For more than thirty years, journalist and author Martin J. Smith has traveled the American West, chasing offbeat stories that often are bizarre, always compelling, and at times profound. His journey through that oft-idealized and misunderstood landscape has made him a witness to some of the West’s most interesting places, people, and events, from his Valentine’s Day at Nevada’s Mustang Ranch brothel to the deathbed of a man who spent three decades building two 150-ton concrete dinosaurs in the desert; from the eviction of a fading rock star from his mansion to the guitar king’s improbable resurrection more than a decade later; from the final rampage of an unlikely Colorado martyr to his marathon stint watching the driver’s ed snuff films of the California Highway Patrol. He spent a lot of time in the only pet cemetery in idyllic Orange County, Calif.
This collection of essays, often told with the wisdom and perspective of a writer looking back, chronicles in vivid detail the heroes, heels, and cultural spasms of an endlessly fascinating frontier. Smith hits the road with marginalized astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, and dives into the middle of a corporate and existential crisis at Sea World, where friendly mascot Shamu had just drowned its trainer. He tests open water swimming with a Southern California woman who eventually swam to Antarctica. He exposes the huckster behind the worldwide Whaling Wall fraud, tours L.A. with a tireless band of Japanese honeymooners, visits the factory where the world’s finest fake rocks are made, and retrieves balls for the seventysomething podiatrist who holds the world record for basketball freethrow shooting.
Martin J. Smith is a journalist, magazine editor and winner of more than fifty newspaper and magazine writing awards. A former senior editor of The Los Angeles Times Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Orange Coast, the magazine of Orange County, Calif., he’s the author of five critically acclaimed suspense thrillers, including Time Release, Shadow Image, The Disappeared Girl, Straw Men, a 2002 Edgar Award nominee, and the more recent Combustion. He also has authored or co-authored three nonfiction books, including The Wild Duck Chase, upon which the award-winning 2016 documentary film “The Million Dollar Duck” is based, and with Patrick J. Kiger wrote two nonfiction books of pop-culture history, including Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore That Shaped Modern America, and OOPS: 20 Life Lessons From the Fiascoes That Shaped America. After more than three decades as a journalist in Southern California, he currently lives and writes in Granby, Colorado.