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ROAD SCHOLAR by Andrei Codrescu

ROAD SCHOLAR

Coast to Coast Late in the Century

By Andrei Codrescu

Pub Date: April 16th, 1993
ISBN: 1-56282-878-9
Publisher: Hyperion

 Romanian-born poet, professor (English/LSU), and NPR commentator Codrescu (The Hole in the Flag, 1991, etc.) drives from East Coast to West, nosing into the sort of lovably wacky Americana that's made the comparable dispatches of fellow wheelman/writer Charles Kuralt so popular. One big difference between Codrescu and Kuralt, though, is that Kuralt responds to American eccentricity with levelheaded wisdom and humor, while Codrescu appears every bit as odd as his subjects. The first step in his odyssey, for instance, is learning how to drive: The 40-ish author never has mastered the skill--and not for want of trying: ``I tried to learn...The third time...I drove right into [a] stream. I had gotten so confident I forgot to steer.'' Nevertheless, Codrescu tries again, taking driver's ed in his adopted hometown of New Orleans--and this time he succeeds, and decides to buy a Cadillac. But the new models look like ``cold mashed potatoes,'' so he purchases a 1968 red Caddie convertible. With camera crew in tow (his trip is to be filmed for theatrical release), he heads to N.Y.C., where he receives Allen Ginsberg's ``blessing'' and begins his journey west. Along his erratic way, he pays homage at Walt Whitman's grave; explores a crime-ravaged Detroit and a still-vital Chicago, where he visits a pig- slaughterhouse; races down to Arizona and up to Las Vegas (``the Kingdom of If''); and winds up in San Francisco. Throughout, he takes special interest in sociospiritual phenomena (religious communes; a Sikh village in New Mexico; rebirthing and past-life regression, both of which he undertakes with zest, etc.), emphasizing that ``paradoxically, the most materialistic country in the world is also the most spiritual.'' Witty, smart, and unpredictable. But America is more than its fringe, and Codrescu, with his yen for the bohemian and the bizarre, never quite uncovers the land's expansive, mainstream heart. (Seventy-four b&w photographs--some seen)