Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Banff & Thunderbird

            Alex Emond spotted this relatively rare specimen, a 1961/63-era T-bird. Ornithologists out there ought to be able to classify with more precision, so please inform.
          "The Bird was perched at the south end of my back lane here in Banff. Lots of little style touches adding up to a cool and confident look. Knock-off hubs that don't; a hood scoop that doesn't. Faux louvres and the Landau unit also strictly for looks...

    "Maybe more faux than go...

       "but I'm sure it would beat my Corolla in a quarter-mile...

        "Fun, fun,fun, till the T-bird took my Daddy away."--AE 
        Once upon a time, the quiet back lanes of Banff led to more-or-less homemade "tourist" cabins which, in a different era, Banff people would rent by the week to summer visitors. Some were ratty, but many were charming. They had an appealing simplicity. By the Seventies, the alley cabins were outdated. Tourists and tour groups--a horde by then, not a stream--were being sold vacation packages: banal hotels/ "resorts" with all modern cons. , i.e. places that felt pretty much like anywhere else, etc.  So the alley cabins were available to those of us of  the hippie and post-hippie generation who'd settled in Banff. Cheap, funky places to live: mostly tiny, but cozy and charming. And they felt like...well, Banff--they didn't feel like anyplace else.
         All that gone now. Decisions were made to turn Banff town into a high-density high-velocity service center for the tourist industry. Understandable...the town is smack in the middle of a famous chain of national parks, after all. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world want to go there. Starting in the 1980s Banff town was pretty much eradicated as an historic town, as a community with layers of unprepossessing, vernacular architecture from different eras, as an ex-railway town, as a place with a sense of itself. Maybe it was all over even before the Ralph Lauren store opened in the underground mall. Anyway, Banff town is pretty much an aesthetic disaster now. 
            When it's bad, Canadian architecture is very very bad. And when it's bad in tourist towns, it's worse.
         But. The Rockies are still there, and so are the parks (Banff N.P., Koootenay N.P., Yoho N.P. , Jasper N.P.); and Canadians do national parks very very well. You could hike or ski for years, and not know half the mountain trails. So buy yourself the 7th edition of the classic Canadian Rockies Trail Guide and dodge Banff town, or use it as little as possible. Take yourself into the backcountry as deeply and as often as you can.
        And don't neglect the rest of Alberta province. You can follow the front range of the Rockies all the way from Jasper to the Montana border, more than three hundred miles of astounding country, mostly empty. Hwy 40 down the Kananaskis Valley is one of the most delightful road trips, especially if Highwood Pass is still open for the season. When driving Hwy 22 south to Lundbreck and the Crowsnest Pass Highway we always saw bald eagles somewhere along the way  And one you get down to south-southern Alberta, which is Blackfoot country, make sure to find your way to Head Smashed In.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

XKE, 1938 Ford Woody, & Schooners

There are always interesting machines out at Affordable Performance, Sean McKay's car shop on Naskeag Road in Brooklin, Maine.

           Don't know what the XKE is in for, but it looked pretty healthy.
           We caught this 1937--guessing-- Ford wagon...and then our camera battery died. We'll head back out Naskeag Road for more, later.

       Speaking of beautiful machines, and Naskeag Point, we went out sailing Eggemoggin Reach and spied a schooner speeding on the first big NW winds of late summer.

          Ho-hum. Another day in Maine.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Susan Choi & Houston & American Driving

This piece by the novelist Susan Choi (American Woman, The Foreign Student, Person of Interest) first appeared on moistworks, the audioblog, in 2007. It’s certainly about music, but it’s also about driving. With Susan's permission we reprint it here. 


1982: Cactus Records and Tapes

I don't know a thing about music and I never will. Still, like most kids, music and its precincts define freedom for me like nothing else. In 1982 my mother and I have been in Houston, Texas for three years. Our lives have come apart as thoroughly as they ever have yet. My mother is seriously ill and disabled. My father is, ambiguously, elsewhere; in time this ambiguity will take on the legal status of divorce but it will never, even to the early years of the twenty-first century, be resolved. No matter; that knowledge wouldn't have made any difference. We rely on the kindness of young foreign students in equally straightened circumstances, if hale health. One of them, an aspiring nurse from Indonesia, lives with us in a cockroach-infested apartment in a complex my fellow Girl Scouts are not allowed to visit. She pays us some minimal rent on which we rely, although I tell the Girl Scouts she's my sister. Is there any chance they believe me? Another, a dazzlingly handsome young Iranian aspiring chiropractor, takes us grocery shopping alternate weeks in his hazardous Volkswagen Bug. We pay him some part of our take from the nurse. I sit folded in the slot behind the front seats; my mother sits folded beside the dazzling young man, a woman in her mid-forties who looks sixty, parchment paper and bones.

I get a bicycle, make a friend.

I begin to spend hours, long afternoons, whole Saturdays at Cactus Records and Tapes. It's a long, hazardous bike ride from our apartment along streets without sidewalks, stitched with crabgrass swelling from the cracks. I don't know if Houston was as hot then as it is now, but it was astoundingly hot, ninety six degrees, ninety six percent humidity, the sun an angry white bulb in the sky. Suzan Seggerman and I, pedaling our three-speeds, our feathered hair flying behind us. We're so young, we're so homely and lonely, any slight attention from any hideous male and we strain toward it, gawky sunflowers aching for sun. Suzan burns easily and has pimples on her shoulders. I am waistless, I have braces, I'm still wearing terrycloth tops from the Sears catalog. In Cactus Records and Tapes we trail aimlessly through the long aisles, the air-conditioning turning our sweat into fine powdered salt. We stay for hours. We absorb the music passively, undiscerningly, hungrily. We never, ever buy anything. Once I am picked up by a much older man, taken to an apartment to participate in witchcraft rituals, chanted at while lavender burns in a large metal cup. A young child wails, ignored, from a bedroom; a telephone incessantly rings, ignored, in the kitchen. When she sees me again my mother - shrinking, receding, clutching her twin metal canes - asks me where I go, and when I tell her, Just the record store, she asks what I do. What am I doing? Only later do I grasp what she already knows: I'm going. I'm learning how to be free.

1985: Sound Warehouse

I fall in love with Bill Sherborne at first sight and stalk him to the cash register at Sound Warehouse, where I ask him to give me a job application. Three long years, and things have changed. No longer waistless. No more braces. No more clothes from the Sears Catalog. I get the job and before my first day I get Bill Sherborne, too, but he isn't, as it turns out, the thing I take away from Sound Warehouse into the rest of my life. That's a Sony UCX-S60, which isn't some virile speed vehicle but a flimsy sixty-minute cassette. I'm listening to it right now, at ten p.m. on a Monday, while my son sleeps and entire sad, strange, plain embarrassing times of my life I've apparently failed to forget newly blossom before me, as if all this while they've been pressed into capsules, awaiting some magical touch.

The other Sound Warehouse employee who makes me his business is Chris Kemmerer: wry, sly, often standing apart in wire-rims and a vintage trench coat, smugly watching the world go by. To me he always seemed petite, but he and I were probably about the same size. Our chaste partnership somehow immediate. Bill Sherborne makes all of the turbulent weather; unperceived in the midst of those hurricane winds Chris ensconces himself as my most indispensable comrade. Bill Sherborne and I share a damp, inarticulate passion; Chris and I can't stop yakking our heads off. With Bill Sherborne I think I've ascended, become iconic and noble, a Woman in Love; with Chris, I now realize, I've stumbled upon the adult that I'm actually going to be. A gawky and talkative smarty, happiest when companioned by same.

Like all of the men in my life, Chris gives me music, but he's unique among them in discerning, many years before I do, the sort of listener I am. I still don't know a thing about music. Chris can see that I won't ever learn. And yet for me music remains the condition for freedom, the way water and air are conditions for life. Haven't I come to Sound Warehouse seeking passion and friendship, as if obeying some primal instinct?

Inventorying tapes, squaring albums, re-alphabetizing, I become exalted by the most random things: Lydon's howl; Eno's trance; The Cocteau Twins' eerie yodel. I bask in these sounds the same way that I bask in good weather: ecstatically, gratefully, entirely resigned to the knowledge that nothing I do can protract or repeat my enjoyment. I very rarely learn band names or song names; I almost never acquire the songs I most love. I still don't know why I'm like this: a girl secretly starring in her own movie, who wants the soundtrack to happen to her, without lifting a finger.

Somehow, Chris Kemmerer understands this. While Bill Sherborne records whole albums for me, or collections of the best songs by a given artist (Todd Rundgren) or a given songwriter (George Harrison) - trying to teach me, in this realm as in so many others - Chris, within the first year he's known me, gives me mixed tape that I like for my soundtrack about as well as anything I've heard since. He doesn't try to inform me about the musicians. I'm not expected to seek out other records they've made. The tape is self-sufficient: it's intended for basking. Do I continue to like it just because I liked it so much then, when I was only seventeen? Is it like comfort food, permanently beloved because early consumed? It's possible; but there's a lot of other stuff I liked at seventeen that I can't endure now.

By 1985, one other big thing has changed: I'm a licensed driver. I take Chris' tape and jam it in my cassette deck, and I drive and drive and drive the endless freeways of Houston, as fast as I can. Great slabs of concrete that ascend and descend and describe graceful arcs in the air. Dividing and merging, separating and joining, sometimes even falling asleep: at seventeen I drive drunk with no fear, and I don't wear a seatbelt. The Tape urges speed: Chris and I used to joke that Houston has worse gravity than the rest of the planet. It's a city of reduced expectations, of torpor. We all dream of leaving and we never get out. What the hell is the escape velocity for this dump, anyway? It's late at night, I'm alone on the road; I step hard on the gas pedal, lift off the ground.

1988: Tower Records

But I've fudged for the sake of the story. The truth is, by the time that Chris gives me The Tape, we both know that I'm leaving.

I'd gotten into Yale, which was, in the context of my life at that time, akin to having been chosen for a mission to the moon. No one I knew had gone there, or anywhere near there, or anywhere like there. I myself was only certain it was going to change my life, not as in, make some alteration in my life, but as in, drop an entirely new life into the slot where the old life had been, so that the old life, down to its last grain, no longer existed.

But at Yale I kept getting homesick. Every winter, spring, and summer break, I rushed home. Sometimes, when I went home, I worked at Star Pizza, which was across the street from Sound Warehouse and down the block from Kinko's Copies, where Chris Kemmerer was now working. Sometimes when I went home I worked at the River Oaks Theatre, which was where Bill Sherborne was now working. I kept making damp angst with Bill Sherborne and I kept yakking all night over coffee with Chris Kemmerer, while, at school, I jittered uneasily from one department to another until, in the late summer of 1988, I told my parents if I didn't take a leave of absence from Yale, I might leave for good.

But I knew that I couldn't go home. Something had jammed the works and I kept toggling, back and forth, back and forth, never moving upward, and going home would just keep up the toggling. So I called Chris Kemmerer and somehow, in a very brief conversation, it was decided that Chris would quit his job at Kinko's Copies and drive to New Haven in his miniscule red Mazda to fetch me, and from there we'd drive to San Francisco and see what transpired.

I packed The Tape.

In San Francisco my Sound Warehouse experience got me a job right away at Tower Records, and our adventure, which could so easily have been a debacle, turned out a success. We scoured San Francisco. We felt an earthquake. We shared a six by ten room subdivided with milk crates. That December we drove East again, and whatever in me had needed settling had finally settled, and I returned to school and changed almost everything I had been doing, and I did well and throve.

But before all that, before the rest of my life, when we were first driving to San Francisco, Chris had pulled into the left-hand emergency lane and made me take the wheel.

I'd never driven a stick. Chris said, "Keep shifting - up - up-up!" and when at last I'd reached fifth he said, "just leave it there," and I would, for as long as six hours, while The Tape and five other tapes played, until we had to eat or pee or get gas. Then I'd stall out the car on the offramp, and we'd coast to a stop. Into the West! Out of Texas, through Albuquerque and Flagstaff, past the Grand Canyon. And then the road turned northwest toward Nevada, and it all seemed to gel: The Tape and the Mazda's momentum; the particled indigo air. The sun had set, but the twilight had not yet grown monochromatic; instead it was the richest and most nuanced landscape that I'd ever seen. Charcoal mountains in purple and blue sliding past to the east. The sky's fading gray gently drawn overhead like a cover. Along the distant seam where the desert gave rise to the mountains, a line of boxcars crept by, crayon colors, but each dimmed by evening, as if dusted with ashes. The Mazda was not air-conditioned, so that we always drove with the howl of the wind, but now that battering pressure seemed buoyant, lifting us with each ticking degree that the light left the sky. While I drove Chris filmed me with his Super 8 camera. I wonder if that footage exists, if he ever developed it. And then, while I dreamed at the wheel, my austere, lonesome road was drawn into a tumult, enfolded by mountains, the road suddenly climbing and twisting, and because I had only learned fifth I was shouting in panic and grinding the gears - until we were corkscrewing down as if poured from God's funnel, and our road shot forth out of the jumble, straight and narrow again, with the gleam of a vast inland sea stretching off to one side and a void, an abyss, on the other. A swift shadow swarmed overhead: a cloud of bats, heading out to Lake Mead. The Mazda, spent, rolled to a stop atop the great Hoover Dam.

When we got out of the car I was jelly-legged, hardly able to stand. We hung over the rail and the great blank expanse of the dam glowed at us like the face of a glacier. We'd driven all that way without a map, ignorant and defenceless. Now the sublime had ambushed us and pummeled our hearts.

Then we got back in the Mazda, restarted The Tape, and drove on to Las Vegas.

. . . . . . . . . .

Friday, August 19, 2011

Made in Texas

                                                    William Geisler ©2011

       Our Austin correpondant Bill Geisler caught this handsome machine at the Austin Speed Shop. Bill was coming off a 4-day road trip, from Maine to Texas, (not the right direction to be traveling, in August) in an SUV, with twins aboard. Which may be why his camera hand (actually cellphone, he reports) was not as steady as usual. There's a bit of shake here, but that's what 2000 miles driving with children through the heart of summer will do.
     The truck looks like a 1958 Chevrolet Apache 31 Fleetside truck with 4WD.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old Faithful Shop, Vancouver

"Islands, Westminster, California 2007"         ©2011 Brad Moore
Found this Ford C-Series image by photographer Brad Moore up at Old Chum, one of our favorite websites, always loaded with intriguing imagery. The people who operate it have an eye. We learned of the site when we happened into Old Faithful, a startling Vancouver shop that the websters also operate. They say that, "Old Chum is the inspirational image archive which informs Old Faithful Shop." Hard to describe the place, but we'll try: a very stylish Old Curiosity Shop.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Against Gravity


Blue sky, ungated clouds, & on a sand-pitted
highway sign the number 10 stands out--
a minor footnote in a monograph on drugs,

a reference instructing the reader to study
my nap on the floor of a Ford Econoline
summer after high school. As if rest, & only rest,

were what we found ourselves made of, sometimes.
Though rest is only one trait, actually, when
you've been hitching between Tucson & El Paso

and gotten picked up by a van. The equally ingenious
others look like tie-dye & restlessness, like
rest stops & silvered heather, maybe jimson,

and a little lantana raising its nippled red speckles
into the scent of sagebrush rained on & drying.
They got me high, three men & a woman costumed

estimably in the style of out-of-work jesters,
jovial people of 1971, wearing the standard issue--
fusty cloches, velveteen pants, embroidered emblems,

with shiny balls like cat bells dangling
off one or two ears. For one a self-etched tattoo,
its motto the equation ACID=BLISS framed

by a multiplying fungus or exploding chloroplast.
For another, a fu manchu & fedora. A synaptic Apache
snake cinching the woman's frayed macrame belt.

Mirror sunglasses for all. And small mirrors,
like tiny ponds, frozen pools, had been sewn
onto the woman's India print blouse by some

Kashmiri laborer, who, if he could have looked into
them, might have seen me dozing off, stoned
on pan hash, bits of myself reflecting back,

scattered, a tired grin from the woman's
right sleeve, the puffed wrist, pale ear at the tip
of a breast, nose on her stomach. And haven't I

always loved being broken up & abrogated by sleep?
But when I woke we had pulled off the road
into a ranch. From the tape deck "Brain Salad Surgery"

blared, a form of premature senility disguised
as endless synthesizer riffs. For a second, in the nazz
and compression of noise, still stoned, I thought

they intended to kill me. An intuition
so melodramatic & dumb the sight of two of the men
kissing in the front seat had to wipe it away.

I had never seen two men kiss, & the surprise,
which in another setting might have shocked,
even disgusted, my sheltered murmurous little self,

somehow reassured me. The kiss implying
not so much gentility as distraction.
Then, out of the eddies of shade, the woman

ran, having tossed off her incongruous imitation
alligator heels, naked now except for
purple tights, she ran & turned cartwheels

three times across the yard. Gravity.
Gravity. They had wanted to visit a friend
who, they claimed, was connected to anti-

gravity research being conducted there.
Merely a windbreak occupied by
an adobe shed and barn, it seemed abandoned,

as if during the night the hard rains,
the lightning, had chased away the enemy
of gravity, & now we were to take his place.
                                             -David Rivard, from Wise Poison (Graywolf, 1996).


Monday, August 15, 2011

My Brilliant Careerism, part 4

Canadian author Peter Behrens - Canadian author Peter Behrens | Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail


Peter Behrens blends fact and fiction in family saga The O’Briens

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Autobody at Ballroom Marfa

AUTOBODY is the upcoming show at Ballroom Marfa.

Fairlane, 2009
Digital C-print
30 x 40"

Autoliterate hopes that Ballroom invites Hector Sanchez, Marfa autobodyman extraordinaire, to the opening. See more Autoliterate posts about HS and his work on the Custom Deluxe here and here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Autoliterate en France

From our correspondant a Paris, Sam Holdsworth: 

"Is this a car guy who needed the boat accessory, or a boat guy who needed the car accessory? Either way could you find a better tender for this massive iron barge than an Amphicar? Indispensable if you happen to have forgotten the baguette at the last lock."--S.H.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Night Driving

Night Driving (1987) is long out-of-print but copies seem to available online.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mercury Comet a vendre

           Our Maritime Provinces correspondent saw this nice little 1963 Mercury Comet for sale in Kamouraska, Quebec, on the south shore of the St Lawrence River, about a hundred miles downstream of Quebec City. 

If you don't buy the Comet, make sure to pick up some smoked sturgeon at Kamouraska. The area was first settled in the late 17th century. There's a long tradition of eel fishing, and an interpretive centre on eel fishing in the village. I haven't tried to watch the Claude Jutra film Kamouraska since college, but even back then, when I had more patience with very trying films, it was a challenge to sit through, despite Genevieve Bujold.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unicat, Ford Ranger, and Cadillac Escalade EXT

The origami is one thing. But the garbage truck is another.  
    It's not really a garbage truck.
    It's a purpose-built Unicat RV. Unicats are German trucks designed to go just about anywhere.

 Autoliterate appreciates rugged Euro truck design. The Europeans don't seem to mind trucks looking like trucks: functional, rugged, and designed to do a job rather than to be props in some tired mythology of manliness; like the massive, swollen pickup trucks Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford are turning out these days. Which seem to be all about braggadacio (hey, that might be a good name for one: the Dodge Braggadacio?). The gigantic 21st century American pickup truck radiates a sort of  steroid-induced Sylvester Stallone ersatz masculinity that always seems on the verge of hysterical tears.  
      Not to mention ersatz-truck vulgar monstrosities like the Cadillac Escalade EXT .

(Autoliterate sadly notes that the venerable little Ford Ranger, one of the few pickups that have kept it simple, is being cut out after 27 years: 2011 is the last model year for Ranger.