Day Trips & Beyond: Two Travelogues
A couple of tales with ties to Austin
By Gerald E. McLeod,
9:00AM, Wed. Feb. 24, 2016
Bill Bryson recalls what's not to love about Britain and Clay Coppedge remembers Old Austin.
The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain
by Bill Bryson
Doubleday, 376 pp., $28.95
The danger with humor is that it can come across as vindictive and petty. Bryson’s curmudgeonly persona in The Road to Little Dribbling steps in both landmines in this travelogue of his path from the southern end of Britain to the Scottish Highlands.
Bryson is at his best when he mixes facts, scenic descriptions, and personal reminiscences. This book is full of all three. It is also full of his gripes and rants about his adopted home. What Bryson seems to be saying, with a dry wit that can be biting, is that much of rural England is festooned with roundabouts, one-way bridges, and a lack of parking simply to drive him nuts.
A native of Iowa and now a resident of Britain, Bryson’s bile isn’t limited to the British. On a visit to Austin (Texas), he found no shortage of dunces in the capital city and thought the state in general should be considered for quarantine. While it may be difficult to defend some of the products of our educational system, he does paint our town with a pretty wide brush. His visit to Austin, in part, led the author to construct a checklist of ways to tell if you are becoming dangerously stupid. Fair warning, you might recognize yourself in one or more of the 10 questions on the list.
The book leaves the reader wondering: Why would he choose to live on a rainy, cold island where he finds so much wrong? Bryson does offer glimpses of affection for a place he finds very frustrating. I’m sure he would also find a book’s worth of gripes in any paradise.
Although the curmudgeonly demeanor can become tiring through 376 pages, Bryson does tell a good story and gives the reader a sense of place. Although it might not seem like a very appealing place through his eyes.
Loaded South: A Taxi Memoir
by Clay Coppedge
Pegasus Books, 162 pp., $14.50 (paper)
Clay Coppedge has spent decades compiling obscure tales of Texas. This time he dips into his memory to write a book of stories from his past.
They say that if you remember the Sixties then you weren’t there. For some of us, the period of amnesia stretched well into the Seventies and Eighties. Full disclosure: I was in Austin driving a red and green cab for Roy’s Taxi when Clay experienced parts of his taxi memoir Loaded South. He has a much better memory and/or notes of what happened than I do.
Clay’s journalistic style of telling a story moves along at a fast clip. He includes enough descriptions of Old Austin to bring back memories to those of us at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Anybody else remember the chicken-fried steak at the Stallion Drive-in?
The real gold of the book is the history of the Roy Velasquez family of East Austin. Roy Sr. and his sons were tough but fair, and refused to let minorities, primarily Latinos, walk. The Velasquez family are true Texas originals. I always wondered how Roy Sr. lost his fingers, and Clay tells us that story plus many other behind-the-scenes tales. I had only a few run-ins with the family while in their employ. I pretty much kept my nose clean – no tickets, no wrecks, and I kept the car clean and gassed up. Clay on the other hand had more trouble following the rules and more stories to prove it.
If you were in Austin in the late Seventies and early Eighties, you will recognize many of the characters and landmarks documented in print nowhere else.
Gerald E. McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for the past 24 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 40312, South Austin, TX 78704.