the book takes its title from a Dwight Yoakam piece. Coster likes it well enough himself, though he prefers the country-pop party anthems to the emotional croonings of Hank Williams.

Although this is a topic that greatly interests me, I was completely underwhelmed by this title, in part because I've read other memoirs and encountered nothing new. Even if I were reading it for the first time, however, there's little real information about the trucking industry here: it's just driving and waiting. For information on Eurasia's transcontinental routes, Danger: Heavy Goods, a memoir about the England-Saudi Arabia route, is much better...and written by an actual driver.

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