A Life on the Road
Putnam, New York, 1990
Charles Kuralt is one of the few authors I’ve stumbled across whom I have actually met, though met is perhaps too strong. In May of 1996 I found myself enlisted as Maylene’s stand-in boyfriend during her “senior week” and graduation at Colby College in Maine after she had shortly before broken up with a mutual friend. I had time, she didn’t want to spend the week capping off her undergrad experience alone, and so at the last minute I found myself in a tight-knit group of small-college seniors on the edge of graduating. At some point prior to the actual ceremony, perhaps the day before, perhaps the day of, I found myself exchanging passing comments with an older man who was also there for the graduation, and as one or the other of us headed off we shook hands and he introduced himself as Charles Kuralt. The next time I saw him he was on the platform giving the commencement address; he was somehow related to one of the graduates and, though at the time I had never noticed him, was sufficiently well known to have been selected as the speaker. Of all the commencement speeches I have heard, his is the only one that made it into my memory – and of that, only the recommendation to always travel with a book, which seemed such a good idea I have done so ever since. For a few weeks after that I made a point of watching his segment of “Sunday Morning” on CBS, then gradually lost interest and he slipped from mind.
Christmas 2008 found my me snowbound in Seattle’s heaviest winter storm in years and a family Christmas gifting plan of “nothing new.” Opening up the last-minute Christmas box from Mom and Dad which arrived on Christmas Day, this book was among the items. A pleasant enough book, a nice shade of green, an amusingly fitting title, and then I noticed the author and remembered the graduation in Maine.
The book is an autobiographical narrative of a career, and it’s identifiable with my current situation. Written nearly 20 years before, and at the time when I was just beginning to think of becoming an independent traveler (my first flight was when I went to Germany in 1991), much of what he wrote still rings true. Regarding commercial air travel, he laments the passage from it being an experience to a headache, from “friendly stewardesses serving real meals on plates with smiles” to “non-smiling flight attendants mechanically handing out poor meals.” My experience could be summarized as “flight attendants serving reasonably decent meals” to “airlines selling overpriced bags of peanuts as meals”. The basic story is the same.
It’s a book that could be seen as portraying individual travel; working on the road; journalism; television; world events; but in reality it’s all and none of these. It’s a book of an aspect of life lived fully within the available parameters.