Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own is psychiatrist Doreen Orion’s memoir of the year she and her husband Tim (also a psychiatrist) decided to “chuck it all” in order to travel around the U.S. on a luxury bus, getting away from the stress and distraction of work and materialism and getting back to the things that really matter. Doreen, a self-professed couch potato, resisted the idea for five years and, even when she agreed, when kicking and screaming on this cross-country adventure , during which she occupied most of her time worrying about what she was wearing, which of her possessions might get broken in the event of a bus accident, and how best to mix up her next fruity martini.
I loved the concept of this book, but, unfortunately, I did not love the book. “High-maintenance woman sharing 340 square feet of living space with her husband and 3 pets in a home on wheels for an entire year” has great potential, but Orion did not make good on the promise implied by the fabulous subtitle (not to mention the serious online hype) of her book. A self-described “Long Island Princess,” Orion knew it was going to be a difficult trip, but rather than sucking it up and roughing it, she crammed as many of her designer clothes and shoes into the bus as possible, and she doesn’t hesitate to mention them at every possible opportunity. The name dropping got old quickly, as did her attempts at witty humor, which I felt were too cutesy and made me feel like she was trying just a little too hard to make the readers like her. I let out a more-than-slightly-audible groan when I read this little gem:
He [her husband] had truly become…a “busnut.” And I suppose that made me, the wife lugged along on busnut adventures, nothing more than a lugnut.
Was that really necessary? I mean really.
When she’s not obsessing about her shoes, clothing, and beverage preferences–or incessantly discussing her recently developed bus phobia–Orion describes her husband’s handyman tendencies and mechanical abilities (she refers to him as Project Nerd throughout the book) and insists on reminding readers over and over how theirs is truly a marriage of opposites. Tim must be a saint. I wish there were more of him in the book. In fact, if they had written it together, providing two perspectives on each experience, or taken turns with the chapters, or something, I probably would have enjoyed the book much more.
Following a few near-catastrophic experiences, Doreen finally begins to discover that materials possessions are not the most important things in her life. She writes about the ways in which being on the road is helping her make different choices about her life and learn what is really valuable, and by the end, she learns that it really is more about the journey than the destination. These mini-epiphanies are somewhat redeeming, though it concerns me that a psychiatrist could be so dense as to be surprised by the fact that such a drastic change in her lifestyle would also bring about changes within herself. Additionally, Orion’s descriptions of these revelations are so platitudinous that they often sound like messages found in the back of every high school senior’s yearbook. Case in point:
While going with the crowd feels safer…it’s much more rewarding to take to the open road on your own, to determine your own course and have your own experiences.
Yes, this is an important life lesson, but where’s the meat?
Another problem I had with this book was that, though it is billed as a travel memoir, there’s really very little travel writing in it. Orion mentions some of the places she and Tim visited and provides a few random historical facts about them, but she fails to give us the “flavor” and feel of her destinations. In a way, this is okay, since what she’s really focused on is what took place inside the bus (and insider herself), but I think the good folks whose job it is to classify books need to take another look at this one and give it a nice cozy home in the Biography/Memoir department.
Despite the fact that Doreen drove me nuts through most of the book, there were a few moments that made me laugh out loud. The incident that results in usually very put-together Tim reporting to an E.R. nurse that “Cousin JT’s been run’d over by the tractor!” is classic, but even better is the moment when a fellow RVer, upon learning that Doreen and Tim are both shrinks, asks them if they’ve been analyzing him during the conversation, and Doreen responds with “If I were a proctologist, do you think I’d want to look up your butt?” I loved it. During my four years of college as a psych major and two years of clinical psych graduate school, I was asked that question (“so, are you analyzing me now?”) countless times at dinner parties, group events, etc., so I can’t imagine how tired she must be of hearing it after 20+ years, and I’m jealous of such a great response.
Queen of the Road is light and fluffy despite its attempts to explore the deeper meanings of life. It was far from compelling and was too easy to put down, though many other reviewers with whom I usually agree have enjoyed it and reviewed it positively. I suppose it would be a decent beach read….Because it was just OK, I give this one 2.75 out of 5.
If you’d like to read more about Doreen & Tim’s trip, visit her website, which is actually pretty good.