The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America
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An unsparing and hilarious account of one man's rediscovery of America and his search for the perfect small town.
that café and that was the lunch-room at Callanan Junior High School in Des Moines. The lunch-room at Callanan was like something out of a prison movie. You would shuffle forward in a long, silent line and have lumpen, shapeless food dolloped on to your tray by lumpen, shapeless women – women who looked as if they were on day release from a mental institution, possibly for having poisoned food in public places. The food wasn’t merely unappealing, it was unidentifiable. Adding to the displeasure
specials, no Vern’s Midnite Tavern, no movie theatre, no bowling alley. There was no town, just six-lane highways and shopping malls. There weren’t even any sidewalks. Going for a walk, as I discovered, was a ridiculous and impossible undertaking. I had to cross parking lots and gas station forecourts, and I kept coming up against little white-painted walls marking the boundaries between, say, Long John Silver’s Seafood Shoppe and Kentucky Fried Chicken. To get from one to the other, it was
found that they were as stupid as pig dribble. More than two thirds of them did not know when the US Civil War took place, couldn’t identify Stalin or Churchill, and didn’t know who wrote The Canterbury Tales. Almost half thought World War 1 started before 1900. A third thought that Roosevelt was President during the Vietnam war and that Columbus sailed to America after 1750. Forty-two per cent – this is my favourite – couldn’t name a single country in Asia. I would scarcely have believed all
lined with craft shops and other yuppie emporia sloping down to a placid inlet of the Atlantic. Two old wooden ships sat rotting on the bank. It was OK. It just wasn’t worth driving four hours to get there. Abruptly I decided to abandon Route I and plunge northward, into the dense pine forests of central Maine, heading in an irregular line for the White Mountains, on a road that went up and down, up and down, like a rucked carpet. After a few miles I began to sense a change of atmosphere. The
very cheery places, in fact they are generally pretty grim, but they are no worse than any NHS hospital. There has to be free treatment because there are 40 million people in America without hospital insurance. God help you, however, if you try to sneak into a county hospital for a little free health care if you’ve got money in the bank. I worked for a year at the county hospital in Des Moines and I can tell you that they have batteries of lawyers and debt collectors whose sole job is to dig into