A Heat-Moon double
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
It has been 30 years since the publication of Blue Highways: A Journey Into America.
William Least Heat-Moons best-selling book about wandering and desire has been reissued in paperback. Accompanying that is a new hardbound collection of articles and essays published over the years, Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories From the Road.
Those who admire Heat-Moon know his regard for the magical state of being in transit. Before that there was the excitement of just being in print.
That first happened for Heat-Moon in July 1956, when 16-year-old William Trogdon of Kansas City submitted a letter to Speaking the Public Mind, the letters column of The Kansas City Star. His topic: the lack of sportsmanship exhibited by Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, who upon stepping on home plate after hitting his 400th home run a few days before had spit in the direction of the Fenway Park press box.
To be a fine athlete, it takes sportsmanship and ability, Trogdon wrote. Williams definitely has the latter; definitely not the former.
Not only was the letter published, it appeared alongside a drawing, rendered by a Star artist, depicting Williams standing next to a spittoon in the outfield.
The effect this had on Trogdon and his family was powerful.
It put the seed in the heads of all of us that I might have some kind of a career as a journalist, Heat-Moon said recently.
The letter and drawing are reprinted in Here, There, Elsewhere. If that event now seems to Heat-Moon a crucial career moment, there have been others. Among them, some 20 years later, was the assignment given him and several others enrolled in the photojournalism sequence at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
That was a total-immersion drop into Glasgow, a small Missouri River community in central Missouri.
The students task: approach the residents, discern the communitys prevailing narratives and then find the right the words and photographs to convey them.
I was enchanted with that experience, walking into a small community and finding a story, Heat-Moon said.
That was in October 1977.
He set out on his three-month, 11,000-mile driving tour of smaller communities on which Blue Highways would be based the following March.
Heat-Moon, of English, Irish and Osage ancestry, published the book under his pseudonym. The name was given him by his father and formally bestowed by the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, the honor camping organization operated by the Heart of America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
He avoids grand statements regarding the current state of the rural America he traveled back in 1978.
Its a mixed bag, he said.
Of all the things that have changed that I find worrisome, one is the continual sprawling of America. Even the small towns are losing their edges.
They dont stop anymore, they just sort of peter out.
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to email@example.com.