The other day we were clearing out a book case and I came across my copy of The Lost Continent, Travels in Small-Town America. This was Bill Bryson’s first travel book, in which he chronicled a trip in his mother’s Chevy around small town America in the late 1980’s.
Ian and I first went on a tour of the USA in 1988. His description of driving into Philadelphia was reminiscent of our experience. Although the scene had changed a lot when we ventured back to Philadelphia in 2007.
We toured a lot of North America during the 2000’s and 2010’s. Reading the book, it was good to compare our experiences with Bill Bryson’s. We really enjoyed our tour of Arizona (2005) and our trip to Los Angeles (2009) and had hoped to explore more of the west. Bryson’s book did not inspire me with confidence for such a road trip. But, hey, maybe things have changed there too.
It wasn’t until I’d re-read it, and started to write this blog, that I discovered this book is considered a classic of travel literature.
“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to” says Bill Bryson. And, as soon as he was old enough, he left.
Des Moines couldn’t hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set.
Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. Travelling around thirty-eight of the lower states – united only in their mind-numbingly dreary uniformity – he discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land.