All Gone to Look for America, by Peter Millar, was one of a handful of books I bought at the same time as Almost Heaven. Almost Heaven was published in 1998, and All Gone to Look for America in 2009, so both are slightly dated. Both are travel books. Both authors are British. All Gone to Look for America isn’t a road trip book, as Millar travels almost exclusively by train, making an anti-clockwise journey around America, with a side-trip up to Memphis. Millar enjoys visiting microbreweries and drinking their produce at other venues.
He isn’t very impressed with what has happened to many inner cities, and describes large areas where buildings have been pulled down, leaving only parking lots. This certainly put me off going to some of the places covered.
“As I am becoming ever more acutely aware, pedestrians inhabit the same world as drifters and hobos, a world middle-class Americans try to ignore, oblivious to any concept of interdependency. Nineteenth-century buildings – the sort that are being restored in Manchester or London’s Docklands – sit, separated by patches of tarmac half-populated by gigantic empty SUVs, slowly going to seed. A few, dotted here and there, have been turned into flourishing bars or shops, but too few, and too far between.”
One of the worst seems to be Memphis, which has few redeeming features outside the few downtown blocks. The car is king, in the USA. At one stage, Millar wants to go to a soccer match in Los Angeles to watch LA Galaxy, and tries to get there by public transport. It is almost impossible. The car park at the venue, on the other hand, holds more than 15,000 vehicles. At the end of the match, Millar waits at a bus stop to get back to his hotel. There are only three other people using public transport, out of a crowd of about 15,000 who attended the match. Two of them are Scottish! I’ve looked up the Transportation Guide to the LA Galaxy StubHub stadium. There’s no mention of public transport that I can see.
There’s a very amusing chapter where Millar describes trying to find the entrance to the hotel at which he has booked a room, in Reno. He arrives, having walked from the train station. But there is no entrance to the hotel by foot.
“It takes me three attempts to work out that all the obvious entrances from the street lead straight into the main, slot-machine throbbing casino floor and that to get into the hotel which towered above it, with the reception and lobby on the first (in American: second) floor, you’re expected to drive straight to the underground parking. Or failing that, be chauffeured through a cavernous concrete-pillared approach about as pedestrian-friendly as the docking slot on a Death Star. Despite it being less than a five-minute walk most people coming here from the railroad station catch a cab”
Throughout his journeys, Millar tells us what he sees from the train window, and gives his opinion on various tourist and other attractions at the places he gets off the train for the night or occasionally two, but the best bits are the descriptions of, and dialogue with, the various characters he meets on the way.