Way Off the Road

Discovering the Charms of Small-Town America, Bill Geist, Broadway Books.

Reading Bill Geist’s “Way Off the Road,” one finds several would-be Failure stories. There’s Whalan, Minnesota’s Stand Still Parade, where the marchers stand still and the crowd does the walking; Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Museum of Towing and Recovery, which celebrates the history of tow trucks and the legends of towing; and my personal favorite, the Unclaimed Baggage Center of Scottsboro, Alabama, which Geist refers to as the “Land of Lost Luggage.”

All in all, there are 28 different vignettes, each written in the same deadpan style that characterizes Geist's work with CBS News Sunday Morning, for whom he serves as correspondent and commentator. Much like Geist’s television segments, this book celebrates “unique individuals who are resourceful, eccentric, idiosyncratic, and at times just plain batty,” not to mention the out-of-the-way towns these individuals call home. 

In short, Geist brings the reader to places that are fascinating to read about but probably not all that exciting to visit—communities like International Falls, Minnesota (“The Nation's Icebox”), Beaver, Oklahoma (“The Napa Valley of Cow Chips”), and Monowi, Nebraska (population: 1). On the other hand, there’s an undeniable allure to people and places so willing to embrace their shortcomings. Road trip, anyone?