There comes a point in life when your bucket list has narrowed down to a single item, and that’s just where John and Ella Robina find themselves in The Leisure Seeker. She’s riddled with cancer, his mind’s in tatters from the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, but over the protests of their kids and doctors, they decide to take their camper van—and what’s left of their dreams—on one final great adventure: a cross-country trip from Detroit to Disneyland, on the fabled Route 66.
Michael Zadoorian, author of Second Hand and The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, serves up an affectionate, clear-eyed peek at a pair of self-styled “down-on-their-luck geezers” who just aren’t ready to go gentle into that good night. Zadoorian’s real-life struggle with his father’s case of Alzheimer’s informs the story in a funny, sad, poignant way that cuts very close to the bone.
John and Ella aren’t saints and they aren’t fools; they’re just a couple of middle-class folks who worked hard, raised a family, hung together in good times and bad, and came to the realization that the clock that has already run out on so many of their friends and acquaintances is ticking louder for them with each succeeding sunrise. While many of their adventures would be tame by the standards of Bourdain, Iyer or Theroux, the Robinas encounter a few genuinely life-threatening situations, handled with the quietly tenacious aplomb of a couple who have spent a lifetime in the shark-infested waters of suburbia. And the moments of tenderness that pass between the AARP-card-carrying pair are achingly sweet without ever straying into Hallmark territory.
As John notes, in his suite at the Flagstaff Radisson, “This is the life,” to which his wife acerbically rejoins, “What’s left of it.” Here’s to hoping we all handle our last days so well.
Thane Tierney lives in Los Angeles, not even a day’s journey from Disneyland.