Travels with Vamper

A Graybeard's Journey

Non-Fiction - Memoir
206 Pages
Reviewed on 12/31/2017
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Author Biography

George Critchlow is an emeritus professor who taught law at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington for many years. He is also an experienced trial lawyer who has represented low-income clients in matters ranging from alleged murder and bank robbery to civil rights violations, immigration law, employment disputes, consumer protection claims, and divorces. He has taught international human rights law and consulted in Europe, South America, and the Middle East. He enjoys travel, golf, Gonzaga basketball, and good scotch.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite

For fans of adventure, travel, and memoirs, Travels with Vamper: A Graybeard’s Journey by George Critchlow contains amazing surprises, great entertainment and a rare injection of humor in the narrative that will compel readers to keep on turning the pages. After four decades of teaching law and lawyering, the author gets a deal that literally sets him financially free, and he embarks on the journey of a lifetime across the country, to everyone’s astonishment, including friends and his wife. Right off the bat he warns that: “I also wanted to drive, just drive. Drive in a mercurial way, drive intuitively, drive the country's back roads through deserts and mountains — away from the airports, hotels and conference rooms that had insulated my professional travel for decades.” But this book isn’t just about someone driving across the country; the journey takes on surprising perspectives and plunges the reader into the heart of a powerful reflection on the American conundrum.

Travels with Vamper: A Graybeard's Journey offers readers a fresh perspective on travel, putting them into contact with a diversity of people, confronting them with the political and social issues that affect American life. It is set against the backdrop of the socio-political environment, at a time when Donald Trump was pushing on through the Republican primaries and Sanders was making promises of free college education for all. The reader accompanies the traveler as he faces physical challenges while casting a critical look at events unfolding before him. George Critchlow has an inimitable style of writing and his narrative voice, strong and ebullient, is loaded with humor, and readers will appreciate the satire that comes across strongly most of the time. Here is a book that tells a story, but that also forces the reader to laugh and think at the same time. Apart from the beauty of the prose and the vivid setting, this memoir is loaded with facts and questions that will excite the minds of readers. Hugely entertaining!

Jack Magnus

Travels with Vamper: A Graybeard's Journey is a nonfiction memoir written by George Critchlow. Critchlow had not been even remotely considering retirement when the Jesuit University, where he had been teaching law, offered him a buy-out of his tenured position. He did take the check that was offered, however, and then had to consider what to do with the rest of his life. If anything, he was determined not to regret having left his past work life behind. In a blaze of insight, he decided that it was time for an adventure, a road trip. He would go on the road and experience America, see what was out there, try to understand how Americans could have gotten so divided in a world where Trump had a real chance at the nomination and the presidency, and visit the historical places he had read about. After experiencing sticker shock at the prices newer camper vans were fetching, he travelled 300 miles to see an older Ford Coachmen that passed a mechanic’s inspection and felt exactly right. It being a new toy, his first job was to master everything there was to learn about campers, including the awful mysteries of black and gray water and the electrical system. With that knowledge under his belt, he was off to discover his country and his future.

Travels with Vamper is an absolute delight to read, and I’ll break with my tradition in reviewing books and say, right off the bat, that I hope Critchlow considers writing more books as part of his new life. Travels with Vamper is travelogue, history, memoir and sociological survey, and it all meshes so smoothly and effortlessly together. I loved learning more about Native Americans and the impact that expansion in the West had on them, even as I relished following the author’s trail as he recreated Lewis and Clark’s expedition. The part of the book which detailed his experiences in New Orleans was masterful in conveying the magic and essence of the city. And the nature writing Critchlow includes as he shares his camping experiences in state and national parks had me yearning for the great outdoors and making plans to visit a number of the places he mentions.

Critchlow also discusses law in depth, his father’s practice and his own decades as a law professor and lawyer. He describes his first day on the job where his father sends him right out to the local jail to see a client, and I marvelled at how well Gonzaga Law School had prepared him for that day. Reading how he continued that clinical approach to the study of law was so inspiring and such a grand departure from the approach other law schools take. His accounts of clients and their cases are fascinating and yet another aspect of this most remarkable memoir which all too soon, and regrettably, ends. Anyone considering law should put this on their list of readings; it’s one of the best intros to law out there as far as I’m concerned. Travels with Vamper: A Graybeard's Journey is a remarkable memoir. It’s a dream to read, and along the way the reader gets to experience American highways and small towns, learn some history, settle in for a succession of evenings under the stars and get to know a new friend, someone definitely worth knowing. It’s most highly recommended.

Joel R. Dennstedt

Travels With Vamper: A Graybeard’s Journey by George Critchlow is purportedly a contemporary riff on John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, each a reportage of sorts about miscellaneous encounters experienced while on a solo road trip across the U.S.A. True to the authentic nature of such road trips, Critchlow’s account involves much more than simple, direct connections between alternative destinations. This book is at the same time a series of spontaneous recollections, autobiographical anecdotes, philosophical reflections, historical insights, and an investigative inquiry into the political portents and inclinations of a country poised on the brink – depending on your point of view – of dreadful or benignant change. After all, this is the age of Trump.

George Critchlow is a recently retired lawyer and law professor, a baby boomer who remains ambivalent about his idealistic concessions to a materialistic world, and who seeks some clarity and perspective while traveling contemporary America in his equally aged camper. Travels With Vamper is not the heavy reading one might imagine from my description, but it is filled with the intelligence and thoughtfulness derived from an educational foundation typical of the baby boomer generation. It radiates the emotional disillusionment this generation feels after crashing from its idealistic highs, ambitious hopes, and liberal dreams, a generation who sincerely wished to make America great again. Critchlow is not opposed to probing our nation’s varied populace for their political motivations, but he is less inclined toward the clear optimism of his youth after hearing their shallow, uninformed, but passionate responses. Travels With Vamper is less a reasoned argument or closing statement than it is a highly reasonable inquiry into – and a revelation about – what happened to us between then and now.