Legends of thernFour-Lane Roadrnby Gregory McNameernUneasy Rider: The InterstaternWay of Knowledgernby Mike BryanrnNew York: Alfred A. Knopf;rn352 pp., $25.00rnThe interstate highways, John Steinbeckrncomplained in his 1962 memoirrnTravels with Charley, “are wonderfiilrnfor moving goods but not for inspectionrnof a countryside. When we get thesernthruways across the country, as we willrnand must, it will be possible to drive firomrnNew York to California without seeingrna single thing.” When Steinbeck wroternthese words, the interstate-highwayrnsystem was still but a planner’s dream,rnthe brainchild of the Eisenhower administrationrnintent on creating a systemrnwhereby military units could quicklyrnmove from one homefront theater tornanother. Thirty-five years later, that systemrnof national roads now completed,rnMike Bryan insists that Steinbeck got itrnwrong. There is much to see beyondrntheir shoulders, he argues. And findsrnmuch to report.rnIn Uneasy Rider—a genial bookrnwhose title is a bad pun, certainly not revealingrnof the author’s tone—that insistencernoccasionally peaks at downrightrnannoyance. Bryan argues strenuouslyrnagainst the notion that the big highwaysrn”create and convey a homogenous culture,rnsuburban and absolutely MiddlernAmerican.” He takes potshots at writersrnlike William Least Heat Moon, whosernBlue Highways is the leading modern exemplarrnof the road-less-traveled genre,rnairily dismissing their search for arcane,rnrare, and forgotten pockets of Americarnthat “don’t have even marginal currencyrnin the culture at large.” For Bryan, therninterstate is where the real America is tornbe located, no matter what a host of otherrntravelers have to say about the matter.rnAnd so, studiously ignoring the ubiquitousrnStuckeys and Burger Kings thatrnmake one stretch of interstate so muchrnlike the next, Bryan takes to the highway:rnin his case, mostly 1-20 and I-IO, andrnmostly in Texas. It is an enjoyable ride,rnso much so that we are inclined to forgivernhis previous bad temper, and it takesrnin some fine detours along the way. Hisrnstops include a too-brief visit with thernreclusive novelist Cormac McCarthy inrnEl Paso; a longer sojourn at the sludgetreatmentrnfacility in nearby Sierra Blanca,rnwhere New York City’s waste meetsrnthe West Texas desert; and overnightrnstays in little towns into which the interstaternfeeds only thanks to political machinationsrnthat spared their being passedrnby. His pages are full of well-wroughtrnhistory, for nearly every interstate followsrnpaths laid out long before: sometimesrnby Native American hunters, sometimesrnby pioneer wagon trains, sometimesrnby mere accidents of topography. Bryanrnalso ferrets out the bizarre and unfamiliarrnat roadside stops; among the bestrninstances is a call on “a rattlesnake rancherrnwith twenty-first century ambitions,”rna dabbler in all things entrepreneurialrnwho aims to expand his Texas empirernto include turtles, emus, and hedgehogs.rnIn Bryan’s book, there is no short wayrnfrom Point A to Point B. The charminglyrntopsy-turvy organization finds Bryan inrnDallas one moment, in Flagstaff thernnext, and in Truth or Consequences afterrnthat. The scheme conveys somethingrnof the frantic speed of the roadway, and itrnis a little dizzying at times. Many of hisrnvenues are the result of creative fudging:rnhe is fond, for instance, of Laughlin,rnNevada, the blue-collar Las Vegas,rnwhich lies 20-odd miles from the nearestrninterstate and does not figure on manyrnmaps, although it is now Nevada’s second-rnfavorite gambling destination. (Anotherrncheat: the book’s cover sports arnview from Arizona’s Tucson-NogalesrnHighway, far more picturesque than therninterstate.)rnYou will learn from Bryan that thernstate of Texas is 878 miles wide along I-rn10, that Lone Star state troopers issuern500,000 tickets and 400,000 warningsrnannually, that our nation’s three millionrnmiles of road cover a full one percent ofrnthe lower 48’s landmass.rnIf you are less given to statisticalrnknowledge, you will still find arcana ofrnmore than marginal currency: how tornconduct yourself at a Border Patrolrncheckpoint (do what you are told withoutrncomplaining), how to catch a rattiesnakern(grab it by the head), how to tellrna good from a bad place to eat before enteringrn(look for locals’ cars), how to differentiaternthe many kinds of trucksrnrolling down the road. Perhaps mostrnusefully, you will learn how to increasernyour odds against getting a fraffic ticket ifrnyou are stopped: politely hand over yourrndriver’s license and proof of insurancernand say, “Good day, officer” and nothingrnelse.rnBryan has really written two, if notrnmore, books here. The first is a wistfulrntour of places beside but not wholly partrnof the Interstate; the second, a look at thernculture of the Interstate itself—at therntruckers, the cops, the hitchhikers andrntransients, the East Indian motel operatorsrnand American Indian casino employeesrnwho populate the lonesomernroad. Sometimes these two books are atrnodds with one another. Sometimes thernroad seems a littie wearying even for thernauthor, since Bryan is too often reluctantrnto end an anecdote and get on with it.rnBut mostly his well-considered, entertainingrnnarrative does a good job of dispellingrnJohn Steinbeck’s complaint, andrnthe traveler with enough leisure andrngasoline could do far worse than to followrnBryan’s four-lane path.rnGregory McNamee is the author of ArnDesert Bestiary and many other books.rnHe lives in Tucson.rnLIBERAL ARTSrnEVERY NINE SECONDS . . .rnAccoiding to a handout distributed by the Iowa Domestic Abuse Hotline, “aboutrnone half of all women in Iowa have had domestic violence happen to them atrnsome time in their lives.” How have they arrived at such an inflated figure? Theirrndefinition of domestic violence includes such actions as “threatening to harmrnhimself” and “controlling all the money, not allowing you to work, not allowingrnyou to associate with certain people .”rnJANUARY 1998/29rnrnrn