I got a note from Phil Cousineau the other day saying he had some “cool news” about his story, “The Oldest Road in the World,” from The Best Travel Writing 2006. We reprinted the piece from Phil’s book, The Book of Roads, and liked it so much we used it to close our book. Well, it turns out that the dude who was the inspiration for The Dude in the Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges, recently contacted him after reading Phil’s story.
“He gushed over the story,” Phil wrote, “said he’d bought five copies of The Best Travel Writing 2006 and actually read it out loud at several recent film meetings in Hollywood. I’m supposed to meet him when I’m down there again (more consultation work at Warner Brothers) and I’ll say hey for you.”
Why was The Dude so moved by Phil’s piece and what did he have to say about it? Here’s what he wrote:
I was traveling up the California Coast with my daughters, Keely and Annabelle and two of their friends, to see my father who had just sold his Russian Hill house in San Francisco so he can move to Bologna, Italy with his Italian wife for the rest of his life. Naturally we stopped at Big Sur. As we were walking barefoot on the warm sand path through a luscious meadow on the way to the magnificent Andrew Molera Beach, my eleven-year-old daughter, Annabelle, broke off from the girls to run forward and take my hand. Later as they frolicked in the surf, Annabelle looked up to see if I was watching her from the bluff above. I was.As cosmic coincidence would have it, that night, liberated from channel surfing, I discovered Phil Cousineau’s “The Oldest Road in the World” chapter in The Best Travel Writing 2006. Phil magically hop-scotches from Mary Leakey’s “larking about” and discovering the oldest road in the world and the significance of a mother’s antediluvian footprints to seeing himself as a four-year-old boy: “My hand is in my father’s. He is pulling me forward and I try to keep up, walking in his footprints in the hot sand, longing for the cool lake water…At the water’s edge he looks up to see if I am watching him. I am. His eyes leap with joy.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I connected the timeless dots between the mother on the oldest road; Phil and his father; my daughters, my father and me; and oh yes, Jack Kerouac. I am happy to say so did the four girls when I read them Phil’s story as they awoke to another blessed day on our shared planet. As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” It’s a miracle I discovered a miraculous writer, Phil Cousineau. But now I have to do some channel surfing.
Jeff “the Dude” Dowd
I can only echo The Dude’s praise, because as we all know, “The Dude abides.”
Larry Habegger is a writer, editor, journalist, and teacher who has been covering the world since his international travels began in the 1970s. A freelance writer for more than two decades and syndicated columnist since 1985, he has written for many major newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Travel & Leisure, andOutside. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and in 1993 founded the award-winning Travelers’ Tales books with James and Tim O’Reilly. He has worked on all of the company’s more than 90 titles and is currently executive editor. Larry’s safety and security column, World Travel Watch, has appeared in newspapers in five countries and on internet sites, including WorldTravelWatch.com. He regularly teaches the craft of personal travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family in San Francisco.