Review: Dave Gorman’s Unchained America

As you’ll have seen if you’ve read my ‘about’ section, our next longer trip will be another road trip, this time circling California and popping over to Arizona, for the Grand Canyon; Nevada, for Las Vegas; and into Oregon to stay in a resort recommended by this very book. Our friend Will, who’ll be taking the trip with Adam and I also wants to bob down into Tijuana, just so he can say he’s been to the four corners (and then some) of the state.

Consequently, I’m presently hooked on America-focused blogs, vlogs, tv shows, documentaries and… books!

Now, I’m an avid comedy enthusiast and a regular at Edinburgh Fringe Festival (having been almost every year since I was 16), so naturally I’m also a fan of Dave Gorman and have seen him live more than a few times. I’ve also read a number of his books and one of my favourite quotes comes from his joint enterprise with Danny Wallace: ‘Are you Dave Gorman?’ This is one of his books that I hadn’t read, nor watched more than one episode of when it aired on Channel 4.

Thinking about it, it’s probably these types of books that have led to my love of road-trips and travel: my favourite book as a teen was comedian Tony Hawks‘Round Ireland with a fridge’ (not to be confused with skateboarder Tony Hawk) where, on the basis of a drunken bet, he has to hitch-hike around the country with the appliance in tow!

Anyway, back to America Unchained. I loved this book: it made me laugh, gave me a flavour for the country, but also made me think. The general concept is that Gorman wishes to see a side of America not dominated by chains such as McDonalds, Texaco and Best Western and so sets himself a challenge of travelling, by second-hand, vintage car, from the West Coast to the East using ONLY independent gas stations, hotels and restaurants.

In the process, we get to see a range of unique businesses ranging from Ohio’s beagle motel (which we’d be staying in if we were travelling that far North-East) and Oregon’s Out N About Treesort (that we have added in a slight detour to spend a night at) and the individuals and families behind these enterprises.

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One particularly poignant aspect is when he stumbles across ‘Taylor’s Soda Fountain’ in Independence, Oregon: a long- and family- run cafe on their last day of business. During which he and his travel companion meet generations of people, including customers who have shared magical moments there including first dates and births (!) as they celebrate the establishment’s retirement party. It certainly makes you think about how long these businesses can keep going, and how long it may be before we exist in an identical landscape across not only the United States, but also the Western World.

For reasons that I don’t want to spoil you with, the book is much more thorough than the DVD content, so as much as I enjoyed watching it, I’d certainly recommend the written text above the visual (though, as and English teacher, of course I’d say that!)

Overall, it’s a brilliant read, though I will warn you! There may be danger of trying to recreate his travels or at least his concept. It’s certainly something I’ve already broached with Adam, though he’s ordered me not to mention it to Will yet, as he fears we may scare him off!!!

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