Riding the Edge of America
By Derek Lundy
(Vintage Canada, Paperback, 9780307398635, 432pp.)
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
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"The periphery of a place can tell us a great deal about its heartland. along the edge of a nation's territory, its real prejudices, fears and obsessions - but also its virtues - irrepressibly bubble up as its people confront the 'other' whom they admire, or fear, or hold in contempt, and know little about. September 11, 2001, changed the United States utterly and nothing more so than the physical reality, the perception - and the meaning - of its borders."
Derek Lundy turns sixty at the end of a year in which three good friends have died. He feels the need to do something radical, and sets out on his motorcycle - a Kawasaki KLR 650 cc single-cylinder "thumper," which he describes as "unpretentious" and also "butt-ugly." Fascinated by the United States' post-9/11 passion for security, particularly on its two international borders, he chooses to investigate.
He takes a firsthand look at both borders. The U.S.-Mexican borderlands, often disorderly and violent, operate according to their own ad hoc system of rules and conventions, and are distinct in many ways from the two countries the border divides. When security trumps trade, the economic well-being of both countries is threatened, and the upside is difficult to determine. American policy makers think the issues of drugs and illegals are ample reason to keep building fences to keep Mexicans out, even with no evidence that fences work or are anything but cruel. Mexicans' cheap labour keeps the wheels turning in the U.S. economy yet they are resented for trying to get into the country illegally (or legally). More people have died trying to cross this border than in the 9/11 attacks.
At almost 9,000 kilometres, the U.S. border with Canada is the longest in the world. The northern border divides the planet's two biggest trading partners, and that relationship demands the fast, easy flow of goods and services in both directions. Since the events of 9/11, however, the United States has slowly and steadily choked the flux of trade: "just-in-time" parts shipments are in jeopardy; trucks must wait for inspection and clearance; people must be questioned. The border is "thickening."
In prose that is compelling, impressive and at times frightening, Derek Lundy's incredible journey is illuminating enough to change minds, as great writing can sometimes do.
Derek Lundy is the bestselling author of Godforsaken Sea: Racing The World's Most Dangerous Waters, The Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail, and The Bloody Red Hand: A Journey Through Truth, Myth and Terror in Northern Ireland. He lives and rides on Salt Spring Island, B.C.
"Get on the bike, we're gonna have us a ride. Derek Lundy's border meditation takes us deep inside the American obsession with security. His clear Canadian eye and clean prose makes me realize that my country shouts about safety but is frightened by life itself."
-Charles Bowden, author of Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family
"Intrepid adventure traveller, daring investigative reporter and rigorous historian, Derek Lundy rode his motorcycle on "the edge" in more than one way - the borders of the United States with Mexico and Canada, yes, but he also often rode the edge of survival, against wind, rain, heat, cold, gravel, mud and homicidal logging trucks. Equally, he faced the extremes of the American frontier myth in the twenty-first century, as I have also experienced them, as represented by the Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security, and vigilante groups like the Minutemen. His polished prose is searingly honest about himself and what he experiences, and his story goes well beyond the conventions of "where I went and what I saw." He takes the reader into the deeper complexity of "what it all means." Borderlands is entertaining, enlightening and important. I hope it will be widely read, and in particular by Americans - to witness what is being done in their names at the ragged edges of their great country."
-Neil Peart, author of Ghost Rider and Roadshow
"The two wheels of Lundy's bike trace an illuminating path through space and time. A great ride and a great read, Borderlands is a profound exploration of the rough ground where rival histories, ethnicities, and mythologies jostle for their place in the sun."
-Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress and What Is America?
“[A] complex and absorbing portrait of the anxious, post-9/11 U.S.A. . . . supremely enjoyable — an artful story, a provocative rumination . . . Lundy [is] erudite, reasonable and amusingly self-deprecating [and] provides succinct historical overviews throughout, reminding us of what the here-and-now is founded on.”
“The book is part travelogue and part lesson on the continent’s history. But mostly, it’s a fascinating look at U.S. national security post–9/11 and the human consequences. . . . Besides covering the political, the book gets personal, detailing Lundy’s struggles with his motorbike, painful injuries, and reflections on his own mortality. The joy of the ride runs through it all.”
-The Georgia Straight
“Superbly rendered story. . . . Lundy’s analysis, and meditation on, what it’s like for Canada and Mexico to share a border with the world’s superpower in a post-9/11 world is both convincing and alarming. . . . Borderlands is tough to pigeonhole. It’s part travelogue, part history, part analysis of U.S.-Canada relations and part reflection on the joys and pains of biking. Regardless, it’s all good.”
-Winnipeg Free Press
“With interesting historical facts that everyone can probably stand to brush up on and keen insight into the contemporary political climate, Borderlands is a valuable contribution to North American studies. But above all it is a good read, peppered with Lundy’s personal travails as the motorcycle ride progresses and he meets the borders’ quirky inhabitants.”
-Gulf Islands Driftwood
“Open and honest about his failings as a rider, Lundy employs a wry sense of humour that keeps the pages turning as the miles fly by. . . . Borderlands is well-balanced, both in terms of interview subjects and the exposure given to the northern and southern U.S. borders. . . . While the book is primarily a travelogue commenting on America’s growing security obsession, in the borderlands between politics and memoir a fine history lesson exists, and Lundy is an excellent teacher.”
-Quill & Quire (starred review)