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“Mabel” is an illustrated, humorous tale of three unusual characters, in an eccentric old roadster, trying to survive the unexpected dangers they encounter as they explore the back roads of Western America, far from civilization. It started as a simple vacation trip but transforms into a life changing adventure that will take you to places you’ve never been before. Meet Everett, he’s an Artist and a two hundred and twenty pound roly-poly package of fun and wit. He, with his two friends, the all too serious Engineer, Jon, and the wily, straight from the back woods mountain-man, Clark, are on a several thousand mile vacation trip to Canada and back. This unusual trio discover many unusual sights including, Ghost Towns, grand vistas and adventure on the twisty, two lane roads that wind through the hidden California forests, Oregon lakes, and Washington mountains. However, they seriously tempt fate when they decide to use Clark’s Honda Gold Wing and Jon’s thirty year old, open cockpit English sports car to make the trip on those little used back roads. Along the way they face many unexpected challenges, not least of which proves to be the car that carries them from adventure to adventure. With a mind of her own, Mabel turns out to be the unexpected fourth, and very female, member of the party. But suddenly they find themselves all alone, in the middle of one of the greatest raging forest fires to ever hit the mountains of Western America, the Firestorm of 1987. Miles from nowhere, they discover their lives depend on this temperamental old car with a personality. But, will Mabel want to save them from one of the greatest firestorms in history?
Mabel! is the detailed chronicle of a 1987 road trip from northern California to Washington State, on to Victoria, Canada, and then back. Two friends, Jon C. Rogers (Spaceship Handbook) and Everett L. Jennings, drove Jon’s classic Jaguar northwest from Belmont, California, visiting parks and wilderness, ghost towns, family members, plus plenty of bars and restaurants. Mabel is the car, the source of the book’s title and what the authors’ refer to as the trip’s personified “feline” (read: female) presence. The duo is often joined by friend and motorcyclist Clark, who contributes a chapter. The nine-day trip mostly sticks to plan but ends with an apocalyptic drive through the California wildfires known as the “Fire Siege of 1987.”

Overall, Mabel is a straightforward, colorful narrative that employs its roadster camaraderie to create a shared sense of joy (Jennings on the thrill of passing through Everett, Washington: “If you’ve always lived with a name that is not at all common, and you get thrown into a place where all you see is your name, you get a little giddy.”) Still, the sense of momentum ebbs and flows. The late Jennings wrote much of the book not long after the original trip, and Rogers, who promised to complete the manuscript and see it published, has updated the account, offering greater detail in the vein of a travel guide. He honors Jennings’ work but hasn’t thoroughly edited it to condense protracted play-by-plays or eliminate redundancies.

Jennings and Rogers experience frequent car troubles and moments of drama and awe, but some retrograde humor limits this adventure’s appeal, such as the suggestion that out of feminine jealousy the car, Mabel, intentionally “runs off” its owner’s dates. Still, descriptions of classic cars and America’s last wild places shine through this account that reads less like a polished memoir than a series of travel diaries.

Takeaway: Road trippers (and classic car enthusiasts) will find points of interest in this account of a 1987 West Coast journey.

Great for fans of: The Road Trip Book: 1000 Drives of a Lifetime, Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: C
Marketing copy: B