Bill Bryson and I have completed our tour of small-town America. I never actually left my chair for the trip, but Mr. Bryson visited 38 states and drove 13, 978 miles. He is an observant guide and I learned things about American history and American places that I never knew before. And, it was fun reading his take on places I was familiar with.
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America was written about the journey he took when he was thirty-five. Mr. Bryson, a long-time resident of England, returned to his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa and set out to find the perfect American small town - one portrayed in the movies and television shows of his youth. Think "Leave It to Beaver" and "Ozzie and Harriet."
Here is what he was searching for:
...a trim and sunny little city with a tree-lined Main Street full of friendly merchants ("Good morning, Mrs. Smith!") and a courthouse square, and wooded neighborhoods where fine houses slumbered beneath graceful arms. There was always a paperboy on a bike slinging paper onto front porches, and a genial old fart in a white apron sweeping the sidewalk in front of his drugstore...
He almost succeeds. But of course there is no "perfect" small town. Many have all but disappeared or have become a haven for big-box stores, gas stations, and tacky tourist shops.
Mr. Bryson headed East in the fall of 1986 and the following spring headed West. I followed him - using my trusty atlas - town by town, interstate by back road, across the deserts and rivers, up and down the mountains, around the lakes and through the forests that made up his journey.
Along the way he eats some really bad food, stays in a few nasty hotels, and meets some pretty unfriendly people. But then again, in some places he has just the opposite experiences.
No matter what he encounters - good or bad - only he can tell the tale. I had great intentions of writing down some of the many funny lines from the book to share with you. But, I was always so curious to find out what incredible place he was going to see next and how he was going to describe it that I didn't slow down long enough to capture them.
Sorry. You will just have to read the book and discover them for yourself.