The Cruise of the Rolling Junk – F. Scott Fitzgerald

You may be wondering why I, socially adept writer of the people (not accurate), went into a grocery store and jammed a book in amongst the fruit. You may also be wondering why I chose to assault the oranges in particular.

Because peaches are out of season, obviously.

This week’s read was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Cruise of the Rolling Junk. You may recognize Mr. Fitzgerald from his ever-popular work, The Great Gatsby, which I read many years ago and enjoyed–for the most part.

Anyway, The Cruise is a short series of articles Fitzgerald wrote detailing his adventures road-tripping with his wife, Zelda, to visit her hometown, Montgomery, Alabama, in a car he often refers to as “the rolling junk.” Why? Because it is rolling junk, and many of their adventures with said car involve trying to impede its rapid descent into the mouth of entropy.

(Side note: You might notice that I’m writing a bit funny. There are three reasons for this:

  1. I’ve been buried in spreadsheets and wedding planning (using said spreadsheets) for the better part of today and I am now thinking in cells. (Side, side note: I’m getting married in seventeen days.)
  2. I’ve also been buried in cleaning out our abode, as we are moving across the goddamned country in thirty days and we are going from a 1200 squarefoot townhouse to a 750 squarefoot apartment, which means I’m selling a lot of furniture on Craigslist.
  3. I’ve been reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and that’s making my vocabulary and sentence structure go a little 1800s. I’m doing my best to control it, but it’s still leaking out and I’m not going to be editing a damn blog entry to modernize it.)

What this means is that the book is very short and very sectional. And, because Fitzgerald wrote it, very high on the leisure and party lifestyle of the 1920s. He’s a dashing, debonair stereotype full of pithy witticisms and modest comments. Think Nick Charles on a road-trip.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Very much. Given the amount of dialogue and the almost magical realism that crept in whenever the car was engaged in hijinks, as well as the false ending, it was clear that this book wasn’t truly nonfiction as much as a “big fish” retelling of a problematic road-trip–points against it, in my mind. But his flavorings made what might have otherwise been dull… rather entertaining.

See, I’ve been reading through a backlog of the NYTimes travel section, focusing mostly on their mini-travelogues, and I’ve noticed a propensity for their writers to do a “I walked over here, did this, then took a cab by this highway to this highway and landed here where I did this other thing, afterwards which I…” and it’s all very mechanical, boring, and an unnecessary use of limited word count.

You don’t find that in Cruise. Because he’s telling it in a novel format, which is what I think travelogues should endeavor to do. So he made some stuff more fantastical than he should have. So he made up an ending to be more dramatic. I wouldn’t do such things myself, but it was a needed breather from the NYTimes.

Three quotes, for your reading pleasure:

“‘I will dress,’ I said in a hushed voice, ‘and we will go downstairs and get in our car, which I note was left in the yard last night as it happened to be your turn to put it away and you were too busy. Seating ourselves in the front seat we will drive from here to Montgomery, Alabama, where we will eat biscuits and peaches.”

“The Rolling Junk was born during the spring of 1918. It was of the haughty make known as the Expenso, and during its infancy had sold for something over thirty-five hundred dollars. Of course, while nominally engaged in being an Expenso, it was, unofficially, a Rolling Junk, and in this second capacity it was a car that we have often bought. About once every five years some of the manufacturers put out a Rolling Junk, and their salesmen come immediately to us because they know that we are the sort of people to whom Rolling Junks should be sold.”

“Washington, as most Americans know, is generally considered the Capital of the United States. The population, including the diplomats from defunct governments, is estimated at — but as a matter of fact I believe it will be best to put the educational part of this article in a special appendix in the rear.”