Cover image for The next better place : a father and son on the road
The next better place : a father and son on the road
Keith, Michael C., 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, [2003]

Physical Description:
284 pages ; 23 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.7 14.0 80055.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ755.85 .K444 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In 1959, at the age of eleven, Michael Keith left a relatively stable life with his mother and sisters in Albany, New York, and surreptitiously set off for California with his irresponsible alcoholic father. For the rest of Michael's childhood, the two crisscrossed America, perpetually en route to someplace else. His memoir, told in the fresh, funny, world-wise voice of the young boy he once was, describes their bizarre encounters hitchhiking the nation's highways. In the rundown rooming houses and homeless missions where they hole up as Michael's father works odd jobs to make enough money for them to move on, or in the AA meetings they attend in every city for a decent doughnut, we glimpse a different America. Pushed onward by Michael's unceasing thirst for new adventures and his father's dreams of the next better place, the careworn twosome live far outside convention.

But despite their peculiar, often dysfunctional life, there is real love between this father and son, and they share the glorious freedom of the peripatetic life. That such happiness exists in a lonely marginal universe doesn't overshadow the fact that a Greyhound bus is the closest Michael comes to experiencing the idea of home. THE NEXT BETTER PLACE explores the fine line between wanderlust and compulsion, between running away and arriving, and leaves us with the understanding that the journey is often more powerful than the destination.

Author Notes

Michael C. Keith, Ph.D., a member of the Communication faculty at Boston College and the author of over a dozen books, mostly on the subject of broadcast media, never graduated from high school. He enlisted in the army at seventeen, then became a radio broadcaster. While raising his daughter as a single parent and working fulltime, he registered at a community college, eventually receiving his doctorate from the University of Rhode Island. The past Chair of Education for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, he and his wife live outside of Boston

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Former radio broadcaster Keith, a Boston College communications lecturer, tours his childhood in this charming, often poetic memoir, a hitchhiker travelogue that reads like Little League Kerouac. The journey begins in Albany, N.Y., in 1959, two years after Keith's parents divorced. Together, 11-year-old Mikey and his alcoholic father, Curt, plan their trip to California: "The West beckons, and I am dizzy with anticipation." The duo travels by Greyhound, stopping in New York City, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Denver along the way. They seek shelter in missions, motels and back-street rooming houses, finally arriving at the Encino Paradise Motel: "I think I'm happier than I have been in my whole life," Keith writes. They survive on stolen sardines and graham crackers between the odd jobs that Curt occasionally lands and encounter plenty of quirky characters, including a paranoid embalmer's assistant who has his umbrella filed into a weapon. From Los Angeles, they proceed to Las Vegas, Fort Worth and finally back to Albany. Keith brings to life these long-ago people and places. He doesn't shy away from his father's "bout with the bottle," but the boozy past is bathed in a wistful, rosy hue: "Sitting in a moving Greyhound is the closest I come to experiencing the bliss of home. If I could, I would live on one forever." Agent, Christi Cardenas. (Jan. 17) Forecast: In addition to national publicity and advertising, Keith will promote his memoir with an eight-city tour, which should spark further interest. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Although this autobiographical narrative is hardly an American version of Angela's Ashes, there are several parallels. The book recounts Keith's 11th year, in 1959, when his mother allowed him to live with his father because she could not care for her son and his two younger sisters. In the dubious charge of this man-a feckless alcoholic and drifter, dependent on the charity of others and the Catholic Church-Keith was always filthy, often hungry, and seldom in school. The quest for a better life in California took the hapless pair from Albany, NY, to Los Angeles and back again, with stops in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, and Fort Worth. It was a life-changing odyssey for both, managed via Greyhound and hitchhiking, peppered with unusual characters (including bums and bedbugs), and brightened by the kindness of strangers-all in search of "the next better place." Keith, now a broadcast media expert and the author of numerous books, skillfully and humorously re-creates his experience and his vision of a world that is rarely threatening and always full of promise and adventure. Recommended for all public libraries.-Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Part I Albany to Pittsburgh (472 Miles)
The Giveawayp. 3
Hitting the Roadp. 7
Street Scenesp. 12
Twelve Stepsp. 15
Gert's Lossp. 19
Unwelcome Guestp. 22
Apparitionsp. 25
Undertows and Rub-a-Dub-Dubsp. 28
Nat King Colep. 33
Forty-second Street Aliensp. 38
Over the Riverp. 41
Purple People Eaterp. 45
Mission of Hopep. 49
Bedbuggedp. 55
Rebornp. 58
Part II Pittsburgh to Indianapolis (366 Miles)
Pearl's Placep. 65
The Little Familyp. 68
Big Boyp. 72
Liquids and Last Suppersp. 75
Good Morning, Breakfast Clubbersp. 80
Wheeler-Dealersp. 84
Vera's Prescriptionp. 88
Desperate Measuresp. 91
Demons and Rump. 96
Apprehensionsp. 98
Taken Awayp. 102
Part III Indianapolis to Denver (1,101 Miles)
Through the Gatep. 107
Heartlandp. 113
WaKeeney Carnyp. 119
Slick Young Manp. 124
Denver Dazep. 127
Bitter Musicp. 133
Brussels Sproutsp. 136
Little Flowerp. 140
Phrenologist's Dreamp. 146
Golden Momentsp. 148
Probation and Revelationp. 152
'Tis the Seasonp. 156
High Noonp. 158
Part IV Denver to Los Angeles (1,023 Miles)
Road to Saint Georgep. 165
California ... Los Angeles ... Encino!p. 170
Bumps and Grindsp. 173
Another Perfect Familyp. 177
Bo Jesterp. 182
Jailbaitp. 186
Retributionp. 192
The Cover-Upp. 195
Part V Los Angeles to Las Vegas (275 Miles)
Mojave-Boundp. 201
Moon and the Misbegottenp. 204
Severed Buttsp. 207
Seeing the Lightp. 211
Phantasms in Dustp. 214
The Fun of Flamesp. 216
White Bread and Sugarp. 220
A Fool and His Moneyp. 223
Part VI Las Vegas to Fort Worth (1,208 Miles)
Material Lossesp. 231
A Dapper Friendp. 233
Not Hoppyp. 239
The Dearly Departedp. 243
Tiny Pink Flowersp. 247
Ryan Exposedp. 251
Storms and Debatesp. 256
Part VII Forth Worth to Albany (1,678 Miles)
East by Northeastp. 261
Car Washp. 266
Lovely French Wordsp. 269
Beastly Visionsp. 272
Last of Many Milesp. 276
Prodigal Returnsp. 279
Travel Companionsp. 283