This series of essays and sketches is more the spirited salutation to towns and times past (as the title suggests) than an incisive critical inquiry (as the subtitle promises). NPR commentator and novelist/essayist Codrescu (The Blood Countess, 1995; The Dog with the Chip in His Neck, 1996) calls this book a ""collection of observations about cities."" ""The abandonment of the cities,"" he notes, ""would certainly benefit the political class most afraid of what the cities contain: blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians, other ethnics, homosexuals, bohemians, artists."" The Romanian-born Codrescu says the best features of the American cities he has seen are quite often their mixed neighborhoods, places where the greatest and most diverse number of people live, areas where there are lots of bars and restaurants. Codrescu gives short shrift to the ""usual"" major metropolises in favor of highlighting his own preferred Gulf Coast (New Orleans) and West Coast (San Francisco, Portland) favorites. He celebrates his adopted home, New Orleans, and its effect on him, and ponders the idea of nativity (""For practical purposes, I would say that ten years about suffices to become, if not an insider, at least a familiar""). Also visited are Faulkner's, and John Grisham's, Oxford, Miss.; Little Rock; San Antonio; and Albuquerque, where the author finds nirvana in the chile pepper. He seeks the Zeitgeist of late-millennium Middle America in its bookstores and notices that, with their bookstore-cafe culture, big American cities in the '90s are getting to be just a bit like Paris in the '20s. Codrescu concludes with a verse remembrance of Boston, described therein as ""a kind of Rome. Only colder,"" and views of Baltimore and New York, where he has lived and to which he returns frequently, and asks only not to be mistaken for a tourist. On the whole, pleasurable, if inconclusive on what makes our cities tick. To Codrescu, the search is all.