Travel Writer P.J. O’Rourke Talks Cars

O'RourkedetroitBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

When Americans think “travel,” they think “car.” Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. So, what happens when you get a rather cynical and acerbic, yet wickedly funny, travel writer, together with an automobile? You get P.J. O’Rourke, as interviewed by Peter Kadzis, that’s what.

O’Rourke, who served as Rolling Stone foreign correspondent from the ’80s through 2001, was of course associated with the National Lampoon, and in fact cars were on his mind way back then, too, as in the 1979 piece, “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.” So you see we are dealing with a certain level of expertise here. O’Rourkian humor runs along the lines of this succinct remark: “In Japan people drive on the left. In China people drive on the right. In Vietnam it doesn’t matter.” In this current Boston Phoenix Q&A, Kadzis introduces him thusly:

At first glance, Driving like Crazy (Atlantic Monthly Press) might appear to be a compendium of P.J. O’Rourke’s entertaining, first-person automotive journalism. But crack the spine and dig inside and you’ll see that the book transcends the genre. Driving is travel writing in the classic tradition….

Kadzis, by the way, is a journalist who specializes in personalities as varied as Allen Ginsberg, Salman Rushdie, and Joseph Stiglitz. (If you’re in the Boston area on Sept. 17, check out his and Wendy Kaminer’s upcoming appearance at Suffolk University. It’s Freedom of Expression time, folks. Time to brush the dust off the First Amendment.)

So, what does P.J. O’Rourke have to say about cars and driving? Well, he laments and deplores the state of the automotive industry, for one thing. This is really a very funny article, so we won’t spoil it by quoting, because then you miss the momentum. Just check it out, okay? O’Rourke meditates on his working-class roots, and the relationships between the United Auto Workers and the manufacturers, and benefit packages, and the politics of buying a foreign vs. a U.S.-made car, and the machismo ramifications of brand choice.

In the travel area, Kadzis asks O’Rourke for the scariest place he’s ever driven a car, but we’re not going to reveal that either, except to say it’s not Detroit. Of course, we were inspired to scout around a bit, to try and determine the world’s scariest place to drive, and came across this assessment by a traveler named Morgan Hewland, who says “Cairo is a crazy city, where drivers make six lanes out of a four-lane road…” and decided not to delve any further into that particular can of worms.

P.S. What is the world’s worst place to drive?

photo courtesy of mick62, used under this Creative Commons license

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