A THOUSAND MILES FROM NOWHERE: Trucking Two Continents by Graham Coster (North Point Press: $20; 275 pp.) Long-haul trucking--the mind puffs and snorts with images of Burt Reynolds, good buddies, knights of the road, brawn and bravado; at the very least, Hoffa and hoods. . . . Forget it. British writer Graham Coster has sampled the life--London to Moscow, New England to Texas--and no matter how hard he tries, he comes up with no better than "anchoritic solipsism." There's promise here: Coster's chronicle burns rubber getting off the mark and has its moments along the way. "Lorry is the weak-chinned word we use in Britain," he revs, "looks like worry, sounds like sorry. . . . The proper word is an emphatic riposte [that] sounds like something else altogether in all its Anglo-Saxon uncouthness: TRUCK!" En route we make the acquaintance of a trucker who finesses the days-long queues at East European border crossings by moving to the head of the line and announcing quite simply, "I'm British." We learn, too, just how much brute strength is involved in handling a big rig: "Balaclava braking," for example, is "when you brake so hard your foreskin ends up over your head." It is in increasingly manifest, however, that driving at distance is for the stoic, the unimaginative--the trucker who's been to Moscow 13 times and has yet to bestir himself sufficiently to see Red Square; the driver whose favorite city is Istanbul because it boasts not only a Pizza Hut but also a KFC. Even before Texas ("an antsy, lethargic, wearisome week"), Coster finds himself "developing some of [the truckers'] incuriosity," and he hates it. Clearly a man born on the wrong side of the trucks.

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