ADVENTURE TALES THRILL THROUGH THEIR WRITING

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Adventure floods the magazine racks for March, beginning with the 30 "ambitious" ones that lead Men's Journal. But there are more thrilling accounts, both foreign and domestic, in Esquire and American Heritage, respectively.

The former, by Scott Carrier, is the result of a dream assignment: Esquire editors sent him to find the fishing story of his dreams. What he finds isn't what the headline promises - "the greatest fishing story ever told" - but it's pretty darn good.
 
If he's to be taken at his words, Carrier decides to head off for remote reaches in southwest China without learning whether there are any fish to be caught there. More than adventurous, that seems dumb, especially when someone else is paying, but the thrill is in going rather than in arriving, so that proves not to taint the story.

What is crucial, of course, is that Carrier knows how to tell a story, confirming again that travel writing depends less on the travel and more on the writing.

And so it is with Dale Wasserman's remembrances in American Heritage of hoboing around America during the '30s. His story begins in Estherville, Iowa, in 1930; he's 14, his parents have died, and "the Road" stretches before him. The locales - Blunt, S.D., and Chadron, Neb., and midway between Rawlins and Rock Springs, Wyo. - are the least of it.

Wasserman can write - a fact certified long before now by works such as "Man of La Mancha" - and what he presents is riveting, as he describes a yard bull's sadistic enforcement of railroad property rights: "I don't see it coming. Only know a blinding flash of light, cold and scintillating. And a clang in my head followed by a fast, nauseating vibration. . . . The pain has not reached its apex. What I feel is shame, shame in the stupidity of not recognizing danger while there was a chance to avoid it."

A CHILD'S LIFE

Train travel from a bygone era is also the vehicle for affecting reading in the winter issue of Doubletake. It is the tale of Arthur Smith, a man who knows neither his real birthday nor his original family name. He was born in New York City, but his story took him at a young age to Clarinda, Iowa, where he was raised by strangers who became family.

Smith is one of more than 100,000 children who were taken from the streets of New York and placed on south- and westbound trains for resettlement by the Children's Aid Society between 1853 and the Depression.

Smith extols his mother, and unashamedly laments that it was his father, not her, who lived to be 96. Here, it isn't the writing that impresses; it's the experience and the authenticity.

In this issue, see also John Hozaepfel's essay on finding his father in the fiction of William Maxwell, and the odd, deep relationship the discovery spawned.

ONLINE OFFERINGS

The wired world keeps spewing out new magazines at such a terrific rate that it is difficult to keep up. Brand new for March - well, sort of - is On, formerly known as Time Digital. The relaunch has already accomplished its first aim by drawing attention to itself; I never looked at Time Digital.

Alas, I don't terribly care if I see it again. It has a couple of worthy features, such as its story on people who enter chat rooms expressly so they can flamethrow, rather than engage in legitimate discourse. But the bulk of it is uninspired, such as its investigation of instant messaging, in which the immortal words are uttered: "What makes it so compelling is that it's instant."

Another good point in On is its AOL monthly program guide, one loud example of the vaunted synergy that's supposed to justify the huge price paid in the AOL-Time Warner merger. What I like is that it's a self-contained supplement, well suited to quick and easy disposal.

What's in Inside is much better, beginning with its cover story on Henry Yuen. My reaction was "Henry who?" but I soon learned that he's your typical billionaire changing the world. I'd heard of his company, Gemstar-TV Guide, and most everyone is familiar with his first invention, VCR Plus, but of himself I knew nothing, which writer Christopher Noxon says would have been Yuen's preference.

The article does more than just put Yuen on the attention grid. Now that he's conquered his corner of television, he's embarking on his non-TV vision to take the paper out of book publishing, which he calls "the last standing legacy of yesteryear's media." It seems such an obvious idea, and achievable for a guy with his wherewithal and will, not to mention his willingness to sue.

Inside also visits Richard Garriott, an exemplar of that other '00s archetype, the garage-grown programming genius who helped create an industry. Garriott was in his early 20s when he began devising the Ultima series, which now is a cornerstone of the online, multiplayer game industry, one of the few endeavors that has vast cadres ofcomputerheads eager to pay for Internet content.

Though I'm still trying to figure out why the triptych of Garriott photos shows him barechested and underwater, that's a nit to pick while applauding Inside's double helping of things I didn't know.

PILL POPPER

Jane continues to amuse, as well as inform. One March morsel is the result of Esther Haynes's downing dozens of pills that collectively promise to help her "get skinny, busty, sexy, and super tan!!!" The format on each wonder drug describes the ad, describes the uniformly unimpressive reality, and ends with "boo-hoo, don't sue."

The FDA and the manufacturer each get their say, and then the editors add disclaimers that one suspects aren't intended to disclaim, such as for a "fat burner": "Esther's own experiments were highly unscientific, so her results may not reflect the typical effects of ephedra. In fact, why don't you just disregard everything she says?"