Sometimes, the best thing one can possibly do to feel better is leave the comforts of everyday life behind. Great literature teaches us that attempting a new sort of existence, even for a relatively brief period, can transform your life. Or at least lead to a great book. Think Siddhartha leaving the palace, Henry David Thoreau setting up house in the Walden woods, Ernesto “Che” Guevara peeling out on his motorcycle, or N. Peligeiro accepting a teaching job in Mexico.*
Haven’t heard of Mr. Peligeiro? He’s the author of Behind the Wheel, a sort of travelogue and collection of musings on living abroad, teaching, friendship, and the path from Minnesota to la pura vida. In Behind the Wheel, Nick longs for adventure and wider horizons. He heads south of the border, to the beach, but, lacking a trust fund, can’t survive as a beach bum for long. Rather than return home, he accepts a teaching job at a private school in what sounds like a lovely inland area of Mexico. He arrives to find out of control classrooms and a city erupting in gang violence. Fortunately, he also finds a colorful collection of colleagues and the opportunity to write about their shared struggles.
I once caught a ride on a cargo ship in the Amazon. As soon as I hung my hammock, another American descended. He was blond, deeply tan, dreadlocked, had been traveling around South America for about a year, and couldn’t wait to share his stories with an English speaker he hoped he could convert to an admirer. You can picture him, right? The main character in Behind the Wheel reminds me of that guy, but unlike that dreadlocked fellow who didn’t have a self-deprecating bone in his body, Nick is modest, funny and down to earth. Sometimes you want to smack the guy for treating the girls in his life like souvenirs (cheap, fun to collect, ultimately disposable) but I kept rooting for him from page one to the conclusion.
The plot is pretty loose in this book. Early on, the reader knows Nick’s going to make it out of the violent town with little incident. Still, I couldn’t put it down. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while.
Behind the Wheel is available from Musa Publishing and Amazon.
*Bonus points if you can come up with a female example of this trend.