Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure

As you might imagine - once you decide to take a significant road trip your interest in movies and books suddenly changes.  For me the short murder mysteries and Alfred Hitchcock type anthologies on my nightstand are giving way to books with a travel theme.  While many of them are purely factual - the top 20 National Parks, How to Full Time in Your RV, etc - MsBoyink also picked up a copy of Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure:

On June 19, 1953, Harry Truman got up early, packed the trunk of his Chrysler New Yorker, and did something no other former president has done before or since: he hit the road. No Secret Service protection. No traveling press. Just Harry and his childhood sweetheart Bess, off to visit old friends, take in a Broadway play, celebrate their wedding anniversary in the Big Apple, and blow a bit of the money he’d just received to write his memoirs. Hopefully incognito. In this lively history, author Matthew Algeo meticulously details how Truman’s plan to blend in went wonderfully awry. Fellow diners, bellhops, cabbies, squealing teenagers at a Future Homemakers of America convention, and one very by-the-book Pennsylvania state trooper—all unknowingly conspired to blow his cover. Algeo revisits the Trumans’ route, staying at the same hotels and eating at the same diners, and takes readers on brief detours into topics such as the postwar American auto industry, McCarthyism, the nation’s highway system, and the decline of Main Street America. By the end of the 2,500-mile journey, you will have a new and heartfelt appreciation for America’s last citizen-president.

I’ve never been a very political person, but I am getting more interested in history and this book was a fun “road-trip” themed read.

I was surprised to learn that in 1953 ex-Presidents were not afforded any Secret Service protection, nor did they receive a pension. Harry & Bess were escorted to the train station and pretty much given a pat on the back for their eight-year stint in Washington.  Truman came from modest beginnings and was dropped back to them in a matter of days - returning to Independence, Missouri almost penniless.  Truman turned down several lucrative job offers in the private sector as he felt that by doing so he would disrespect the Oval Office.  An advance on his memoirs (taxed at 67%, thanks much) gave them enough money to purchase a car and afford to mix some pleasure in with the business of traveling to give a speech.

This book painted quite a charming picture of the Trumans - and made me nostalgic for time I never knew: the 1950’s.  Oh, I know - it wasn’t all bobby socks and tailfins.  For some it was tarbuckets

But the idea that a fresh from the Whitehouse ex-president could jump in the front seat and take off on a 2500 mile road trip with no entourage and make it back home safely tells of an innocence that was lost a long time ago.  And that’s too bad.

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