Bill Geist attended this year’s Printers Row Book Fair. He came as a guest author and signed copies of his new book, Way Off the Road. Whirl and I attended the book fair for two reasons. First reason, we had no choice. The fair sets up in our front yard. And it stays there for two days. If we want to go anywhere outside the building, we have to go through the fair. Second reason, they sell books at the book fair. I like books. Books are the one possession in our house that escapes the two-year rule. “If you haven’t used this in two years, you probably never are going to use it. It’s safe to get rid of it.”
The two-year rule is essential in our house. We do not have a lot of storage space– no garage, only a small space in the basement, certainly no spare bedrooms. Clutter can accumulate at an alarming rate. No, the clutter I tolerate tends to be the sentimental type: small, symbolic tokens representing larger events. Either that or they are just thoughts and memories I keep locked up in my head.
Those take up space, but a different kind of space.
So Bill Geist attended this year’s Printers Row Book Fair. Whirl and I attended this year’s Printers Row Book Fair. We met Bill Geist. He signed our copy of his book. Way Off the Road is a collection of twenty-eight vignettes about rural, small-town America. Three come from small towns in Colorado; two more come from Illinois. The rest are scattered across the continent. Geist began his career working as a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He did that for eight years and then graduated to the New York Times. He had a column there for another seven years before signing on with CBS. He’s been part of CBS ever since. Whirl and I watch him on “CBS Sunday Morning” on occasion. Bill Geist and Mike Royko never worked together at the Chicago Tribune— Royko arrived in 1984, Geist had moved on to New York four years earlier. Still, I suspect the two columnists knew one another pretty well. Chicago can be an amazingly small town, sometimes.
In his introduction, Geist writes that, “this book is about the vanishing rural world from whence we all came at one time and place or another.” He goes on to say,
It is also about celebrating unique individuals who are resourceful, eccentric, idiosyncratic, and at times just plain batty– yet oddly inspiring: an entrepreneur who ingeniously sucks problematic prairie dogs out of the ground with a sewer vacuum; a ninety-two-year-old publisher-pilot who delivers his newspapers by plane; the sole resident of a town who, as mayor, must hold public hearings with herself.
This is the part I agree with. I am unconvinced that such personality traits are essentially rural, or that urban life eradicates them from our psyches. They are funny stories. And they are worth reading. Geist further writes in his introduction:
The year 2007 marks twenty years that I’ve been on the road for CBS, and I’ve seen a lot of unusual things. […] We don’t learn much about our country on the interstates, except that Americans are in a hell of a hurry and happily trade speed for wonder and discover. Today Tocqueville would cross the country on I-80 from Jersey to Frisco, faithfully recording the exit numbers; Kerouac’s On the Road would take place in an endlessly repeating pattern of Holliday Inns and Denny’s; Least Heat-Moon would author Green Interstate Highways.
And that is the sentiment that resonates with me, the element of wonder and discovery that should accompany travel—whether that traveling be near, like a walk down a long street, or far off in another country where the word for ‘yes’ sounds like neh and the word for ‘no’ sounds like oshi.