Dog Days: Tales from an American Road Trip – Book Review

During my recent Round the World trip, I needed to travel from Vancouver to Seattle for a connecting flight. I toyed with the idea of taking a Greyhound coach. Having read this book, I’m greatly relieved I opted instead for a hire car.

Dog Days Book Cover

Andrew Thompson, the author, and his girlfriend, Lucy, had purchased Greyhound 60 day tickets to travel around the USA. However they soon found that travelling on the ‘Dog’, as it is commonly known, is far from being a pleasant experience. On their first journey, from Miami to Key West, the author reports that:

“The bus was filled with low-lifes who had no concept of personal space. Then the bus chugged away through the heat. Labouring from gear to gear, slowly building up pace. There was no air-conditioning, only sliding glass windows that were virtually impossible to prise open.”

What’s more, he found all the Greyhound ticket booking staff to be very unpleasant and unhelpful and the drivers not much better.

Dog Days: Tales from an American Road Trip, describes Andrew’s journey through 45 states of the USA over a ten week period, with a brief detour to Canada.

The author, who is Australian but worked several years in London, is well-travelled. He had visited 32 countries in a round the world trip a couple of years previously. It was on this journey that he met Lucy, an English girl, in Bolivia.

He thought he knew a lot about America, but found it vastly different to what he expected. That is the main theme of the book.

Miami Beach
Miami Beach: ‘Fairly bored’

The secondary, but in some ways more engrossing theme, is about the author’s fairly stormy relationship with his travel companion Lucy, who is ten years his junior.

She leaves him to continue his journey alone after problems in Memphis. Although she returns, she is often on the point of leaving again and returning to London.

Lucy is frequently in floods of tears and has black moods, for no apparent reason according to the author. Lucy, if you are reading this, please write your version of the trip. It would make fascinating reading and a great companion volume to Andrew’s book.

But to get back to the main theme: the journey through 45 states by Greyhound coaches. It commenced in Miami, “fairly bored as there is little to do”, followed by Key West, “the most expensive place we visited in America”. Then followed long journeys up the East Coast to New York where it poured with rain.

Once the author and his girlfriend had realised that travelling the Dog was not such a good idea, and may even have led to bites from bed bugs, their plans changed and they swapped to hire cars.

The Grand Canyon: 'Awesome'
The Grand Canyon: ‘Awesome’

At this point, about halfway through the book, the author suddenly seemed to find that some Americans were quite nice people and that some of the cities and scenery were really quite attractive.

Much of the rest of the book is taken up with interesting and detailed descriptions of, for example, the Grand Canyon (truly awesome), Yellowstone National Park, a rodeo show, July 4th celebrations and a hot-dog eating competition.

Towards the end of the trip, he enjoys visiting Las Vegas, once he manages to find his way out of the massive New York New York hotel. Los Angeles, the endpoint of the journey, proves far better than almost everything he’d heard about it.

The book is littered with interesting observations on such subjects as why Chicago is known as the ‘Windy City’, why all US policemen wear sunglasses and why only one third of Americans have passports. Not surprising from the author of the book: Why Skies are Blue and Parrots Talk.

Las Vegas: New York New York Hotel
Las Vegas: New York New York Hotel

The author readily gives his opinions throughout the book on a whole range of things American, including religion freaks, military obsession and the ubiquitous burger.

“If you go to America, prepare to eat burgers in huge quantities. If you don’t like burgers, don’t go. Unless you want to starve, that is.”

I happily go along with his irritation when following RVs and caravans on US roads and his annoyance with the ridiculous system of tipping in the USA. I’m not quite so sure about his comment on which state has the most attractive women:

“In fact, it was hard to pinpoint the area that did have the best looking women in America, because nowhere did.”

Although I might disagree with some of the author’s more provocative views, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Like the author I am also an Ernest Hemingway fan, so enjoyed his visits to Key West, including Sloppy Joe’s bar, and Ketchum where Hemingway killed himself and is buried.

Key West: Sloppy Joe's
Key West: Sloppy Joe’s

I strongly recommend Dog Days to anyone who is thinking of travelling independently around the USA.

Senior Travellers will most certainly learn to avoid Greyhound coaches and will be interested in the many times the author felt threatened, but never attacked, by potential muggers, Mustang men, and the like.

I also recommend Dog Days to armchair travellers who wish to get a feel of 21st Century USA from a seasoned traveller’s entertaining perspective.

So did Andrew and Lucy manage to complete the trip together? Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out!

It is published in paperback by Fingerpress, 2014 (ISBN 9781908824448), and can be obtained from the Book Depository with free world-wide delivery.