A fractured twist on The Pilgrim’s Progress, the book describes the first-person narrator’s six-thousand-mile automotive odyssey that covers two weeks and twelve casinos.
Chuck Stevenson, a mid-level manager for a large, high-tech corporation, has recently been laid off after twenty-five years of devoted service. Chuck likes to gamble. His estranged wife, Bernie, doesn’t share Chuck’s fascination with casino activities. She is a psychologist at a North Carolina high school, and she is used to being in charge. Chuck, on the other hand, is an engineer by personality and a dreamer by choice. Although he is pragmatic, he is not necessarily aware of all that goes on around him. Consequently he misses a lot of underlying meaning in the world he visits on his self-designed pilgrimage. The reader, hopefully, is more prescient than Chuck.
The journey covers a lot of middle-American territory and a lot of thoughtful philosophy, dealing with wealth-based versus joy-based factors in the decision-making process. Chuck narrates his story with humor and wit, although he doesn’t always fully appreciate the nature of the joke. Driving from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Las Vegas, Nevada, he sees the trip as a much-needed escape from personal responsibility, a chance to take a long look at the loss of a once-promising career, and time to consider what meaning may lie in the woes of a shattered marriage. Along the way the reader is treated to some surprising lessons in American history, instructions on the finer points of casino gambling, and Chuck’s insider’s reviews of accommodations from riverboat casinos to elegant gambling resorts—as well as a cast of colorful characters from whose stories Chuck derives some essential lessons.
At a critical turning point in Lake Tahoe, Chuck realizes his dreams of finding fame, fortune, and a dollop of self-respect in the Old Wild West are figments of an overactive imagination, and he makes a sharp U-turn back to the real world. The book culminates in a job interview for Chuck with a PC-game development company—based partly on his success with Star Wars slot machines—and a reconciliation of sorts for Chuck and Bernie.