Bill Bryson begins his journey in
The Lost Continent
from Des Moines, Iowa
Mr. Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, the start of this trip, and fondly recalls the many somewhat excruciating family vacations led by his father. So in his 35th year, shortly after his father's death, he borrows his mom's aging Chevrolet Chevette and with folded and marked maps in hand heads out to find the perfect American small town portrayed so often on television and movie sets of his youth.
He is searching for the small towns inhabited by Ozzie and Harriet, Wally and Beaver Cleaver, and the Hardy Boy in their mystery books. Towns that feature tree-lined streets, friendly merchants who know everyone by name, and paper boys slinging papers onto front porches.
I am actually following his route in my trusty atlas as he travels from Des Moines to Winfield, Iowa to see what has become of his grandparents' farm (it's not good), to Hannibal, Missouri and Mark Twain's home, and then on to New Salem, Illinois for a visit to what was the home of a young Abraham Lincoln.
He heads south from the Land of Lincoln and right now he has just left Oxford, Mississippi without ever finding Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner. (I can sympathize. When I was in Oxford last April, I had to phone the curator from the car and he gave me turn by turn directions to the driveway.)
He has not disclosed his entire route around the country but I am ready to go where he goes. Mr. Bryson can pack more useful information, biting humor, and absurdities into one paragraph than anyone I know. I am just sorry that I am in my reading chair and not on the front seat next to him as he takes on Small Town America.