Chick Flick Road Kill – Alicia Rebensdorf

Help, it’s November!

This week’s read is Alicia Rebensdorf’s Chick Flick Road Kill: A Behind the Scenes Odyssey into Movie-Made America. (Side note: another title, another mouthful. Thank you, travel book titling standards.)

This is one of the very, very few travel books that I’ve found that was written by a woman who traveled The Great American Road-Trip by herself. I mean, unless you’ve been reading this blog in its entirety, you wouldn’t understand exactly how rare that is.

A woman.

On the American highway.

By herself.

It just shivers my timbers to think about it.

Anyway. This book came out in 2001 and had an actual trip premise. You know, one of those “I’m going to visit the capitol building in every state” or “I’m going to eat a cheeseburger in every state” kinda things.

Rebensdorf’s premise was to visit towns/cities/locations that were in bits of film media she loved. She wanted to show herself, basically, what a farce media was or possibly learn that the movies and shows she loved were based in reality, that she could go to the town of Twin Peaks and it would be exactly as the show purported it was.

Chick Flick Road Kill is definitely a book written in the 90s. It has that Daria-level sort of disillusionment running hard throughout it. That cynicism that hides (though not in Dara’s case) a deep wish that all the things the author scorns (or pretends to scorn, in Rebensdorf’s case) are real.

The real question was… did I like it?

Yeah, I did. It was so nice to be reading an American road-trip book with a female author who wasn’t running from an abusive home situation or a drug addiction problem or just out there looking for love or all the other trite stereotypes.

She was meandering in her life, disillusioned, and had no goals. So she made one for herself and stopped her meandering. Pretty great. Some of the places she went to, I had been to on my trip, so that was really cool. And some nights she actually left her hotel room or hostel and met people, so that was cool.

Did I like her?

That’s a tricky one. It’s a half and half thing.

I like what she did. I liked that she got out there and explored this constant question of fantasy versus reality, of the forces that are at work on our minds pretty much every day via the media we choose to consume.

I didn’t like how she kept lying to herself. About what she wanted. About why she was doing what she was on any given day.

I didn’t like how, as much as she spoke against those crazy movie romances and Mr. Right, that whenever she met someone, she would examine them until all their flaws came to light. And because they weren’t Mr. Right, they were dismissed.

I didn’t like how much she disliked herself, how concerned she was for how other people regarded her. There’s a quote down below that references how she should have just ordered pie and coffee (in Twin Peaks), but didn’t because she didn’t want people to think she was, essentially, a lame fan-girl.

That killed me the most. She went on this epic journey, twice the length of mine (in time, not distance), and refused to engage in things that she really wanted to engage in because she was too worried about the opinions of people she would literally never see again.

She needed to look cool. She needed to look hip. And she ended up heavily short-changing herself and that makes me upset at her and for her because how shitty is that? To give single-serving strangers power over your enjoyment? Ugh.

In fact, it felt like most of the book she was holding herself back from being herself, doing what she wanted to do, or just being where she was. And I guess that’s what you were supposed to do in the 90s. Wear flannel and tiny sunglasses, smoke cigarettes, and read poetry or philosophers in coffee shops, unaffected by anything at all.

Anyhow, despite that jarring generational gap between us, I think it’s worth the read. She’s got a fun voice and I wish she had written more.

Some quotes for your tasting pleasure…

“The road, like Mr. Right and Cosmic Fate, is one of the great romances in American media. Except I’ve taken road trips before, and the American road I’ve seen is less a sexy two-lane blacktop than an eight-lane monster cut through sprawling cities and suburban growth.”

“Now, I knew the popular image of the road trip was a farce. It was too Hollywood, too macho, too hippie, too escapist, and too nostalgic; a picture pursued by young, toned boys expecting it to provide them with answers, or at least reckless sex; an ancient photo America preened itself by, convinced it was a mirror rather than a long -past version of itself; and a portrait whose few female road models were inherently false: buffed out in black, wearing mean shoes, and carting phallic weapons as in some kind of Game Boy porn.”

“So I sit, eating my chili. It’s not even hot. I should just go ahead and ask for the damn pie and coffee, but my self-consciousness cripples me. I put down a five and get out.”

“I drive, listening to the rumble of tires and pavement, glad for the muted colors. It’s good to be back in my car. It’s easier to like myself here.”

“I want to want Matt to slide his hand up my thigh. To lean in and kiss me in a way I don’t think he can. To kiss him back. And if this were a script, I would. I would want it with all the emotion of a tense, string-heavy soundtrack. With the burn of a long, on-the-hunt buildup.”

“The more I drive, the more North Dakota grows in me. It has the beauty of someone who isn’t trying and is more stunning because of it. I notice the heaviness in my shoulders. Twist my neck. Clench my butt. Think about muscle atrophy and Latin word roots and Egypt’s pyramids and the jacket in Desperately Seeking Susan. Is this what freedom feels like, I wonder, or is it boredom?”

“I’m longing for a place with some self-esteem, where people have the gall and right to be cocky. I’m longing for a real city.”

“And I’m tired of the distance, the surface separation from the world around me that I’ve been battling this whole damn trip. I’m over it. I want to let go. To be who I am in my car. To really follow Prince. To go crazy. Let’s get nuts. And I want to do it tonight.”

“Driving back, the freeway is an empty fast world, an ocean’s black with flaming white swimming lanes, and I’m silver finned and swift, swooping with curving overpasses and through the maze of digits and directions as if their coordinates are in my blood.”

“I just want to move. There aren’t so many questions if I keep moving, or rather, there’s more, but I forget them and move on to the next too quickly to care. Headed east, pointed at some name in the distance, I track the thin roads, consulting my map at the crossroads. I’m at peace now, passing the biggest, most famous, must-see-can’t-miss stops. Whether I’m running after the real world or away from it, I no longer care, as long as I’m running.”

“It’s ironic. As much as I came here to see it outside the suspect media and make it more real, I realize I’ve also come because those media have told me it would be.”

“In weeks, I’ll be back waitressing. And in months that quickly accrue into years, I’ll be in back in a place, at least on paper, remarkably similar to the which I left. I’ll still not have found love. I won’t meet new people as I did on the road because I won’t need to, and I’ll try to remember what it was like when I did, fighting not to make it grander in the retelling.”