Sunday, March 20, 2011

Breakfast at the Exit Cafe

Travels through America
Merilyn Simonds/Wayne Grady
Greystone Books 2010

In December 2006, husband and wife Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds decided to take the long way home from Vancouver to Ontario. Anxious to avoid winter driving, and eager to experience America – a nation they knew only from depictions in books and movies – they opted to drive down the Pacific Coast, cross the continent through the southern states, and finish their journey along the eastern seaboard. They set off in their trusty Toyota Echo with “no itinerary, no agenda” – except to make it to the Grand Canyon by Christmas Day and to discover the perfect hash brown.

For Grady, whose forebears were slaves who came to Canada in the 1870s, it becomes a journey through fear of racism and violence into his own family roots in the American Deep South. For Simonds, who grew up a lonely Canadian in the American School of Campinas, Brazil, it becomes a journey into the heart of the ex-pat promised land, the nation of the American Dream.

Part travelogue, part exploration, part mid-winter love story, this is a journey into the heart of the next-door eighbor we thought we knew. There are frequent side trips into fascinating nooks of history, geography and literature.

The Americans they meet along the way - eating in restaurants, manning motel offices, waiting in line for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade - illuminate a country dissolving in the grip of the final years of the Bush administration.