5. Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure
The True Story of a Great American Road Trip
by Matthew Algeo
Kindle book, 3
second book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge 2012
Just look at those two! Don't they seem like the happiest couple ever?! When Harry Truman was once offered the opportunity of seeing a private screening of the (then) new Marilyn Monroe movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Harry declined saying that "real gentlemen prefer gray hair." Some difference from these days when women 'of a certain age' do everything possible to look younger. Bess Truman was often described with an adjective rarely used now, 'matronly,' defined in the dictionary as
like or characteristic of a matron, esp. in being dignified and staid and typically associated with having a large or plump buildNot many women today would appreciate such a description, let alone be satisfied looking that way. Bess was a woman who was comfortable in her own skin, and much loved by her adoring husband. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Matthew Algeo tells us in the preface that
Harry Truman was the last president to leave the White House and return to something resembling a normal life. And in the summer of 1953 he did something millions of ordinary Americans do all the time, but something no former president had ever done before - and none has done since. He took a road trip, unaccompanied by Secret Service agents, bodyguards, or attendants of any kind. Truman and his wife, Bess, drove from their home in Independence, Missouri to the East Coast and back again. Harry was behind the wheel. Bess rode shotgun. The trip lasted nearly three weeks.Sometimes they were recognized and other times they weren't. They stayed in public motels or hotels, and ate in the sorts of places all tourists frequent. When at all possible, the author has followed them in their travels, finding some buildings still there, and others gone forever. He was able to talk with people (or their family members) Harry had talked to almost sixty years ago. Matthew Algeo also discusses the times, and how they were different from now. We learn about many American cities and historical events.
Perhaps the most startling fact is that Harry Truman, who became president after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death in 1945, and was then elected in 1948 for another four years, was in quite dire straits monetarily when his presidency was over. In those days, the only income he had was 'a small army pension,' which amounted to $111.96 a month.
He had no government-provided office space, staff, or security detail. Shortly before leaving office, he'd had to take out a loan from a Washington bank to help make ends meet.When he went home to Independence, he had an office with two assistants whose salaries he paid himself. He answered the huge amount of mail he received, and paid for all the postage, which in the first year cost him ten thousand dollars. After he left office, 'out of respect for the presidency,' Truman wouldn't accept a position on any organization's board of directors. He didn't believe in 'commercializing' the presidency.
The author offers some comparisons with modern day ex-presidents, which as he says must have had Harry 'spinning in his grave.'
By the early 1980s, Ford was raking in more than a million dollars a year.An ex-president gets a yearly pension of around $190,000. He also gets money for all those office expenses Harry Truman had to pay for himself, which can now amount to a million a year.
Bill Clinton earned more than ten million in speaking fees alone.
In 2008 the rent on Bill Clinton's office in Harlem alone was more than $500,000. (Carter's in Atlanta was $102,000. The elder Bush's in Houston was $175,000).It is statistics like these, sprinkled throughout the book which make for fascinating reading. The book is really three-tiered: Harry and Bess' trip, Matthew Algeo's trip, and the wealth of information the author gives the reader. For instance, he visits the Princess Restaurant on Main Street in Frostburg, Maryland which is the only one of the 'small mom-and-pop businesses that the Trumans are known to have patronized ... that has survived, more or less intact, in the same family.' It was so sad to read that when they were there in 1953, 'Main Street positively bustled with businesses' and now they are all gone except for the Princess.
The total amount of money the federal government spends on its ex-presidents has risen from $160,000 in 1959 to an estimated $2.5 million in 2008. ... not counting Secret Service protection, which, in 2000, when four formers were living, cost nearly twenty-six million dollars altogether.
Just a year before Harry and Bess took their trip, my parents went on their own three-week road trip to Florida with another couple. My mother kept a little scrapbook which I treasure. I expect that Harry and Bess saw many of the same kinds of motels and restaurants during their travels.
Wouldn't you like to know what that pie was?
A pilgrimage for all Red Sox fans heading south, then and now.
That price has gone up a bit!
Enjoy that beer as you drive along!
This is wonderful book. It makes for reading that is informative and also great, great fun. I loved it. There's a website devoted to the book and the trip here. And if you'd like to learn more about Harry Truman, I highly recommend David McCullough's Truman.
This is my second book read for the Dewey Decimal Challenge 2012.