Millions of Americans will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, and Charles Kuralt will be . . . well, the CBS commissary isn't that bad. Honest. At least he'll be off the road.
He and co-anchor Lesley Stahl will be working as usual on "America Tonight," the late-night CBS News series that began in October as an outgrowth of CBS' specials on the Persian Gulf crisis.Kuralt, who reckons he has logged a million miles for the "On the Road" tales of American life he's done for the "CBS Evening News" since 1967, returned last week from three weeks of campaigning and working.
The campaign was a publicity tour for his fifth book, "A Life on the Road," a chronicle of his youth and life at CBS since he joined the network as a writer in 1957.
Unlike most scriveners wandering the book-tour desert, Kuralt, 56, continued at his regular job. He co-anchored "America Tonight" from Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It was an experience as odd as it was exhausting, he reports: "I'd run around and praise myself all day, then work on that show all night."
He also continued anchoring "CBS News Sunday Morning."
The campaign and tour wouldn't have come to pass had he not agreed to write "A Life" after his last book, the best-selling "On the Road With Charles Kuralt," a collection of the road pieces he'd done for CBS.
It helped, though, that he took the liberty of spending the advance for the new book before writing it: "Of course. Don't you always? First, you spend the advance. Then, finally, you learn you have to write the book."
The last is a horrible moment for most authors. Facing the prospect of demands for a return of the publisher's advance money, they commence tussling with the muse.
Thanks to the patience of his publisher, Kuralt's tussle came in bits and pieces, then in a flurry of typewriter-pounding when the publisher said the book was coming out this fall, ready or not.
The book emerged three years after Kuralt agreed to write it. It got a nice pre-publication boost last month when the New York Times' travel section excerpted part of it.
Suprisingly, the part didn't concern the reports on small-town America for which Kuralt is best known.
Instead, it was his lamentation that it's no fun to fly on airlines anymore, that travellers face cramped seats, unsmiling flight attendants and airport "hubs" that are little more than treadmills to oblivion.
He readily agreed with a suggestion that the fun started to fade when propeller-driven DC-7s were phased out and the era of jets, particularly jumbo jets, began.
Maybe it's his age, he said, but, "I used to find flying somewhere kind of romantic. Now it's become an ordeal."
There is the possibility that next year, Kuralt may return not to airlines, but to his CBS bus.
There could be more "On the Road" pieces - his last was in January - should CBS decide at the end of December to park its half-hour "America Tonight" series.
Of what will happen, Kuralt said, "I don't know for sure. I assume that it depends on part on events in the Persian Gulf, if that heats up. That's just my assumption. Nobody's ever told me that.
"But the word is that it's going to go off the air (at the end of the year) because the network has all these action-adventure shows they want to try out in that time period."
He referred to the fact that CBS is considering installing a revolving set of series in January against NBC's "Tonight," ABC News' "Nightline" and Arsenio Hall's syndicated ventures in admiring visiting celebrities.
(No decision has been made yet and "America Tonight" "has not been told definitely that it's off at the end of December," a CBS spokeswoman said.)
If the series continues, "I'm going do this as long as it's on, or as long as they want me to," Kuralt said.
But if it gets a closing notice, the bus on which he does his "On the Road" pieces is parked in Chicago, "waiting for me to come back to work if I can manage it. And that's my fervent hope.
"Because that's the thing I've enjoyed most - wandering around and doing those little stories."