Travels With Steinbeck


Where We’re Headed

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

As I come down to the wire with just one week to go, I’ve been pondering this bloggy thingy and how I can provide an entertaining and informative narrative as I travel around the U.S.  I’m thinking that in places like Northern Maine, hotspots may be few and far between.  Also, I hope to camp in national and state parks as much as possible and they rarely offer Internet access.  So, it might be best to post, when possible, on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, with an occasional “special edition” if I have connectivity, and am just too darned excited about something, or someone, I encountered en route to wait until the next scheduled post.

Itinerary:

Several folks have asked me about my itinerary and if I will post a map—and I will, I promise—if I can just figure out how to do that. A very creative man named Terry Ballard created a Google map that roughly traces Steinbeck’s route.  Perhaps with the help of some of my more accomplished reader-friends we can figure out a link to that ingenious Google Map.

Here is my proposed route by city:

  • Salt Lake City, Utah (speaking at Rowland Hall-St. Marks School and with KSL T.V.)
  • Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  • Burlington, Colorado
  • Paxico, Kansas
  • Warrenton, Missouri
  • Clarksville, Tennessee
  • Rabun Gap, Georgia (spoke at Academic Convocation, conducted classes)
  • Abingdon, Virginia (this put me on the last leg of the Steinbeck route)
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (conducted classes at Harrisburg Academy, Carlisle High School and Cumberland Valley High School)
  • Middlebury, Connecticut (slightly off route)
  • Sag Harbor, Long Island (Steinbeck’s starting point)
  • Deerfield, Massachusetts (visit to Eaglebrook School—Steinbeck’s first stop for TWC)/Lisbon, New Hampshire
  • Deer Isle, Maine
  • Caribou, Maine (the top of the the U.S.)
  • Canaan, Maine
  • Lisbon, New Hampshire
  • Dexter, New York
  • Niagara Falls, New York
  • Toledo, Ohio
  • Rockford/Chicago, Illinois (staying at Ambassador East Hotel, as did Steinbeck)
  • Mauston, Wisconsin
  • Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
  • Beach, North Dakota
  • Billings, Montana
  • Missoula, Montana
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Yreka, California
  • San Francisco, California
  • Salinas, California (research at National Steinbeck Center)
  • Monterey, California
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Needles, California
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Amarillo, Texas
  • Austin, Texas
  • Beaumont, Texas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

Last updated, 10/10/09.

Sweet Notes:

Yesterday (Sunday) here in Jackson, Wyoming, I was climbing the two-mile grunt (with 1,200 feet of elevation gain) we call Snow King Mountain when I stopped to write a note for this blog. It was something about needing to lose 10 pounds before seeing my fit, athletic doctor this week, and sure enough—while I was writing—my fit, athletic doctor blew by me going up the mountain. On top, I caught up to Dr. Emmy and was telling her this story when, not being one to miss an opportunity, she smiled and said, “Lose 10 pounds and you won’t have to come and see me.”  Thanks Emmy for keeping me honest and keeping me healthy, and for checking out this blog.  Also, today my good friend, Arthur invited me to his new school while en route and promised to ride 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

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John Steinbeck Profiled

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

Itinerary:

Nine days until departure!

Profile: Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck

As a writer, Steinbeck was brilliant at capturing and creating character-driven stories. At times he was criticized for not connecting the scenes as artfully as the traditional novel form requires, but he was superb at crafting the nuances of dialect and character, especially of Americans. Think of Lenny in Of Mice and Men and Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. One of the most rewarding elements of my trip will be gathering the stories of typical Americans, especially “the man in the field,” which is how Steinbeck described the sort of person he wanted to meet on his travels.

John Steinbeck was a complex and paradoxical man. He had a child-like enthusiasm and curiosity for detail. He was a scientist and a naturalist but also mystical and sentimental. He was often paranoid, depressed and lonely, especially as his fame grew. Steinbeck was passionate about America and at the same time harshly critical of it. He enjoyed great success and elaborate travel but simplicity and privacy were what he truly sought. He was modest, shy, thin-skinned, idealistic and outraged by injustice. He enjoyed an intimate relationship with nature. Jay Parini in the introduction to the 1997 Penguin edition of Travels with Charley writes, “As Steinbeck moved slowly toward California, he grew steadily more disenchanted with everything except the natural world.”

Steinbeck was married three times and had a turbulent relationship with his sons, Thom and John, whom he fathered with his second wife, Gwyn. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and yet he suffered vicious criticism throughout his career that insisted he had produced nothing of equivalent merit to The Grapes of Wrath published in 1939. As heart disease began to take its toll near the end of Steinbeck’s life, and friends suggested he slow down and do less, he wrote in a letter to one, “I’m still a man, damn it!” Then he drove solo 11,000 miles around the United States and published a book about it.

As for me, I will get to know Steinbeck well and have one hell of an adventure following his tracks around the country.  It will be a thrill to recreate one of the classic American odysseys and perhaps offer a modern perspective on that journey, and on this great country.

Sources for this profile: John Steinbeck, A Biography by Jay Parini, John Steinbeck, Writer, A Biography by Jackson J. Benson, and Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten.

Find out more about John Steinbeck at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

The Dog: Max is being a really good sport about all this and I think he secretly likes the attention. But, to be honest, he is still sort of clueless about the whole thing. I haven’t told him he is going to send the second graders at Rowland Hall-St. Marks School postcards from every state we visit or discussed the enormity of the trip. I just told him that on September 7th he and I are going to the grocery store…and beyond.

Sweet Notes: Thanks to Steve at the library for blogging support, Valerie for a photographic seminar and so much more, and Dick C. for the supreme sacrifice of parting with a large portion of his delicious homemade limoncello liqueur for my consumption while on the long journey.

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


Blogger Examines Small Dog Bias

Max blog 7 pic

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

News Flash!

Okay here’s the poop on Nellie.  Jamie and I were under the impression that Nellie belonged to her and thus Jamie could make decisions regarding Nellie.  Apparently we were both wrong.  After being told unequivocally by my former wife that Nellie was not going, I backed off. Even though my friend, Tommy A., suggested a dog-napping could add to the drama of this saga, I went to my understudy, Max the Maltese. Why not Max in the first place? Although old dogs rule, and in the dog world ten is the new five, at fourteen and partially deaf, I felt ten weeks on the road would be too hard on Max, not to mention me. That, at least, was my excuse. The change in circumstances forced me look deeper and to examine my small dog bias.

In addition to not being a large or even medium-sized dog (as you can see in this David Swift photo), Max has some, ah, issues, which I will delve into in greater depth below. But first let me be more honest about my issues. I’m a big dog person, always have been. When I gave Max to Dimmie, in an attempt to replace (always a mistake) a favorite dog of hers, I had Bandon, a robust and intelligent Australian Shepherd. “His and her” dogs, it was a perfect arrangement.  But we lost Bandon to a bizarre illness at the age of 11, at which point weighing in at 7 pounds, Max became, “top dog.”

Frankly, “top dog” has always been Max’s aspiration.  He eschews any suggestion that he is a lap dog. He will warmly greet any human being, but I have seen him throw himself into the jaws of pit bulls and I’m not lying. Max was in San Francisco recently with us when we visited our son, Wil. Max and I were sitting outside our hotel in Wil’s rather seedy “Tendernob” neighborhood while every manner of human being walked, staggered or wheeled by (that is, those that were not prone on the sidewalk). Max never seemed to notice any of them. But when a German Shepherd had the nerve to walk down the other side of the busy avenue, Max went nuts. I have to admit, the San Francisco trip caused me to look at Max from a different perspective. For all intents and purposes, he had to live in the car and he never had an accident (see that issue addressed below).  Each time we put him down on the pavement he was off down the street like a sailor on shore leave sniffing everything in range.  I remember thinking, Max seems rejuvenated: perhaps all he needed was an adventure.

Now to the big issue.  Max is no longer willing to go through all those antics that dogs are trained to go through—lacking the right words—to go out. He just goes, anywhere he pleases (except in the car and in his kennel). Needless to say, this has caused some stress around our house. We are pretty fastidious people. The vet examined Max and assured us there is nothing wrong physically, that this new development is behavioral. I say “new development,” but truth be told, Max has been so hit and miss (well, mostly hit, as in hit the floor and oriental rugs) over the years that he might just be getting the olfactory signal that the house is a perfectly acceptable place to fire away. And at 14 we are certainly not going to swat him or try to house break him all over again. Now Dimmie is one of the most loving and tolerant people I know, but even she, in moments of extreme frustration, has uttered the “eu” word—chose one a) euphoria b) eulogize c) euthanize d) euphemism.

I’m a big believer in the power of women.  By virtue of the fact that women give life, in my view, they pretty much have the right to take it away. Within reason, that is. But ambivalent as my relationship has always been with Max, I couldn’t conceive of him checking out (or being checked out) anytime soon. I have too many memories of our boys holding him and playing with him. I suddenly realized that this adventure might not only revive Max, it could be a reprieve. To quote, the Muppets, “a new “leash” on life.

So when my friend Tommy A. (who is a big fan of Max’s) heard about the switch in players, and after being told Nellie-napping was out of the question, he said, “Pretty cool, after a rich long life, to cap it off with a trip around America.”  To which I replied, “Are you talking about Max or me?”  “Both of you,” he said.

Ten days until departure!

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


Nellie’s right to ride revoked

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

Tree-Max shot-preferredTWS

Meet Max, the Maltese. Max has always been the understudy (not the underdog, mind you) for this adventure. Look for a full profile on Max tomorrow, as well as an explanation (confession, really) as to why, even though Max is our dog, my grand-dog Nellie was my first choice for the trip (see my first two posts). The David Swift photo to the right is a replica (including the frown and the squint) of a famous Steinbeck picture taken with his standard poodle, Charley—although in this modern version, the dog is a little smaller and the writer is a little less well-known. I chose a large format so that you were certain to be able to find Max the Mighty Dog in the photo.

Eleven days until we depart!

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


A Bambi Named Winnie

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

Personal Essay: Before his trip with Charley, in a letter to Elizabeth Otis, his friend and agent, Steinbeck wrote, “I want the thing in context against its own background—one place in relation to another.” That is the beauty of slow travel and camping as you go.

As I follow the Steinbeck route, I will drive my Toyota 4Runner and live in my Bambi, at sixteen feet, the smallest trailer made by the venerable Airstream Company. As a fellow nomad, I’m interested in the beginnings of modern American mobility. The car trailer business, begun in the 1920s, prospered during the Great Depression. According to Airstream: The History of the Land Yacht, Wally Byam the father of the modern travel trailer, “saw early on that the legions of wheat harvesters, cotton pickers, journeymen mechanics, and factory workers migrating from job to job like the Joad family of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, were seeking a simpler low cost alternative to the skyrocketing rents of the city.”

Byam recognized that disenfranchised folks were not his only market, for over the years he positioned his rolling silver bullets as the very highly sought after and pricy “land yachts” of the industry. I bought mine secondhand in 2006 with money inherited from my mother Winifred, who loved to camp. I named it for her. I like to think it takes a self-assured man to travel around the country in a Bambi named Winnie.

My 2004 Airstream Bambi named Winnie with Max the Maltese added for scale.

My 2004 Airstream Bambi named Winnie with Max the Maltese added for scale.

Airstream never produced many Bambis. They are so compact that only one person at a time can work inside. But the Bambi has all I need to live comfortably on the road. The starboard exterior door opens onto the cozy dining nook on the right offering seating for four. To the left is the shower and head. Straight ahead is an efficient galley, including stove, fridge and sink, and to the rear past a closet, the “master bedroom.” Every detail is carefully designed, every surface rounded to avoid painful collisions. At 6’2”, I’m grateful there is ample headroom throughout. She is well insulated, quiet, and tracks beautifully on the road. My favorite features are the gleaming look of the interior and exterior aluminum skin and the tinted wrap around windows both fore and aft. The Winnie is a little mobile space that is easy to clean and organize. Just as many folks in 1960 asked about the then unique Wolverine slide-in camper that rode in the bed of Rocinante, because Bambis are rare, the Winnie is a great conversation starter.

Sweet Notes: So Many people are doing so many wonderful things in support of this project. Thanks to: Tom for suggesting a great vodka for the road, Robin for sharing her love for Travels with Charley (which included naming her dog Charley) at the Jackson Hole Community School board/faculty lunch, wishing me well and deciding to follow the blog and “ride along,” and Dave for insisting I get this blog thing right and soon. Thanks are due to Lib for help with blogging (Libbylogic.com) and offering to invite Salt Lake media to meet with me en route, Swift for great photography (see tomorrow’s post), and Colleen for Mac Support. Where would we be without friends?

Twelve days until departure!

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


What Does “Rocinante” Mean?

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

I thought you might enjoy a little Steinbeck/Cervantes humor.  As you may know, Steinbeck named his 1960 GMC truck “Rocinante” for Don Quixote’s horse. He also called his trip “Operation Windmills” because so many of his friends thought he was insane to undertake it. Well, I got curious about Don Quixote and recently read the classic for the first time. I discovered something not even Steinbeck mentions in Travels with Charley. “Rocinante,” the name of Don Quixote’s bony old nag used in tilting at windmills, defending damsels—whether they needed defending or not—and righting other perceived wrongs, means “formerly an ordinary horse.” That has such delightful universal applicability. I suppose I could say I was formerly an ordinary golfer, now I’m just a bad golfer. Formerly an ordinary horse! I don’t care who ya are, that’s funny!

Itinerary: My first stop after departing Jackson, Wyoming on September 7th will be Salt Lake City where on September 8th I will speak to all the second graders at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School about Steinbeck and my trip. Then I’m heading to North Georgia and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School (where I was head of school from 1996-2004) for three days to offer the annual academic convocation speech, attend several classes and conduct a writing workshop for the members of the English Department. Every student at Rabun Gap will have read a Steinbeck novel prior to my arrival. That should be a wonderful experience. My wife Dimmie will be visiting me there and we will see our son Alex (21) who lives nearby. Then it is straight to Middlebury, Connecticut where I will drop my trailer (more to come about my Airstream Bambi named Winnie) and backtrack over the ferry route that Steinbeck took on his first day of travel to learn what I can about Sag Harbor, Long Island—his place of departure.  On the 23rd of September, 49 years to the day after John Steinbeck and Charley shoved off in Rociante I will be on the route in earnest.

Thirteen days until departure!

Profile: Herb Behrens of the Steinbeck Center told me of a fellow who has aquired an exact replica of the Wolverine camper Steinbeck carried in the bed of Rocinante. The Wolverine Company stopped making that particular brand of truck camper in 1982. You can bet I will try to track that fellow Steinbeck nut down in my travels and get a picture of his Wolverine. By the way, Rociante has been fully restored (the truck, not the horse) and resides at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

The Dog: Important dog update soon to come.

Pix and Links: Look for my first pix and links two days from now.

Sweet Notes: I ran into two very friendly women today who were sporting a National Outdoor Leadership School decal on their car. NOLS is based in Lander, Wyoming and offers courses in wilderness skills and environmental leadership all over the U.S. and the globe. As a former instructor I was curious about Susan and Charlotte’s relationship with NOLS. They told me their husbands were both associated with the school. In due course my project came up and Charlotte got very excited, told me of a stop I must make near Woodstock, Vermont and pledged to “ride along.”  Thanks Charlotte and welcome aboard.

Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


New Format Introduced

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

I figured God rested on the 7th day and did not blog so I followed that example and took yesterday off. For this post I’m experimenting with a new format. I plan to use it as a template for later posts. Hope you like it and find it easy to follow.

Itinerary: Some of the wonderful reader folks who have offered feedback (okay, mostly family and friends, but not all) have asked that I post a regular itinerary. Of course that will require being on the road to have much relevance so for now I will simply use this space to count down the days.

Two weeks until departure!

The Landscape: In this section I will report what I’ve observed about my surroundings on that particular day as we drive around America.

Profile: Here I will profile folks I encounter on the route and include snippets of our conversations.

The Steinbeck Connection: It goes without saying that one of my primary goals is to make connections to Steinbeck’s journey and to see, as much as possible, what he saw.  So for instance, if I’m fortunate enough to meet someone in Deer Isle, Maine whose mother used to talk about the September in the early sixties that John Steinbeck came through in his truck, Rocinante, I will include it here.

The Dog: I anticipate, as was the case with Charley, that much of what transpires of interest and that is humorous will involve my dog and I will report those daily dog doings here.

Pix and Links: Of course I intend to include daily pictures and links as soon as I figure out how the heck to do that.

Sweet Notes: As I hear from people, or when I’m the recipient of an act of kindness I will report it here. For example, yesterday I learned my friend Marjie from Pittsburgh is planning to follow the blog and encourage her two wonderful, intelligent and charismatic adult children, Andrew and Meredith to come along for the ride. Also my friend Anne from my home town of Jackson, Wyoming who heads the Senior Book Club wished me a safe journey and pledged to ride along.

Finally, not every post will include every one of these subheadings and if something too exciting or important and/or detailed occurs I will break out of this format and introduce the subject as a News Flash!, if urgent, and as Personal Essay if of interest but not pressing.

I would love your feedback on this format. Thank you for your continuing interest. Let’s talk again tomorrow, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


More Trivia from the Steinbeck Center

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

First a note about my intentions. Follow in John Steinbeck’s tracks—stand where he stood, imagine what he saw, and determine “what Americans are like today.” That is my goal. It is not my intention to in any way diminish what he accomplished. I don’t presume to set myself beside Steinbeck, or pretend to offer a critical analysis of his writing. This is a pilgrimage fueled by admiration, firm but not fanatical. My plan is to follow Steinbeck’s roadmap, and, if fortunate, offer a fresh perspective on America. Henry Miller wrote, “Our destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

As I mentioned in my last post after venting (thank you very much for that), Herb Behrens at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California is a very well-informed Steinbeck aficionado.

Here are some more interesting facts from Herb:

America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction is a good source of all of Steinbeck’s writing about issues that were close to his heart such as the plight of migrant workers as depicted in an article entitled “The Harvest Gypsies.”

Every summer in Salinas there is a Steinbeck festival in late July or early August.  In 2010, the theme will be all of Steinbeck’s journeys including, of course, his journey around America in 1960.

Writing two or three personal letters is how Steinbeck typically started his morning and “got his game going,” to quote Herb. The author referred to the letters as his “warm-up pitches” before tackling his writing for the day. An excellent collection of many of those letters exists today in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten.  I have found his letters to be fascinating, they reveal his personal and artistic struggles, and are very helpful in determining the route on his journey with Charley.

Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath—thought by many (especially critics) to be his best—in 100 days but it was very hard on him physically and emotionally. I can only imagine the toll that must have taken.

Steinbeck was married three times.  He left his first wife Carol, his second wife Gywn left him, and after swearing off marriage altogether, Elaine turned out to be just right.

Herb recommends Jackson J. Benson’s exhaustive John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography as the definitive Steinbeck biography. He reports that Benson researched the biography for 13 years and then wrote a book about the process which is also, according to Herb, quite good.  It is called, Looking for Steinbeck’s Ghost.

My conversation with Herb Behrens was delightful.  He cautioned me that he would be checking my facts on this blog, so this Mark Twain quote is for you, Herb. “Get your facts first, then you can distort them how you please”

Herb can be reached by email at archives@Steinbeck.org or by phone on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 831.775.4721.

Now to close on a sweet note.  My friend David Hall informed me yesterday that his Montana mom, who loves literature, told him she wants to follow my journey and my blog. Then she asked, “What’s a blog?”  Welcome aboard Mrs. Hall and as soon as I figure out what a blog is, I will tell you.

Sixteen days until departure!

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


Should Nellie have the right to ride? (and other news)

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

News Flash! Blogger’s “ex” threatens to deny Nellie’s right to ride. Will Nellie get to follow the Steinbeck route?

I never dreamed that by my second posting there would be a controversy brewing but indeed there is. I learned yesterday from a secondary source that Jamie’s mom has “major reservations and concerns” about Nellie making the trip.

Now I need to give you a little background here. Jamie and Paul live in a shoebox apartment in Manhattan therefore Nellie boards with my former wife in a residential area of Salt Lake City. Until recently, Nellie has done extensive backpacking and she loves to travel. In fact, while making these arrangements Jamie described her thus, “Nellie loves to hike, play in the snow, and ride in the car. She is cat-friendly, bird-friendly and friend friendly.”

Apart from Nellie’s obvious suitability, the desire to bear my share of the grand-dog responsibility motivated me to take her. (My “ex” says that she and Nellie are constantly sorting out who is the alpha bitch. A statement about which, I have no comment.)

So sometime last fall I worked out the details with Jamie of Nellie accompanying me. Since then I have bonded with Nellie on several occasions even taking her on a short drive so she became familiar with my car. Two days ago I went to PetCo and spent a fair amount of money on a new bed, a “Furminator” dog brush, bowls, baggies, treats and a shiny new tag with my cell number on it that I’m certain Nellie will love. And now this—just over two weeks before my departure date.  Hmmmm, it smacks of subterfuge, no? No—not if you know Jamie’s mom. The truth is, although months in the planning, the reality of this trip appears to have just set in.

My “ex” was not available for comment today before this was published. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted as we determine if Nellie will get to follow the Steinbeck route.

Now to other news: I called the National Steinbeck Center today to see if their archives contained specific information about the route. In certain places, such as Maine, Steinbeck was very specific in Travels with Charley. In others, such as Montana, his route is ambiguous even after cross-referencing the book with his collection of personal letters (Steinbeck, A Life in Letters by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten).

The call to the Center was enlightening.  “Loquacious volunteer” (as he describes himself) Herb Behrens chatted with me for over an hour. Mr. Behrens is obviously a scholar with a passion for John Steinbeck. I will include much more from my conversation with Herb in future posts. One thing Herb said that interested me was that he felt Steinbeck would be a blogger today. Herb said Steinbeck loved letters, journals and gadgets (with the notable exception of the telephone). Herb’s knowledge of Steinbeck, his life and work was inspiring. Herb invited me to make an appointment to do research at the center in October when I’m in Salinas. Finally he said, to his knowledge no specific notes regarding Steinbeck’s route are extant today.

Seventeen days until departure!

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


“Rediscovering This Monster Land.”

Imagine retracing the route that John Steinbeck and his dog Charley followed in 1960, which was the inspiration for Travels with Charley. In a few weeks, accompanied by my dog Nellie, I will drive and camp around the U.S. just as Steinbeck did in 1960. Join me in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck’s trip.  Look right here for regular regional news and photos from around the U.S.

Steinbeck distilled his journey for Travels with Charley down to one question, “What are Americans like today?” That question will be my guide. I’m not so interested in how things have changed: computers, cell phones and the ubiquitous purveyors of designer coffee, but how we as Americans are different—especially after the fall of 2008. That is the fundamental question I want to answer.

While driving and camping around the U.S., I’ll delve into issues that reflect Steinbeck’s interests, as well as examine attitudes toward the Obama administration and responses to the widespread economic downturn. I’ll draw parallels to the 1930s as depicted in Grapes of Wrath, and the 1960s as described in Steinbeck’s two final works of nonfiction, Travels with Charley and America and Americans. This “travelblog” will include landmarks that Steinbeck described, and feature interviews with colorful contemporary folks. It will weave in biographical information about Steinbeck and quote from his body of work. Like Travels with Charley, the entertainment value of my blog will rely on elements of adventure and discovery inherent in travel combined with the intrinsic humor of a story about a man and his dog. It might also be entertaining to observe this “old dog” learning new tricks as I master this blog and do fancy things like add photos and even a link or two.

And speaking of dogs, you’re going to love my grand-dog Nellie. Nellie is a Chow/Lab mix. She has a handsome copper-colored face and warm brown eyes. Her tiny eyebrows arch and move to express myriad human-like facial expressions. Nellie will be an ideal traveling companion. I pick up Nellie where she lives in Salt Lake City on September 8th, 2009 and we are off to the East Coast and eventually Sag Harbor on Long Island, Steinbeck’s point of departure.

There is one thing Nellie and Charley had in common—French. Charley was born and trained in France and he responded most quickly to commands in French. English slowed him down, Steinbeck wrote, because he needed time to translate. My French son-in-law, Paul trained Nellie in French. Bon chien! But, poivre moi, after two failed attempts at learning the language, you have just read the extent of my French. Luckily, one of us is bilingual—Nellie.

That’s it for my first post.  Much, much more to come. I look forward to hearing from you as we travel with Steinbeck this fall and, to quote him, “rediscover this monster land.”

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright (c) 2009