Travels With Steinbeck


Travels with Max available now.

It is with great joy that I announce that Travels with Max:In Search of Steinbeck’s America Fifty Years Later—the story of the 15,000 mile trip I took with my dog Max in the fall of 2009 retracing Steinbeck’s route made famous in Travels with Charley—is available at the website of my publisher, Blaine Creek Press. Blaine Creek’s address is http://www.blainecreek.com/books. See cover below. Enjoy the read and the ride! Happy Travels!

Greg Zeigler


Travels with Max

Travels with Max: In Search of Steinbeck's America Fifty Years Later—Cover.


Wrapping the Trip That Took Me.*

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

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Best Western, Buda, Texas. The flags say it all.

It is Monday November 9th, and I’m on my way home. This Friday when I arrive in Jackson it will have been 68 days on the road and approximately 15,000 miles around America—an adventure of a lifetime.

What lies ahead? I left barely knowing how to post to a blog and am returning with close to 265 fans on the Travels with Steinbeck Facebook page (and I appreciate every one of you—really, I do.) In short, I have learned so much on this trip. The support of friends, new and old, and the interest from so many blog followers is humbling beyond belief. For years I labored alone with this dream (with the obvious exception of Dimmie’s unwavering support). Now, I’ve been joined by my brother, David as we work to raise funds for a documentary of this trip—and all of you.

What lies ahead is a book—to be completed early next spring—a documentary film, if the funding can be secured, and a teacher’s guide. In the last two months, I spoke with the students at ten schools about John Steinbeck, his life and work, and my adventure—and I would love to continue with that. It was pure joy to share my passion for Steinbeck and this pilgrimage with so many. The students were wonderful.

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Bambi got a bath in Buda.

Here are a few highs and lows:

Best Commercial Digs: Bishop Farm Bed and Breakfast, Lisbon, New Hampshire.

Worst Commercial Digs: Too Kute-KOA, Canaan, Maine, (signs that refer to “tinkle” and “poop”).

Best Camp: KOA, Lewiston, New York.

Worst Camp: Tye RV, Tye, Texas (planes, trains and automobiles).

Best Road Sign: Sign on steep mountain road above Georgetown, Colorado. “Truckers—no brakes? Stay on I-70! Do not exit into town!” (crash somewhere else).

Worst Road Sign: “325 miles to El Paso” (Texas).

Most Amazing Steinbeck Revelation: “Dad hadn’t ever camped prior to the Charley trip.” Thomas Steinbeck.

Most Amazing Realization: It might seem obvious but television does not accurately reflect the mood of this great country, nor our people. I never heard a word spoken in anger. I never witnessed an angry gesture.

What Are Americans Like Today? Hopeful, caring, optimistic, positive, still dreaming.

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I'm thinking we could use that blessing 24/7.

Worst Day: Knocked the trailer off the blocks trying to hook up on the Santa Barbara to San Diego day, and it went downhill from there.

Best Day: Yes sir! Big Sur!

Best Country and Western Lyric. “I know what I was feelin’ but what was I thinkin’?”

Best Meal: Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans.

Worst Meal: Various and sundry “hot” motel breakfasts.

Coldest Temperature: 23 degrees and snowing in Western North Dakota.

Warmest Temperature: 93 degrees and sunny in San Diego.

Sweetest Connection: The Acadian/Cajun link—French spoken in northern Maine and western Louisiana.

Most Surprisingly Beautiful Terrain: Both Eastern Kansas and Central Texas delighted me.

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Many thanks to many kids of all ages for riding along.

The Thing We As Americans Most Need to Remember.  We are fighting, and our young people are dying, in two wars.

The Thing We Should Most Appreciate as Americans. The beauty and diversity of this “monster land” and of her people.

Change that Steinbeck Would Find Most Encouraging. Several of our major waterways, such as the Niagara River, have recovered from past abuse.

Change That Steinbeck Would Find Most Discouraging. Casinos—they are ubiquitous.

Best State Slogan. New Mexico. “Land of Enchantment.”

Best State Flag. Texas Lone Star (so sad to see it at half-mast).

Best Advice. “Remember who wrote it.” Gail Steinbeck

Worst Advice. “Just take a left, a right, two lefts and another right.”

Would I Do it Again? I would, I really would (if Dimmie would come with me).Max -profileTWS

My Hero. My man, Max.  David Swift photo to right.

My Mentor and Guide. JS (I bade him farewell in New Orleans when I turned back to the west).

Sweet Notes: So, so many wonderful warm supportive gestures. So many warm wonderful people. I am humbled, and I am grateful.

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Best photo: Kiva, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.


Les Gens de Couleur Libres.*

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”Cajun food in Sulphur, Louisiana.

The Route: Somewhere around Exit 875 on I-10, Texas stopped messin’ with me and I entered the whole different world of Louisiana. I followed 10 all the way to New Orleans, stopping in Sulphur, LA for Cajun boudin (boo-dan) and a crawfish peaux boy at Richards (Ree-shards) Boudin and Seafood.

The Landscape: I crossed the Black Bayou just after entering Louisiana and later cruised along 14 miles of interstate-on-stilts across Henderson Swamp, part of the Atchafalaya Basin east of Lafayette. It was only the second time I had ever seen a swamp (the first was sea kayaking with my two sons in South Carolina). Swamps are fascinating biological wonders. Trees with several species of raptors perched in high limbs shot up seemingly right out of the blue/gray water. An occasional swamp boat motored around the tiny islands.  It has been beautiful balmy weather here in the low 70s.

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A ferry docking on the Mississippi in New Orleans.

The Steinbeck Connection: In late November, 1960, when Steinbeck visited New Orleans, he was preoccupied by a vicious display of bigotry know in the national media as “The Cheerleaders.”  The Cheerleaders were adult white women who heckled and harassed small black children attempting to integrate public schools. I visited the Main Branch of the New Orleans Public Library and studied both the white and black press from around November 14, 1960, the first day of the federally mandated desegregation. Thirty percent of white students were absent, most with parental consent, during the first few days of integration. The Louisianan Weekly described the protest activity as “jeers, catcalls, screaming uncomplimentary epithets, and waving crudely printed, misspelled signs.” The Times-Picayune described the greeting the U.S. Marshalls received escorting the “negro children” to schools as “hooting and hollering, booing and name-calling, but without the threat of violence.” What is most striking about the newspaper accounts of events of that pivotal time is that the black children and their parents stated that they were not afraid.

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A wedding march on Bourbon Street with a white groom and a black bride.

It was clear that, in 2009, I was not going to witness this sort of virulent bigotry in this most tolerant and diverse of American cities. However, there are ads running on TV featuring sports celebrities calling for interracial tolerance in this region. Also, Sean Olivier of Olivier’s Creole Restaurant (the gumbo was delicious), a drop-dead handsome man typical of mixed races (think Tiger and Barrack) informed me that when he stands outside his French Quarter Restaurant in a shirt and tie, some white visitors cross the street to avoid him. Pierre La France, also a Creole of Color, who has been driving cabs for New Orleans for over 40 years, never attended an integrated school as a child. He remembers riding on busses to baseball games—when white boys entered the bus, he was expected to move to the back. “My children and grandchildren wouldn’t stand for it today. Things have changed, thank God. But it was 200 years of captivity and we are still not all the way there.”

My brother David and I agreed that the Baptist Church leader, who hosts the “Jews Killed Jesus” and  “God Hates Fags” websites, represents the frontline of vicious bigotry today. In fact, they are

planning a protest of the Fort Hood Memorial Service because the U.S. Military is “fag-infested.” David and I have both attended events that were protested by the infamous group. One of David’s photos is at right—sad, sad indeed.

Words cannot describe...

 

 

I was curious about the lingering effect of Katrina. Sean Olivier said it is depressing—his mother’s house is the only one on her block that has been reoccupied. Many houses are still being razed because it is often cheaper than trying to remodel. I spoke with an African American man named Philip who was painting an iron fence on St. Charles Street. Philip said he had to leave his home in the 9th ward during the storm and returned after 3 days to find water over his head. Philip feels New Orleans is still only 75% back to normal.

The Dog: Although Max has not gone crazy here in the city like he did in San Francisco, by now he must have memorized every pee-gram in the alley next to the The Best Western-St. Christopher Hotel were we are staying. We certainly have moseyed up and down the alley enough times, stopping at every scent. Oh, I get it. He’s just picking up on the pace of the south and the city, walking with all the urgency of an elderly Louisiana gentleman on the way to nowhere in particular.

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An eclectic celebration on the Riverwalk in New Orleans in support of Sous Terre (Dirt Money), a foundation dedicated to removing the lead from the soil.

Sweet Notes: After journeying successfully for over 12,000 miles, I felt it was time to pay my respects to St. Christopher. I stayed in the Best Western-St. Christopher Hotel in New Orleans, just two blocks from the French Quarter. The St. Christopher resides in an historic brick building built on property Paul Tulane gave to Tulane University in 1882. The original bricks are exposed in the comfortable and well-appointed rooms. My well-lit suite had four floor-to-ceiling windows including one in the bathroom, looking out over the city.

I am long overdue thanking my good hiking buddy David Swift for his excellent photographs, which launched my little pal and me on this trip. Thanks for riding along David.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

*”Free People of Color,” known today as “Creoles of Color” or simply “Creoles.”

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Best Western-St. Christopher on Magazine Street.


Still Messin’ with Texas.

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

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I examine the cotton tassels on my mud flaps after driving through Texas cotton country.

The Route: After leaving Amarillo, Steinbeck passed through Sweetwater, Balinger, Austin and, after bypassing Houston, Beaumont.  As is often the case when angling North to South across a state, he followed country roads, as did I. Although too numerous to mention, those roads were a fine way to see the Lone Star State. Max and I spent the night in Beaumont, near exit 851 and not yet too Louisiana.

The Landscape:. Just as soon as you feel you have Texas pegged, it changes. In general, the state  is more lush and tree-covered, such as with pin oaks, than expected. In terms of landscape there are many  faces to Texas, but the people only present one—exceptionally friendly and helpful. Somewhere in Central Texas I felt like I passed from the Western U.S. into the South.

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Texas folks takin' the high road.

Profile: I made my miles to Beaumont, Texas by 7:30 p.m. and after taking care of Max, walked to Joe’s Crab Shack with three things on my mind; seafood, beer and baseball.  All that was forgotten when I met a very charming barkeep named Krista. I knew she was local and I was back in the South when I heard her say, “do what?” as a way of saying “say that again, please.” Krista explained that Beaumont was just a “huge small town of 250,000.” She is 23 and has been tending bar for 5 years. Four little Texan boys sat near the other end of the bar in their baseball uniforms and watched the game while bantering with Krista (I overheard one remark about the Joe’s Crab Shack slogan stretched across her chest —”Bite Me.”  The boys swilled something out of a dark bottle—root beer perhaps. When I suggested that the characters at the other end of the bar might have had too much to drink. Krista said they had been cut off  after one beer. “Texas law, she said, if you can’t see over the bar you only get one beer.” Krista’s boyfriend recently moved to Florida and she says it is hard to maintain a relationship from 5 states away.  Krista likes the Yankee pitcher because he used to play for the Astros.  She likes football too. Krista has all the well-know qualities of a southern belle.  She is blonde, cute, and smiley-warm as a southern summer night. She also possesses the best kept secret of many southern belles, she is very smart. Of Mice and Men was her favorite book in high school. She really got the relationship, the dream, the tragedy. She wrote several papers about it.  When I told her it was one of  Steinbeck’s most banned books, she remembered  parents of schoolmates who complained about the language. I heard her commiserate with an angry co-worker in an “I’m Feeling Crabby,” t-shirt who had been jerked around by customers and then left a 2-buck tip.  Pretty tough, Krista said, when you’re only paid $2.16 an hour plus tips. Krista reminded me that Texans “bleed orange” for the Longhorns and presented me with a gift, an orange Joe’s Crab Shack shirt. Today, I’ll drive to New Orleans, bleeding orange, thanks to Krista.

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Planes, trains and automobiles.

So as not to overly gush about Texas, I should report that, near Abilene, I experienced the worst RV park of the trip. I expect interstate traffic sounds in RV parks, and trains near highways are pretty much commonplace in this country, but the manager of this park in Tye, Texas failed to mention we were right under an ear-splitting flight path for a nearby airport.

The Dog: Max is doing great.  I hate to think how his health will deteriorate after he returns home and Dimmie puts him back on organic dog food.  Eggs and Arby’s beef seem to suit him (as long as I don’t forget his fish oil, baby aspirin and glucosamine).

Sweet Notes: Krista, you were the sweetest of the sweet in the sweet state of Texas.  Thanks for the t-shirt and thanks for riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


Don’t Mess with Texans (they might secede).

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

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View from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico.

Steinbeck’s route: Steinbeck briefly drove on new I-40 in 1960. There was only one short stretch completed in the entire country in 1959 and that was in east central New Mexico near Santa Rosa. For the most part, he followed Route 66 to Amarillo, Texas where he spent several days getting Rociante’s broken window fixed. From Amarillo he must have taken U.S. 87 to Lubbock, Texas and U.S. 84 to Sweetwater, Texas.

The Landscape: Whereas flat terrain covered with brown grasses stretching to distant juniper and pinion-covered buttes seemed wrong for eastern New Mexico, it seemed right for Texas. Perhaps that’s because Western Texas doesn’t make pretenses about being anything else but cow and horse country. I read of one western Texas panhandle ranch that encompassed 3,000,000 acres in 1885. We camped at Palo Duro State Park near the town of Canyon south of Amarillo. It was a rugged canyon with several tree-dotted tiers leading down to a cottonwood-lined Red River—a welcome break from the relatively monotonous ranch and farm country surrounding.  South of Amarillo was for the most part, more of the same with the occasional high promontory or low riparian area. There was so much cotton lining the roads that my mud flats are now adorned with a row of cotton tassels. The sky has been clear, the winds mild and the temperatures, though cold at night, in the 70s during the day. “I like the flavor of Texas, but I wouldn’t want to live here. I might not fit in.” Jeanne Zeigler.

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Here I am with a pumpkin on Halloween. Conran, a member of the Pumpkin Clan of Acoma Pueblo.

The Steinbeck Connection: “I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion.” Travels with Charley.

Steinbeck arrived at Amarillo with a broken windshield. I pulled in with a broken hitch.  I have an appointment to have the hitch fixed in Austin, Texas and we are driving (nice to say “we,” for three days I have a second driver for the only time on this trip) with extreme caution.

Steinbeck’s description of Texas in Travels with Charley is memorable. His wife Elaine had a deep Texas connection and Steinbeck obviously knew the state well. He treated it with respect and good humor. He joked about the Lone Star State’s right to secede at will and how Texans love to threaten to do so, but are offended at the slightest suggestion that they should. Gayle, the reference librarian at the Main Branch of the Amarillo Public Library laughed when I read her that passage and said that it is still true today. We found no media evidence of Steinbeck’s extended stay in the area in 1960, including having Thanksgiving at the nearby ranch of a “friend.”  Steinbeck was very successful maintaining his desired anonymity in the Amarillo area.

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Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas

The Dog: Let me begin by saying no animals were hurt in the following events. Max had a weird day yesterday—he fell out of the car at a gas station but I broke his fall and he was fine.  Last night I had my first fire of the trip and as I was handing Max’s leash to my sister, he walked right into the fire, slightly singeing his beautiful white coat on the side before we could retrieve him. He was not hurt a bit but did smell a little smoky. Jeanne, a former blond herself, pronounced him the “blonde” of the dog set.

Sweet Notes: Thank you, Sis for riding along through much of Texas. Hello to the Buchmeiers, my first German family to jump aboard. Thank you Gayle and Robyn for your sweet support at the Amarillo Main Library reference desk and for riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

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Big Texan dude.

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


“It’s not taking it easy that matters, but taking it right and true.”

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

The Route: Steinbeck kicked it on Route 66 across Arizona to the Continental Divide in New Mexico where he camped. I had a speaking engagement at the Menaul School so I sailed I-8 from SanDiego to El Centro, and then State 78 and U.S 95 along the Colorado River to Needles, California. I pushed from Needles to Albuquerque, New Mexico in one long day on I-40.

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Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in Southeastern California

The Landscape: Crossing Arizona on I-40 is like attending an opera. Act one—the Western section builds to a dramatic Ponderosa Pine-covered crescendo at 7,300 feet in elevation at Flagstaff—with the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks as a backdrop. The third act drops down and gets a bit flat and bland with the occasional gaudy flourish in the form of a Navajo trading center, but the climax in Window Rock sends one away happy. New Mexico, the land of enchantment, delivered an enchanting, unseasonal and fortunately brief snowstorm. The distant red rock buttes were backlit through the snowy mist and pastel in color.

The Steinbeck Connection: Across the Colorado River from Needles, the dark and jagged ramparts of Arizona stood up against the sky, and behind them the huge tilted plain rising toward the backbone of the continent again. Travels with Charley

Steinbeck allotted one paragraph to the state of Arizona in Travels with Charley. His only comment about Flagstaff, “…with its mountain peak behind it.” He stopped in New Mexico to evaluate, and concluded after a heart-to-heart with Charley that he had exceeded his ability to assimilate what he was seeing, and needed to rest and regroup. My guess is he was fighting his recurring battle with loneliness and depression. What I find most intriguing is to compare what I read in Travels with Charley with what was going on in Steinbeck’s life at the time of the trip. His departure was delayed for several days in September of 1960 because of Hurricane Donna. In the first few pages of Travels with Charley, Steinbeck describes saving his boat, the Fayre Eleyne. She was being shoved against a pier in a ninety-five mile-an-hour wind by other storm-driven boats and certain to be sunk. Steinbeck jumped into her and motored out to the middle of the bay to safe anchor. Then he dove into the water and swam to shore, fully clothed.

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Signs of another Charlie passing. Charlie & Bertha 4-Ever.

This is impressive as described in the book, especially for a fifty-eight year-old man. But it is incredible when you realize that Steinbeck was still recovering from a probable stroke—during which a cigarette set fire to his bed—worrying about losing his dignity and independence as a man, and fighting for his life as an author because he had failed to successfully complete an arduous project about King Arthur. While recovering from his health episode that resulted temporarily in slurred speech and shaky hands, Steinbeck wrote in a letter to his agent Elizabeth Otis as a way of expressing his fear of being treated like an invalid, “It’s not taking it easy that matters but taking it right and true.” He added for emphasis, “I will not take it easy. That would be sick.” John Steinbeck was being tossed about in his own personal tempest, no hurricane required. Several months later, just before departing to drive around the country, he wrote to Otis, “Between us, what I’m proposing is not a little trip or reporting, but a frantic last attempt to save my life and the integrity of my creative pulse.”

Are there any more common and provocative metaphors in classic literature (not to mention popular culture) than storms and journeys? It seems every family has to weather their tempests, some of which rage in the middle of odysseys.

The Dog: Max had a nice break from the road and the confines of the car in Jamul, California at my brother’s home. He had a shaded courtyard to himself.

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The Bambi named Winnie under the "Winnie Tree," planted for our mother, Winifred.

Sweet Notes: Thanks are due to brother David and wife Lori for a much needed two-day break at their home in Jamul. A sweet note for the sweet kids at Menaul School in Albuquerque—you were wonderful, thank you for riding along. Thanks to Menaul School Head and pal, Lindsey, and Head’s Spouse-extraordinaire, Laurie for putting me up and for riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


Big Sur.

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

October 26, 2009

The Route: After a bittersweet visit to Salinas and Monterey Steinbeck wanted out of California by the quickest route. That according to his description in the book and my 1959 Rand McNally would have been U.S. 101 to Gilroy, state 152 to Chowchilla, U.S. 99 to Bakersfield, U.S. 466 to Barstow and Route 66 to Needles.  I varied from this itinerary because of a desire to see Big Sur and the need to include Santa Barbara in my travels. From Gilroy, I hauled the Bambi down U.S. 1 all the way to Isla Vista where I camped at El Capitan State Beach north of Santa Barbara.

"Where nothing happens."

"Where nothing happens."

The Landscape: Yes sir! Big Sur! Everything I imagined—squared—slamming surf, slanting rock, tall timber. Big Sur is a magical place. I was surprised at the topography south of it. Here the Santa Lucia Mountains pull back from the sea. It was rolling and treeless and arid, a little like high desert on the coast. The zebra wandering unfettered on the Hearst property north of Cambria added to the exotic feel of the land. At one point, a car approaching from the south was inundated by waves arching over both lanes of the highway.

The Steinbeck Connection: Not far south of Carmel Highlands, I stopped at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, “where nothing happens.” I purchased two Steinbeck novels and chatted under the towering redwoods with Susanna Williams. Susanna’s grandmother was the first baby born in Jackson Hole (or so her relatives claim, she admitted to a family tendency to make a good yarn, better), her parents were beekeepers in Dillard, Georgia for a time and she attended college in Utah. When I told her all those places where fixed firmly in my peripatetic history she accused me of making it up. Then Susanna, red-haired and comely, pointed to her lip stud and said that she had her piercing done in San Francisco at Mom’s Body Shop. I happened to be wearing a Mom’s T-shirt because I got my one and only tattoo there (a fir sprig—upper right bicep). I accused Susanna of making it up.

Waves crashing over Route 1.

Waves crashing over Route 1.

Segue. Thomas Steinbeck spent a leisurely hour and a half with me in Santa Barbara, outside a cafe under the trees. Thomas was kind enough to give me a copy of his first book, Down to a Soundless Sea which captures some of his “native relatives” intriguing stories about early life along the rugged and beautiful central California coast. The first in the collection is entitled “The Night Guide” and recounts the saga of Bill Post moving his expectant wife, Anselma from Monterey to a piece of land bordering Soberanes Creek in Big Sur. That was in late February of 1859 in the midst of some of the worst storms to pound the California coast that century. Bill’s son, Charles Francis Post (Frank) was, “the first child born in the high Sur under the American flag.”  In the magical Big Sur, I met the granddaughter of the first child born in Jackson Hole, where I live, and the next day I met John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas who has written a story of the first child born in the Big Sur. I find connections of that sort remarkable.

Thomas Steinbeck at lunch.

Thomas Steinbeck at lunch.

Thomas looks like his dad.  And like his dad, is a raconteur. One only has to read a page of his work to see Thomas loves words and knows how to use them. He is neither overly modest about his heritage nor smug about it. He treats his patrilineage, as all things, with humor. He has fond memories of his father and feels for a person who really just wanted to write and who was backed reluctantly into fatherhood, John Steinbeck was a pretty good dad. Thomas asked to meet Max and pronounced him, and my rig, right for the journey. He said, quoting his father, “you don’t take a trip, a trip takes you.” It is about the experience not the vehicle. It was an honor to meet Thomas.

Sweet Notes: Mary in San Diego. Thanks so much for all of your help over the last few weeks. And thanks for riding along and becoming a fan of the Travels with Steinbeck Facebook page.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


The National Steinbeck Center.

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California

Itinerary: There are few clues about which routes Steinbeck traveled through Oregon and California. As for me, it was, all interstate, all the time when I was rushing to meet my wife Dimmie in Santa Cruz, California. I’m eagerly anticipating a more leisurely route down the coast to Santa Barbara on U.S. 1 in a few days.

The Landscape: Simply put, Oregon has it all—from an environmentally oriented and culturally rich city (Portland) to Shakespeare (Ashland)—from sunny rugged desert to rainy rugged coastline with some of the most significant geography and flora in this nation, in between. California had it all. The old expression “California or Bust” has become “California is Bust.” The beauty and sheer expansiveness of California has become marred with litter, traffic,

graffiti, gangs, traffic, poor roads, traffic and people—people everywhere—many of whom are unemployed. The California prison system is at double capacity. As one Californian put it, “We are just putting on a front.

The interior of the original Rocinante.

The interior of the original Rocinante.

Things are very bad.”  She went on to say the state parks were only open because vendors with contracts threatened lawsuits if the parks had closed as planned. I learned at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas that Steinbeck didn’t want to get out of the truck at times when he visited his home state in 1960 because it had changed so much. I can’t imagine how he would feel today. What is going to happen when we experience a reverse migration and California’s eleven million residents flee to the east?  Refugee camps in Arizona and Nevada come to mind.

The Steinbeck Connection: Central California is

The house that John grew up in.

The house that John grew up in.

Steinbeck, or at least it is early Steinbeck. Just about everything from San Francisco to the bottom of the Baja Peninsula has the Steinbeck stamp on it. Tortilla Flats, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, The Sea of Cortez, East of Eden, The Red Pony and The Pearl, among others, were rooted in this region. The National Steinbeck Center was wonderful—helpful and knowledgeable people and excellent exhibits. I must go back.

Profile: The last two days in Salinas, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Francisco have been rich and textured and peppered with colorful characters. Here are profiles of a few.

Herb: I had my second hour-long conversation with Herb Behrens the retiree/volunteer archivist at the Steinbeck

Center. This time it was in person. It is always stimulating when one aficionado meets another. Herb was, once again, very helpful and giving.

Merilyn: We met Merilyn who volunteers at the Aquarium in Monterey. Merilyn is a sparkly elderly woman who knew Ed Ricketts, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row soul mate and the person upon whom the character Doc from Cannery Row is based.  Merilyn shared stories of sneaking into Ricketts’ laboratory as a young woman.

Monterey Bay—excellent for collecting marine specimens.

Monterey Bay—excellent for collecting marine specimens.

Amber: Amber is an aging blonde actress who read my Tarot cards on Cannery Row at Mrs. Laurie Palm and Card Reader. She assured me that it “was all green lights” for my Steinbeck project. Her take on the current administration in Washington is that “we are being lied to less than previously.”

Cathy: Cathy works in an optometrist’s office in Santa Cruz. She has an “Elvira” sort of shapeliness and beauty with

The Pacific Grove cottage where Steinbeck lived and wrote for a time.

The Pacific Grove cottage where Steinbeck lived and wrote for a time.

long straight raven hair and black eye shadow. Cathy was kind enough to help me understand what is happening vis a vis the recession and Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley. It is not pretty. Unemployment is high. Businesses are hurting.  People are still being laid off. Meth use among the middle class is rising and destroying families.

The Dog: Dimmie has now experienced the phenomenon of Max’s surfing. She was kind enough to drive while visiting me in California leaving me free to observe, write notes and take a break after approximately 9,500 miles of solo steering. At one point we jumped in the car and started out and then she immediately burst out laughing and stopped the car. She had just noticed Max in the rearview riding on top of his plastic kennel. Dimmie confirms Max is a new man jumping over obstacles that in the recent past would have stopped him in his tracks. He gets ecstatic in San Francisco charging around trying to decide what to sniff next.

MY "green light" Tarot cards on Cannery Row.

MY "green light" Tarot cards on Cannery Row.

Garden of Memories.

Garden of Memories.

Sweet Notes: Scott Hirschfield-headmaster (who stands head and shoulders above the rest) at Jackson Hole Community School where I serve on the board, is riding along. And I haven’t said much about Dimmie. What a pleasure it was to have her with me literally riding along during this important exploration of Steinbeck Country. In my world, Dimmie is magnetic north. And a sweet note to Sweet Wil, my San Francisco son. You are a different

A Latin inscription by JS on a barbeque he and his father built.

A Latin inscription by JS on a barbeque he and his father built.

drummer. I love you. Thanks for riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

Max hangin' twenty.

Max hangin' twenty.


The Other Idaho and “Lush and Lovely Washington”.*

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

Date: 10/17/09

The Columbia River nears Ellensburg in eastern Washington.

The Columbia River near Ellensburg in eastern Washington.

Steinbeck’s route: Given the time of year and the likelihood of snow in the Cascades, Steinbeck might have chosen U.S. 10 to go from Spokane to Seattle. It followed the same route past Moses Lake as I-90 does today. From Seattle to Portland it was likely Steinbeck followed U.S. 101, down the coast.

The Landscape and Itinerary: I’ve been a slave to the interstate system and a too-tight schedule for several days now, following I-90 across Washington to Kirkland, a suburb of Planet Seattle. Crazy I-5 was my home yesterday heading south from Seattle in a downpour. I spoke at Lakeview Elementary in Kirkland on Thursday and at the Gardner School in Vancouver, Washington on Friday. I spent Friday night in Salem, Oregon and will be back on 5 today heading south again. Still, I saw an amazing chunk of this immense country from the interstates. In Western Montana I-90 follows precipitous canyons with steep conifer covered slopes. It crosses the sinuous Clark’s Fork River several times. Then the piece de resistance is the final climb to Lookout Pass and the Montana/Idaho border.  I had been warned by an elderly woman in Hardin, Mountain about this pass in a way that felt a bit spooky (bony finger point, scratchy-wavering voice, parting blessing) and I was grateful that it was a few degrees above freezing when I (literally) dropped into Idaho mountain and mining country. Snow or freezing rain would have been bad, “veeerrry baaaaad” (scratchy voice). Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades near Seattle is every bit as beautiful as Lookout Pass and even displayed some lovely fall colors. The weather cleared and a startling Mt. Hood was visible to the East when I crossed the Columbia River at Portland. My Airstream Bambi performed beautifully, tracking my Toyota 4Runner up and down passes and through downpours as if they were one unit.

The Oasis Bordello Museum of Wallace, Idaho was closed for the season.

The Oasis Bordello Museum of Wallace, Idaho was closed for the season.

The Steinbeck Connection: Charley and his traveling companion John Steinbeck were ostensibly driven out of Yellowstone by bears. But Steinbeck didn’t really want to go in the first place. “I am in love with Montana,” he wrote in Travels with Charley. Yet he expressed disdain for national parks, declaring that Yellowstone was “no more representative of America than is Disneyland.” Ultimately, Steinbeck went, only because he feared his neighbors would think him crazy for passing on the archetype of American natural wonders. Charley went nuts when bears approached the truck. Steinbeck left Yellowstone immediately and spent the night in Livingston, Montana—his loss as well as ours.

Charley got sick as the two neared Washington. The inept alcoholic vet that treated Charley in Spokane is what Steinbeck captured from that area in Travels with Charley. I had the pleasure of a brief stop in Wallace, Idaho and a stopover with friends in Spokane. Wallace is a true western town with a quirky past tucked up against the slopes of the mountains. It is still producing silver toady. Being a lover of culture and history, I was disappointed to find the Oasis Bordello Museum closed for the season (sign in window, “Inquire about our Bordello Tours”) but was lucky enough to catch a delicious lunch at the spacious and wildly decorated 1313 Saloon.  It was named when it was established many years ago for being the 13th saloon and brothel in Wallace. You could say, Wallace is part of the “other Idaho.” No mention of potatoes or Mormons in Wallace. Spokane is a very pleasant medium-sized city with little traffic, tree-covered neighborhoods and city parks, all four seasons, great medical services and colleges, and outdoor activities. It is the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle, but still has a small town feel. Kirkland, Washington had a similar feel. The maple and oak trees in fall color, complimented by banana trees and rose bushes, still in bloom, were glorious. I discovered a yellow rose above a sidewalk that was at nose height, not even requiring bending to stop and smell.

A rose at nose height in Kirkland, Washington

A rose at nose height in Kirkland, Washington.

Sweet Notes: My friends John and Margret in Spokane, and Harriette and Alex in Kirkland put me up and wined and dined me so very well. I’m grateful for your friendship and to have you riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

* Travels with Charley


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