Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending, Celebrating America the Way It’s Supposed To Be — With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a … of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn

March 18, 2012 by  

Gonzo writing for the Brooks Brothers crowd. This is a collection of P.J. O’Rourke’s writings from his days at Car and Driver, where many, many debaucheries in the name of automotive journalism were committed, along with stuff that previously appeared in Rolling Stone and the National Lampoon (in the early days when it was still really funny–in a college humor sort of way). Jean Jennings of Automobile Magazine, in the July 2009 issue, alluded to one essay that didn’t appear in this collection, about his weekend in Palm Beach with an Aston Martin Volante roadster that originally appeared in Car and Driver in 1977. It was a story that managed to insult, revolt, and disgust anyone with a modicum of good taste. For the rest of us, however, it was screamingly, fall-on-the-floor, diaphragm-paralyzingly funny, and got P.J. and editor David E. Davis, Jr. into a whole lot of trouble with publisher William Ziff, Jr. and the hundreds (if not thousands) of angry and (rightfully) highly offended readers who took the time to write letters to the editor. That was my introduction to P.J. as an automotive journalist, and to this day has caused me to seek out and take delight in his work.

This collection reprises classic stories like the alcohol soaked and drug-laden cross-country journey in an asthmatic Dynaflow-burdened 1956 Buick Special; and the previously-unpublished third part of a trilogy of stories about a Car and Driver-sponsored road test of ten “sport sedans” in 1983 in Mexico’s Baja peninsula that turned into one disaster after another, including the near total destruction of at least two cars (one hit a cow in pitch darkness when traveling at 60 MPH, and the other that sucked up a whole lot of water when trying to ford an arroyo in the Baja desert) and yes, much alcohol was consumed. Much alcohol. Oh, and there was even some time spent in local jails. Truly the personification of men behaving badly.

One of my favorite O’Rourke quotes appears on the back of the dust jacket:

“There’s a lot of debate about what kind of car handles best. Some say a front-engined car; some say a rear-engined car. I say a rented car. Nothing handles better than a rented car. You can go faster, turn corners sharper, and put the transmission in reverse while going forward at a higher rate of speed in a rented car than in any other kind. You can also park without looking, and you can use the trunk as an ice chest. Another thing about a rented car is that its an all-terrain vehicle. Mud, snow, water, woods–you can take a retned car anywhere. True, you can’t always get it back–but that’s not your problem, is it?”

How can you not love writing like that? Yes, it’s sophomoric. Yes it’s irresponsible. Yes, it’s everything (well, almost everything) you wish you had done in your youth when you were indestructible and your body could still spring back with nary a problem after a previous evening’s (or weekend’s) debaucheries.

You can live vicariously through P.J.’s writings and walk away without a single scratch, and can laugh yourself silly without offending anyone (unless you suffer from too many sensibilities–if you do, you probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway.).

It’s a wild, sometimes nostalgic, but always fun with a capital “F”, ride.