Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: June 21, 1997
A work by Irv Thomas in 23 chapters, 126 printed pages and 130,000 words.
In 1991, at the age of 64, Irv made a truly amazing trip through Europe, much of it by power of thumb. He chronicles that trip in this very expertly produced book. Irv has a flair for the literary and writes in a comfortable and readable style. He presents his story more or less as it happens, one week to a chapter. The presentation is a stark contrast to Marty's (The First League) though none the less interesting, if anything a little easier to read.
One of the gems in this book, for me, is at the very start, the story of Irv's hitch down the West Coast of the United States. A gem purely because it is the strongest and most current account I have seen that hitching is still alive and well in America. All the stories I found (for this series of reviews) relate to European hitching, even this book for the greater part, and I am consistently exposed to rumours that hitching has died in America, something I steadfastly refuse to believe. Well you can imagine that I take heart at Irv's account of it.
Like Marty, Irv uses his book as a playground for presenting his philosophies, and rightly so. Such is the bent of many a hitch-hiker, with much time and cause to think about how we all relate to one another. Unlike Marty, neither Irv's focus nor his theme is primarily hitch-hiking. Hitching to Irv is less the topic for discussion so much as a given facet of his whole persona, which is (the topic for discussion).
Irv's greatest passion is Providence. Irv's Providence is essentially Jung's Synchronicity and Redfield's First Insight, the idea that what we call 'co-incidence' and all too readily dismiss as happenstance, can carry meanings and messages. Like Jung, Irv has a passion for the Chinese book of changes the I'Ching. To Irv, the driver who stops is not a random selection of the passing traffic, it is the meaningful selection of Providence.
Irv has a parallel passion for seasons, his metaphor for the cyclic nature of everything around and within us. That we can live in harmony with those cycles, to our benefit, is a firm conviction of his. He uses the four seasons metaphorically, to describe the cycles of our own spirit. "Winter," he says "is a season that resides inside of us -- as they all do."
Irv lives by his creed. In his 40's he resigned his position as a computer professional, turned his life over to Providence to live in harmony with the Seasons. He's been living on the edge ever since, touching poverty on occasion. One of the major themes to this book is how he managed to pass the summer in Europe on less than $100 a week!
Indeed, while I may prefer other labels, different metaphors, Irv's central themes sit well with me, and his presentation of them is most invigorating. I suspect our choice of label and metaphor is in no small part reflective of our generation and our culture.
Perhaps the greatest mystery of this book, is its title Innocence Abroad. Irv is no more innocent than any of us. To believe so would be to mistake the displacement of culpabilities with their dissolution. To be sure, he is not guilty of the same derilictions as the modern yuppie, but he has his own to deal with, all the same. I've never been a great fan of the self-congratulation that term innocence seems to carry with it when Irv applies it to himself.
In the end, Irv's situation is no more or less the product of his own choices and machinations than the rest of ours. Providence, at best, helps him to form decisions, but the course of his life is the product of those decisions, knowingly formed. Of course, he is innocent of many things; we all are, we haven't the time to be guilty of everything, and I expect Irv's thinking of those things when he feels innocent.
Innocent or not, Innoncence Abroad is well worth a read, not least of all because it does illustrate what is possible with strength of spirit in place of money, but also because it presents a very thought provoking and praiseworthy view of the world, in a light and easy to read text. I read it keenly, and I loved it, and I think you might, too ... Irv is a real character in this world of ours. You have to love him for it.