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Books to Go

Driving Still Reigns as American Obsession

September 08, 1996|JOHN MUNCIE

SONGDOG DIARY: 66 Stories from the Road by Michael Wallis & Suzanne Wallis (Council Oak Publishing, $19.95, illustrations). ROAD TRIP USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways by Jamie Jensen (Moon Publications, $22.50, paperback, maps, illustrations). Get Up and Go: The History of American Road Travel by Silvia Whitman (Lerner Publications, $18.95, photos).

Not that we needed it, but here's further verification that America is crazy about "the Road." Michael Wallis is the author of "Route 66," among other works. "Songdog Diary" mixes Western lore with personal experiences to create a mini-dictionary of entertaining, quick reads. The stories--arranged alphabetically by subject--represent a kind of anthropological myth collection by researchers whose field work is done on and off the U.S. highway system. The stories include bits on everything from Ansel Adams and Billy the Kid, to "jackalopes" and black cowboy Bill Pickett. Along the way, you learn such arcana as the origin of the word "rodeo," the connection between Mexican general Santa Anna and chewing gum, and how the author once tried to get blue jeans declared the official state costume of Texas.

For budding myth collectors, I can't think of a better textbook than Moon Publications' cross-country adventure guide. In "Road Trip USA," Jensen outlines 11 long-distance journeys: six north-south, five east-west. As the title implies, modest highways are favored over huge interstates. The coastal routes are conventional (Highways 1 and 101 down Washington, Oregon and California), but others, especially in the heartland states, are less known. Take U.S. 83, "the Road to Nowhere," for example. It roughly follows the 100th meridian from Swan River, Manitoba, to Brownsville, Texas. It cuts through those Trivial Pursuit state capitals, Bismarck and Pierre, as well as the Nebraska National Forest and the land of Oz. As Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.

"Road Trip" is a massive guide with a phenomenal amount of practical, historical and trivial information about the routes and the places they serve. (Gibsland, La., pop. 1,224, for example, is where Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down.) It even recommends a number of side trips and alternatives to boring stretches.

"Get Up and Go" is a brief history of American roads and road building written for older grade-school kids. It begins with Native American trails and ends with superhighways. Might be fun for a family to bring on vacation--maybe it'll keep the kids too occupied to ask, "Are we there yet?"

Quick trips:

COVERED BRIDGES OF VERMONT by Ed Barna (The Countryman Press, $17, paperback, photos). This guide claims to list and describe all of Vermont's covered bridges--106, according to the author. A straightforward guide with one quirk: a concern with structural methods. Along with directions and photo tips, readers get a lesson in truss frames and construction techniques. The book also addresses the question: Why are wooden bridges covered? Answer: to keep the wood dry and avoid rot.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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