Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book review: 'I See by My Outfit'

An odd title, sure enough, but don't let that deter you if you ever dreamed of crossing America on two wheels -- with your best friend by your side, of course.

Peter S. Beagle made this journey in 1963 and wrote the book, a memoir, not long afterward. He and his sidekick, Phil, set out from New York City too early in the year (it was far too cold for two guys on scooters who hadn't even thought to pack long underwear), but there was a woman waiting for Pete in California, and he needed to get on the road.

The scooters are Heinkels, German, "as rare as kangaroos in this country." Their names are Jenny (Pete's) and Couchette (Phil's).

I have to confess, I probably picked the best possible time to read this book -- while I was making a much shorter solo scooter trip from Florida to Tennessee. I really looked forward to my nightly meeting with Pete and Phil and finding out what interesting characters they had met on the next leg of their trip.

It's not a travelogue, and the boys aren't sightseeing, but like all good road trip stories, this one gives you a fine sense of the country, the tedium, the distance, weather, friendship, and the strains a friendship will bear. Two things I think will stay with me for a long time: The image of Phil passing Pete and crying out, "Seventy! Seventy!" (I know how that feels!), and the afternoon they spent in a pawn shop, playing guitars and telling stories with some old men.

Some people called them beatniks, and they called themselves "fuzzy" -- bearded and shaggy, 12 years after Kerouac and much less worldly. It's a modest story, warm and tolerant, like your best friend's arm around your shoulder after a long, hard day.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

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