By: Jerome Peterson
Publisher: Eloquent Books
Publication Date: March 2009
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: October 29, 2009
Thumb Flagging is our opportunity to join free-spirited characters in a be-here-now, hippy-dippy journey hitchhiking across the country. Our guide is the work-in-development Jay “Jaybird” Patterson, who seeks his own personal growth on this journey. His mentor for the first part of his trek is Willy Jacobs, a philosopher of the highway who employs quirky remedies to help Jay overcome his anxiety disorder and find his identity. So off we go on a nomadic adventure with these Kant-quoting, pot-smoking, bourbon-drinking, freak flag-flying poetry-reciting drifters. As Willy puts it, “There are closet bohemians and there are front room bohemians. We happen to be front room material at wholesale value.”
We wander along with Jaybird and Willy as they encounter a series of kooky characters, from the ominous to the omnipotent, who provide a ride as well as an earful on our hip-hopping journey. Soon we become accustomed to the pick-up and drop-off pattern, which provides a steady rhythm to the book, much like the cadenced sound of tires slapping the pavement as we cruise down the road. While Peterson paints Jaybirdy and Willy as freewheeling, techno-color eccentrics, the ancillary characters tend to be drawn in a paler, simpler shade. The author chooses to sketch those fleeting characters in broad stroke archetypes who often come off as simpletons or stereotypes particularly in contrast to Willy’s self-taught genius, all-around gentlemanliness, and strict code of honor. Nevertheless, Willy counsels that each ride offers an opportunity for a new life lesson. After meeting a xenophobic, homophobic military man, our bohemian guides find enough common ground with him to share a chuckle, prompting Jaybird to ruminate, “After the laugh I thought to myself: what can I learn from this ride? How can this experience help me to be a better person?”
Just as the true traveler’s life is more about the journey than the destination, Thumb Flagging is more about the characters than the plot development. Although the story contains a vaguely menacing bad guy as well as a bit of intrigue and romance, the true north of Thumb Flagging remains Jaybird and his efforts of personal growth. During his solo hitchhiking foray from Arizona to Maine, he meets another drifter, who turns out to be the girl of his dreams. Once she comes on the scene, Jaybird has the opportunity to transition from the student to teacher, passing on the lessons learned from Willy and the road.
Peterson attempts to render Jaybird and Willy as colorful, likeable characters, and chooses an assortment of invented vocabulary and zany turns of phrase. However, the author’s persistent use of “ya” in place of “you” feels like forced attempt at quirkiness that fortunately peters out as the story goes on. Over all, Peterson’s quirky poeticism and off-kilter style sketches an outline of the goofy flavor of these drifters and their hitchhiking odysseys. As Willy advises his student of the sidewalk, “Just put on a hat of happiness, place a morning star in your eye, and cornflake it.”
Any hippies-hit-the-highway story risks falling in the psychedelic shadow of Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and like most other works Thumb Flagging pales wanly in the comparison. While Thompson’s work forged the road, this story struggles to catch up, as most any other follower would. All the same, we appreciate the opportunity to tag along for the ride with Jaybird as he travels many miles and many adventures to get from insecure doubter towards confident adult. In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Quill says: Hit the highway with these quirky drifters on a journey of one man’s self-discovery.