Driving Like Crazy, P.J. O'Rourke

Here are two things we know for sure about New Hampshire: (1) Approximately 20 percent of the state’s population can trace its family roots back to Ireland, and (2) in a state that has adopted the motto, “Live Free or Die,” one can be confident that a Libertarian or two will cross his or her path on the way to the granite quarry. Or the primary. (Okay, that’s four, er, five things we know about New Hampshire.) Yet even taking these astonishing facts together, there still is only one Irish-American Libertarian hailing from New Hampshire who bears the distinction of having his Wikipedia page come up as the second Google hit for the search string “new hampshire irish libertarian.” It is none other than the “Master of Metaphor” and author of Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending Celebrating the Way It’s Supposed to Be – With a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn, P.J. O’Rourke.

Driving Like Crazy is a collection of O’Rourke’s car journalism pieces published throughout the years in magazines such as Car and Driver, Automobile, Esquire and National Lampoon. The book opens (following his Introduction, “The Death of the American Car”) with his gonzo-style How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink, first published in National Lampoon in 1977. In the article, O’Rourke talks about the benefits, or the courageousness, of, among other things, driving fast. While he is celebrating one of his American heroes, the American car, one could argue that he is equally celebrating those other American heroes . . . the ones who live fast and wild and free like the American cars of yore, those whom Kerouac spoke of as “the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!””

One of the hazards of driving fast is the increased risk of having an accident. While most may see this as a hazard, O’Rourke offers a different perspective:

“You know, it’s a shame, but a lot of people have the wrong idea about accidents. For one thing, they don’t hurt nearly as much as you’d think. That’s because you’re in shock and can’t feel the pain or, if you aren’t in shock, you’re dead, and that doesn’t hurt at all so far as we know. Another thing is that they make great stories. I’ve got this friend . . .”

From this introductory article, which sets the tone for what is to follow: lots of cars and lots of speed, O’Rourke takes us on a 700-mile jaunt across Indiana on three “mechanically primitive” Harley-Davidson motorcycles and one Suzuki GS1100 with his Car & Driver boss, a Fiat executive, and a crash test engineer; a 1000 mile trek through the “mountains, lava fields, arid barrens, sand flats, cactus forests, and leviathan rock piles” of Mexico’s Baja peninsula with Michael Nesmith’s (of Monkees fame) race team; and a run from the streets of Islamabad to Calcutta, to name just a few.

While I have completely different views than O’Rourke on so many political and social issues, no matter what he is writing about, even when he is deriding my political views and heroes (“Goodbye to all that, fellow car nuts. Barack Obama has been elected, Congress is overrun with Democrats like cooties on a spelling bee winner, and the Supreme Court will be next to go . . . When Roberts is impeached Al Gore will be named to replace him and the Fun Suckers will be fully in charge”), he has me laughing hysterically. This is one of the reasons why I love reading P.J. O’Rourke so much – P.J., please tell the Fed to flood our economy with humor – it may be our only hope.


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