I have read two of P.J. O’Rourke’s books, Eat the Rich and Parliament of Whores. In reading them, one thing was abundantly clear about his political views: He does not like the left.
Hence, given that a former American automotive giant has recently become little more than a subsidiary of the federal government – and thus the American taxpayer – thanks to a Democrat President and Congress, a P.J. O’Rourke book entitled Driving Like Crazy (and furthermore subtitled Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending Celebrating America the Way It’s Supposed to Be – With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn) promised to be interesting, to say the least.
There are indeed plenty of shots at both the Obama Administration and Congress. However, given the span of Driving Like Crazy, there are many more digs at figures like Carter, Clinton (both Bill and Hillary) and Al Gore as well as at liberals (the “Fun Suckers”) and liberalism in general.
I should admit I might be out of O’Rourke’s target audience in a couple of ways.
First, I am about half as old as he is currently, which is approximately the age O’Rourke was when he wrote his National Lampoon satire, the thoughts and author of which he takes to task in a sequel. It isn’t just his “neophyte self” he picks on; young people as a whole take a few verbal jabs throughout the book, though nothing like his political foes.
The other is partial function of my age, though much more relevant to reading the book. While I definitely like cars and appreciate a well-designed automobile, I am in no way a “car nut.” To prove my point: O’Rourke races a 1939 Chevrolet in the California Mille, which is a race I had never heard of prior to reading his book. Furthermore, the only thing I know about a ‘39 Chevy is that since it was manufactured between the two World Wars, it likely was made with about the same amount of metal as a Sherman tank.
Neither of those facts, however, stopped me from enjoying Driving Like Crazy.
O’Rourke believes that cars attract good people. A byproduct of this is that in the hands of O’Rourke, those people, among others, become interesting subjects. He contrasts the phoniness (as he saw it) of Los Angeles with the founder of Rent-A-Wreck, a man who supposedly would not deal with anyone, employee or customer, who didn’t seem like fun. A trip through Pakistan and India during the extreme heat of summer becomes an experience worth having because of journalist colleagues with great senses of humor, equally great driving skills and a vehicle that apparently can sell itself.
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Fortunately, there are many more examples of honest fun. You will almost certainly have a sense of participating in the races O’Rourke depicts even if you’ve never been to their locales. It may not have been fun for O’Rourke and his fellow journalists to deal with the preposterously meticulous Indian customs agents, but at least you’ll get a good laugh out of it. And although I can’t say for sure, I can’t imagine that there aren’t many parents who will read O’Rourke and his wife’s experience in choosing a family vehicle and not arrive at the same conclusion about the minivan: perfectly sensible, absolutely practical, and there’s no way they would drive it.
There is also much to learn from O’Rourke. For example, breaking down in a classic automobile can turn seemingly hostile locals at a bar in the middle of nowhere into friendly strangers willing to help. It may not result, however, in the mechanical problem actually being solved. (Another lesson: If a trip down to Mexico for some off-roading with your wife or girlfriend sounds like a good idea to you, you might want to consider a change in plans.)
Driving Like Crazy undoubtedly is aimed at O’Rourke’s contemporaries: conservatives and libertarians nearing or at retirement age who share his political bent and passion for cars. However, if you consider a car more than a simple object of transportation, you will most likely enjoy Driving Like Crazy, no matter how old you are. I’m not sure if I’d suggest the book for a liberal – that is, unless you are giving it to one as a gift. Something tells me O’Rourke would very much approve of that.