Review

A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow: An American Hitchhiking Odyssey

by Tim Brookes

In
1973, 20 year old Tim Brookes came to America from England on a
student charter flight with $90 in traveler's checks and a dream of
adventure. With invitations from friends in several cities around
the country, Brookes decided to spend the term of his visa
hitchhiking the American continent. The idea of hitchhiking was
awe-inspiring to Brookes, "as if all the lines of latitude and
longitude converged at that crossroads, and as soon as I set foot
on the magic crux I would be catapulted clear out of the realm of
my narrow, tame experience into places unimaginably
exotic."
After emigrating to the United States and becoming a teacher,
Brookes began to fear that modern America has lost its "youthful
imagination and vigor." In 1998 Brookes begins a journey to "Go
back to the road. Compare it to my previous trip. Find out what
America is really like now." That odyssey is chronicled in the
imaginatively titled A HELL OF A PLACE TO LOSE A COW, and what
follows is a wonderful saga, a long, strange trip down the hollows
of memory and the highways of America.
Brookes surrenders his fate in Blanche Dubois fashion to the
kindness of strangers, a strategy that works surprisingly well, and
the cast of characters he meets makes for wonderful reading. From
missile silos in Nebraska to the seedy streets of Las Vegas,
Brookes shares his impressions of the land and its people cradled
in a subtext of a past-versus-present comparison study.
Sharing a ride with a millionaire from Seattle turns out to be
no more inspiring than trading stories with a jack-of-all-trades
who drives a rusty pickup and works a hodgepodge of jobs to make
ends meet in Montana. A Harley Davidson rally in Sturgis provides a
grand diversion, while just a few miles away Brookes bemoans the
fate of those Native Americans living in poverty on the Pine Ridge
Reservation.
Yet
for Brookes, the joy of his adventure is in the conversations and
encounters with the strangers who open their car doors and share,
if only for an hour or two, a piece of their lives. In the end, A
HELL OF A PLACE TO LOSE A COW shines with the generosity of the
human spirit. For as Brookes writes, "Journeys, like days and
lives, are parabolic: We blaze away full of ambition, then slowly
our energies dim and we fall back to earth. At the end of each
journey, when ambition and vanity are burned away, we're left with
the qualities that work for all times. Kindness. Gratitude.
Everything beyond that is just a matter of working out the
details."

Reviewed by on January 22, 2011

A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow: An American Hitchhiking Odyssey
by Tim Brookes

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2000
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Travel
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic
  • ISBN-10: 0792276833
  • ISBN-13: 9780792276838