Tim Albert's account of this two Greyhound bus odysseys across America, 50 years apart, is a warm, funny and observant take on the state of the States, writes Alice Allan. The distance in time marks not just a changed country but a changed narrator.
Self-deprecating and wry, Tim’s recreation of a trip his ‘whippersnapper self’ took in 1969 is not just a travelogue, but a quest to find out if this ‘superannuated old timer’ (his words!) has still got what it takes to navigate the often-maligned bus service. His battles with his older body and the frustrations and mores of modern technology are darkly funny: “The silent man next to me is still turned to the window, at one with his mobile phone. Others around are in the same foetal position: I have no choice but to leave them to their own devices. Literally.
Crossing the country on a series of uncomfortable and challenging bus journeys our narrator revisits a number of famous destinations (Pasadena, Niagara Falls, Las Vegas to name a few) but it is the more out of the way places that reveal the realities of the inequality, gun crime and immigration that characterise today’s America. His historical and touristic nuggets are fascinating, but it’s the people he meets en route who provide most insight.
Like all good journalists, he contextualises his pundits and gives their views the space to reverberate: “I kept asking those I met whether they felt optimistic about the future. There was always a pause. Then came a range of answers, from the student of political science who said, ‘I think we’re going to be the best,’ to the caution from the Pasadena police chief: ‘We want to make sure we’re not living through the last days of the Roman Republic.’
Two Summers is both a dip into America’s past and a fascinating snap-shot of the end of Trump’s first term in office. Highly recommended!
Alice Allan is author of Open My Eyes - that I may see wonderful things (Pinter and Martin)
1. Greyhound buses still deliver magnificent vistas – but social media have killed the community spirit
2. The future quickly becomes the past. In just 50 years the Houston Astrodome, for instance, has moved from being the eighth wonder of the world to an empty shell.
3. Be careful about taking photos of guns on supermarket shelves. It may have unintended consequences.
4. Many people had complete trust in President Trump: ‘I have been in business for years and know how to judge people,’’ one man told me. ‘The one thing you can definitely say about Donald Trump is that he speaks the truth.’
5. America may be polarised but Americans can still be extraordinarily generous. When I asked a couple of ladies if they knew where I could get some lunch they reached into their wallets. When I shared the story I was advised to look in the mirror before I went out!
6. Mobile phones have killed conversation on buses - and much more public discourse besides.
7. You can do at 72 what you did at 22 - though more slowly and with less alcohol - and you might need help putting your luggage on the overhead locker.