Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slow Road to Brownsville

Slow Road to Brownsville by David Reynolds
Greystone Books: 10/14/2014
eBook, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781771640497

In Slow Road to Brownsville, David Reynolds embarks on a road trip along Highway 83, a little-known two-lane highway built in 1926 that runs from Swan River, Manitoba, to the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up in a small town in England, Reynolds was enthralled by both the myth of the Wild West and the myth of the open road. This road trip is his exploration of the reality behind these myths as he makes his way from small town to small town, gas station to gas station, and motel to motel, hanging out in bars, drinking with the locals, and observing their sometimes-peculiar customs. Reynolds also wanted to see the country where the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Comanches, the Apaches, and other native groups lived and died and to look at how their descendants live now. He describes the forced location of the Cheyenne people, discovers the true story of the Alamo, and finds similarities between Sitting Bull’s tours and those of the Black Panthers. In the end, Reynolds sees hope, potential, and tolerance in this forgotten middle of North America.
My Thoughts:

Slow Road to Brownsville: A Journey Through the Heart of the Old West by David Reynolds is a recommended nonfiction account of an Englishman's travels and personal reflections as he journeys down Highway 83.

While visiting Swan River, Manitoba, where his grandfather lived from 1905-1910, Reynold's learns that Highway 83 goes all the way across the middle of the USA to Brownsville, Texas. This planted the idea of traveling the route. He is curious what lies along Highway 83. What are the Great Plains and Middle American towns and cities like today? He wants to examine the history and current conditions of the Native Americans as he explores what he comes across on the highway. He also examines the history of the various cities, attractions, and areas he travels through. Reynolds grew up watching Westerns and road movies so this trip seemed like the perfect way to see the country he fantasized about as a child and compare the reality today to various other road trips that have been written about over the years.

"Whether 83 is the longest is contentious. One source says it is the fifth longest, but takes into account only the 1,894 miles within the United States. Only two other U.S. Highways still continue up into Canada (Highways 1 and 59). Neither reaches as far north as 83. Going south, once it leaves Manitoba and enters the United States, 83 travels through six states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, a narrow strip of Oklahoma known as the Panhandle, and Texas. From Swan River to Brownsville on 83 is 2,271 miles. "

The start of Reynold's book gave all indications that Slow Road to Brownsville was going to be a rather charming account of an Englishman exploring the sights along Highway 83, which it is to some extent, but it lost some of that charm for me when numerous people he encountered were seemingly always described by their enormous girth and as he repeatedly managed to tune into a talk radio program that espouses beliefs contrary to his own. I'm fine with accurately describing people and certainly weight is a factor, but it did grow rather tiring to consistently have weight alone as a main description. As for the rather strident talk radio host he intensely dislikes...  One mention, fine, two is enough. Beyond that it became annoying for me and I just wanted to say, "It is in your power to turn to another radio station."

Setting those annoyances aside, I really appreciated the inclusion of quotes from and pertinent descriptions mentioned in the numerous road trip books written over the years whose authors explored the same areas. As is my wont, I also always appreciate the inclusion of a bibliography and maps showing his route. The discography of music is a nice touch.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Greystone Books for review purposes.

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