The Discriminating Traveler’s Guide to
40 Great Cities in the United States and Canada.
By R.W. Apple Jr.
North Point Press. 448 pp. $22.50.
In high school I suffered from a case of unrequited admiration; a favorite teacher barely knew my name. Erudite and larger-than-life, he stood out easily in a place that was so distinctively unexceptional. His stately gait was accompanied by the rhythmic clacking of a cane, his voice was prone to oratorical flourishes and he characteristically wore a three-piece suit. Best of all, he told great stories–or rather, great tangential epics.
How could I resist the charm of this venerable anecdotist? (Never mind that his stories were spiced with embellishment, self-aggrandizement and overt fabrication.) Describing trips to Egypt or Amsterdam, he’d play Baedeker, recommending must-see stops and recalling the grand personalities he met along the way. I relished being his passive companion (even if the travel was secondhand), which is perhaps why I became such an avid reader of R.W. Apple Jr. in the New York Times. Beyond his elegant prose and infallible instinct, Apple is an ideal cicerone: He has the knowledge of a connoisseur and the curiosity of an amateur; his tone is conversational rather than pedantic; and he unabashedly expresses enthusiasm when something strikes his fancy.
R.W. Apple Jr. (Raymond Walter, known universally as Johnny, apparently called ‘Juanito’ by President Bush) has worked at the Times since 1963 reporting on war and politics. Though he’s covered nine presidential elections and filed from more than 100 countries, his recent incarnation as an associate editor has allowed him to write on culture, travel and, especially, food. Among reporters Apple stories abound; they circulate like tale-tales, growing successively more absurdist in their account of his staggering expense account or prodigious appetite. He’s the stuff legends are made of–flamboyant, abrasive and incredibly talented.
In his latest book Apple’s America: The Discriminating Traveler’s Guide to 40 Great Cities in the United States and Canada, the author puts his varied interests to good use. Art, politics, culture, sports, architecture, food and business all factor into his cityscapes. A sequel to Apple’s Europe, the book evolved from a series of articles written for the Times–which explains why New York is regrettably omitted. To navigate these urban communities, Apple enlisted an impressive roster of guides, including Tim Russert in Buffalo, Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, Paul Sarbanes in Baltimore and John McCain in Phoenix. Each city receives its own succinct and effusive chapter.