I’m at the final chapter of Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man, and here he joins a group of alluent Chinese business owners to take a scenic 500 km drive from Beijing to the Three Gorges Dam. The author gets to ride shotgun with Zhu, who drives like he’s in a NASCAR race every minute, using the breakdown lane to illegally pass anyone who is in his way.
Sometimes farmers in China use the roadside to dry out corn, or to let grain sit out, and so he’s constantly having to swerve back in. Conover is terrified as the car lurches down the crowded expressway…there are few rest areas, so he is lucky he’s a man who can pee behind a tree. Another passenger, his translator Li Lu asks a family and is pointed toward their outhouse. She gives them Beijing chocolates as a thank you. The club members apply stickers with numbers on their SUVs to indicate their allegiance with the club.
When Conover is asked to drive, he’s surprised, because in this part of China foreigners aren’t allowed to take the wheel. They go past an unmarked road and are suddenly pulled over…”You can’t go any further in that direction,” an army soldier says. Missiles are there, to protect the newly finished Three Gorges Dam. He has to turn back…but later they realize the cops go home at sundown, so he can forge ahead.
At night he’s bunking down with Zhu, who is a chain smoker who can’t sleep without the TV turned up full blast. Conover hears him snoring and tries to turn off the set…and finds the remote jammed way under Zhu’s naked ass. Does he reach for it? He does, and is relieved when the snorer rolls over.