PLATO'S GARAGE by Rob Campbell


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Newcomer Campbell serves as guide to quirky travels among the auto-obsessed. As a youth in Bakersfield, California, Campbell discovered the much-touted American symbiosis between man and driving machine. Even before he got behind the wheel of his first Pinto, Campbell was cruising the gay strips as a “Brash Underaged Kid,” learning the ropes of car life, shaping a persona, chafing with impatience. Cruising was “a self-expression in which the automobile was an integral and active element,” and your wheels a symbol that marked you one way or another: as the recipient of a thrown egg, a bashing with a bat, or a sexual advance. Campbell thinks of his car, then and now, not just as a means to self- actualization but as a love object itself, whether fitted with “lustrous contours and flirty fins,” or —voluptuous but tough, built for speed, and bigger than you are.” He finds cars wonderfully grounding as he contends with an HIV-positive diagnosis and a nervous breakdown. They give him a purpose in his journeys at the ragged edge, keeping his curiosity with life piqued, offering adventures outside the security of his cave—the quotidian—to sample the dangers of the outside world. His car, like his body, “didn’t have to be perfect to get me where I was going,” and with enough care it could give him the sturdiness to withstand his “reckless emotional course.” As for the car people he meets: Where else would one find the Breadwoman, who wears a big loaf over her head and chants whale music via karmic exchange with her art-car? The automobile gives you a way to see the world, Campbell’s essays suggest, with standards and ethics that transcend make and year and help to get you through hard times. Intriguing, but for those not enslaved to the car: a strange trip indeed.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-20569-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999