Travels With Steinbeck


South and West at Last.

Musee et centre culturel du Mont-Carmel

Musee et centre culturel du Mont-Carmel

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.”

Itinerary: From Deer Isle, Maine—U.S 1 to the top of Maine and State 11 back down to U.S. 2 and New Hampshire.

Steinbeck’s route: Essentially the same route through country that, I’m certain, has not changed much in places.

The Landscape: Well, when a trip combines the White Mountains of New Hampshire (twice) and the island-dotted coast and northern forests of Maine—with intermittent sunshine, warm temperatures, and buckets of fall color thrown in, “exquisite” comes to mind.

The Steinbeck Connection: I loved rereading the section of Travels with Charley in which Steinbeck shares an evening, and rare bottle of French cognac with a family of French-Canadian migrant workers. Before departing the next morning he reflects on the experience. “There are times that one treasures for all one’s life, and such times are burned clearly and sharply on the material of total recall. I felt very fortunate that morning.”  The joy Steinbeck experienced in the very human act of connecting and conversing with others is palpable in the retelling.

Heading south on State 11 but looking north at Fort Kent in the Saint John Valley

Heading south on State 11 but looking north at Fort Kent in the Saint John Valley

I had a similar experience in Eastern Kansas with three gentlemen that I went catfish fishing with (see, A hound dog named “Hound Dog”) and briefing captured in this blog.  I remember feeling charged and exhilarated while enjoying that richly textured evening made more so by the freely offered comaraderie of my new friends.

Unfortunately, it was not to happen in the rolling Saint John Valley of Northern Maine.  Here’s why.  I had inquired in Caribou, Maine about migrant potato pickers and was told the French-Canadians had been replaced by Hispanics.  Not a problem, I can adjust and had brought along a bottle of very nice sipping Tequila in case of just such an eventuality.  But when Mark Cyr, of the Cyr Potato Corporation of St. David, Maine opened up the doors to his barn and introduced me to his picker, I could see the picker and I would not be sharing any drinks. It was a huge machine, two actually, that work in tandem—about the combined size of a semi-truck and trailer. Mark said migrant pickers were a thing of the past, although some high school kids (school lets out for 2 ½ weeks during the harvest) do work on the machines and in the potato house. Mark was a very warm guy.  If he hadn’t been repairing his equipment after the harvest of 175 acres of “early” potatoes, I might have offered him a drink. He spoke with the lyrical cadence of the Acadian. He was medium height, powerful in build and had blue eyes and chiseled features. No doubt a heartthrob to potato groupies.  When Mark saw, Max, he quipped, “Traveling light, eh?”

Moose season in the North Woods of Maine.

Moose season in the North Woods of Maine.

The Dog: Last night Max and I got off the road late at a KOA in Canaan, Maine.  I had left the Winnie at Bishop Farm in New Hampshire but was prepared to sleep outside on a pad. The lateness of the hour, and lightning to the west dissuaded me from that idea, so I booked a “Kamper Kabin.”  No linens, no bathroom and way too much money, but cozy and out of the rain that came later that night. But, back to Max. He snored—loudly.  I woke him, gently.  He does not wake easily and can be pretty accurate with his few remaining teeth. He went back to sleep before I could, and snored again. I never dreamed a seven-pound dog could make that much noise while sleeping. I didn’t want to kick him out so I put in my earplugs and we made it through the rainy night together.

As for the KOA, with signs (including one about “tinkling,” and one with POOP in large letters), and rules posted everywhere, it was too “Kute” for me, by half.

Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Sweet Notes: Caribou Kate (forgive me, Kate, I give everyone nicknames) of the Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast in Caribou was a wonderful hostess and guide and has pledged, along with her sister, 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


North Once Again, to the “Rooftree of Maine.”

Stonington Harbor looking out at Isle au Haut Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Stonington Harbor looking out at Isle au Haut Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

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.”

Itinerary: Steinbeck followed U.S. 2 across New England most of the way to to Deer Isle. I veered south from that route at Bethel, Maine because I knew I would be catching U.S. 2 on my way back to New Hampshire. After departing Deer Isle, I followed U.S. 1 all the way to Caribou, Maine in Aroostock County.

The Landscape: The drive to Deer Isle was everything you would expect. The White Mountains flared with sun-drenched color.  U.S. 1 near the coast in the Bucksport and Searsport area, offering the first views of Penobscot Bay, was glorious. In truth, U.S. 1 along the Maine coast east of Deer Isle was, by contrast, disappointing. It could have been anywhere, USA. I realize, as Steinbeck famously wrote in Travels with Charley, the person coming along ten minutes later had a different experience. For me however, it was a letdown. There

Rooms with views over Penobscot Bay.

Rooms with views over Penobscot Bay.

were few views of the bays and islands and the seafood joints were far and few. Heading north through the timber was, by contrast, soothing and invigorating, even in the gentle rain. Timber, and taters rule the great north. The Maine-stays, I suppose you could call them (if you dared).

The Steinbeck Connection: “Wherever I stop people look hungrily at Rocinante. They want to move on. Is this a symptom? They lust to move on. West—north, south—anywhere.  Maybe it’s their comment on their uneasiness. People are real restless.” Letter to Elaine Steinbeck written on September 27, 1960 from Deer Isle, Maine

My experience has been different. Here’s one example. Yesterday I stopped for gas at Kinney Auto Center in Danforth, Maine where the costs for repairs are painted on the exterior wall. The attendant came out and I knew immediately I had the genuine item. I actually heard this stocky strawberry-haired gentleman give directions to a customer, saying, “If you

Maine's idea of a calling card.

Maine's idea of a calling card.

get to the bridge by the faahm, you’ve gone too faaah.” When I went in to pay, I noticed he had a magazine on his desk, which had something about cowboys and guns in the title. I asked if he’d ever been out west. His answer was, “Nah.” I asked if he would like to go. He said, “Someday maybe—get rid of the wife.” Not exactly a, “I would leave this afternoon if you got the space,” kind of answer.

Everybody I encounter says this trip is a great idea and a wonderful adventure, but not a single person has expressed the wish to be elsewhere. Is it possible our internal migrations have hit a point of stasis?  No doubt the economy is playing a role in people staying put. But perhaps Americans are finally feeling somewhat content and less restless?

The Dog: Max used to play a joke on me when he was riding shotgun. No matter how comfortable I made his seat, when I left him in the car, he would shift to mine and there he would be when I returned.  For this trip, for his safety, I’ve

The Marlinspike Chandlery, possibly where Steinbeck bought a lantern in Stonington.

The Marlinspike Chandlery, possibly where Steinbeck bought a lantern in Stonington.

blocked him in the back of the 4Runner.  And, of course, he has devised a new joke. He climbs up on the food box and cooler and sits in the items on top, a package of paper towels, my duffle, whatever.  Sometimes I jump in the car after a short stop and start out, and a glance in the rearview reveals him standing on the boxes, surfing in the back of the car.

Sweet Notes: Deer Isle has few places to stay, so soon I found myself in nearby Stonington. A random choice lead me to Barrett at Boyce’s Motel. I got Barrett’s last $70.00 room—very comfortable, more like a small suite. Barrett was a great host and guide. He was very interested in my journey and has already begun reading this blog. A case of mistaken identity resulted in a visit to Pres du Port, Charlotte Casgrain’s Bed and Breakfast in Stonington. Charlotte is a gracious woman and she welcomed me for breakfast as if I were family. We sorted out the mystery later. (The invitation had been delivered to the wrong motel door). Charlotte was very helpful orienting me to the area and making suggestions about my upcoming travel to Northern Maine. Breakfast was delicious. Charlotte

The seemingly endless woods and lakes of Northern Maine.

The seemingly endless woods and lakes of Northern Maine.

has promised to ride along. Odelle and Diddie at the Houlton, Maine Rest Area were also very helpful and excited about my trip and promised, with their two co-workers, 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


North to New Hampshire

Eaglebrook School where Steinbeck spent his first night.

Eaglebrook School where Steinbeck spent his first night.

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.”

Itinerary: I left Sag Harbor on the three ferries that Steinbeck took forty-nine years ago to the day ( the South, the North, and the Cross Sound) and angled back across Connecticut to pick up the Winnie. I left Middlebury, Connecticut and followed I-84 to Hartford where I picked up I-91 to Deerfield, Massachusetts. After a delightful visit at the Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, I jumped back on I-91 and was heading to St. Johnsbury, Vermont when I got a call causing me to slip off onto US-302 northeast to Lisbon, New Hampshire.

Steinbeck’s route: After getting off the Cross Sound ferry in New London, I would guess that Steinbeck took State-85 to Hartford. According to my 1959 Rand McNally there was only a short stretch of I-91 completed and that was in Southern Vermont. Steinbeck would have followed U.S. 5 along the Connecticut River from Hartford to Deerfield, Massachusetts where he spent his first night.

New London, from the Cross Sound Ferry, "Susan Anne"

New London, from the Cross Sound Ferry, "Susan Anne"

The Landscape: Let me just comment on Vermont. There is nothing going on there. Nothing, that is, but sculpted rock faces (some in the median of the interstate), dense forests and quaint farms with covered bridges. Read my lips, Vermont. You need to work on some good old American Bs— Billboards, box stores and blight (and guess what, barns just doesn’t cut it). Without a super-box store how am I supposed to know I’m always getting the cheapest stuff? And you’re not fooling anybody with those really nice wayside/info centers offering Wi-Fi and the sign saying, “Moose Crossing,” and that color in the trees, really, come on Vermont, what do I look like a clueless tourist?

The Steinbeck Connection: I had promised my youngest son to say good-by in passing. His school is at Deerfield, Massachusetts, but I got there too late to arouse him, so I drove up the mountain and found a dairy, bought some milk, and asked permission to camp under an apple tree.  The dairy man had a Ph.D. in mathematics, and he must have had some training in philosophy. He liked what he was doing and he didn’t want to be somewhere else—one of the very few contented people I met in my whole journey. Travels with Charley

A one-lane stone bridge near Eaglebrook School.

A one-lane stone bridge near Eaglebrook School.

Profile: I did not drive to the dairy Steinbeck referenced but I had a delightful visit at the Eaglebrook School and was amazed to hear from affable Head of School, Andy Chase that the dairy man was apparently so contented that he only just recently moved away from the farm up the road. I had lunch at Andy’s table with his secret weapon, his wife, Rachel Blain. Rachel and I had growing up on a boarding school campus in common. Rachel’s discussions with the boys who dined with us reminded me of my father never missing the teachable moment. During the meal, Rachel good-naturedly tossed academic questions at the young men (grades 6-9) who circled our table.

I have been around independent schools for most of my life. One of my few skills is that I can tell a good and happy

school within fifteen minutes of arriving on campus. Eaglebrook is an extraordinary school in a stunning mountain setting with the unique claim of having had the valuable continuity of three generations of schoolmen at the helm. Andy sits at the desk that was his father’s before him, and his grandfather’s before that.

Eaglebrook Head of School, Andy Chase.

Eaglebrook Head of School, Andy Chase.

My detour into New Hampshire came after a cell call from my brother David directing me to Bishop Farm Bed & Breakfast in Lisbon, New Hampshire owned by his friend and co-worker Heather Salter—and managed by Heather’s sister Annie, and mother, Maggie. I got a cozy cottage tucked back in the trees. My review of Bishop Farm is below:

Five Stars–is that it? Is that all I can award these warm-hearted, hard-working women?  I drove here from Jackson Hole, Wyoming (14 states in 4000 miles), and I’m no stranger to inns and the world of beds and breakfasts and Bishop Farm has it all! It is rustic and modern, laid back and efficient, private and communal. I love it and will return often.

Heather, Annie and Mom, Maggie you are the gold standard.

The Dog: Max has a new girlfriend, GiGi with whom he took an invigorating hike. Life is good.

Sweet Notes: And life is sweet at Bishop Farm. Heather, Annie and Maggie (and GiGi) have pledged to ride along.

Max leading the way on a hike with new pal, GiGi

Max leading the way on a hike with new pal, GiGi

The Bishop Farm Bed and Breakfast Babes, (from left) Heather, Annie and Maggie, at dinner.

The Bishop Farm Bed and Breakfast Babes, (from left) Heather, Annie and Maggie, at dinner.

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


Sag Harbor, where it all began.

Max, doin' time for littering near the Sag Harbor Wharf.

Max, doin' time for littering near the Sag Harbor Wharf.

The Sag Harbor grocery store said to be the inspiration for the store in Winter of our Discontent.

The Sag Harbor grocery store said to be the inspiration for the store in The Winter of our Discontent.

Number 2 Bluff Point Lane.

Number 2 Bluff Point Lane.

Joyous Garde, Steinbeck's writing cabin on the point.

Joyous Garde, Steinbeck's writing cabin on the point.

Welcome to Sag Harbor.

Welcome to Sag Harbor.
Sunday on Long Island Sound at Orient Point.

Sunday on Long Island Sound at Orient Point.

Steinbeck bust at Sag Harbor Library.

Steinbeck bust at Sag Harbor Library.

Marty Trunzo gives me a trim and a tale or two.

Marty Trunzo gives me a trim and a tale or two.

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.”

Itinerary: After leaving Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I cheated off the route slightly and circled up around to Middlebury, Connecticut to avoid New York City. I then drove to New London, Connecticut and took the ferry across to Long Island and motored around to Water Mill, New York where I’m staying while visiting Sag Harbor.

Steinbeck’s route: Steinbeck took three ferries from Sag Harbor on his first day out. He took the Shelter Island Ferry, then a second ferry to Greenport and a third from Orient Point to New London, Connecticut. Tomorrow, September 23rd, forty-nine years to the day from Steinbeck’s departure, I will do the same.

The Landscape: It struck me while crossing Eastern Pennsylvania, then New York and Connecticut that I may have (by blind, dumb luck, I assure you) chosen one of the most scenic routes across America. I have driven close to 3,500 miles and crossed 13 states and have yet to see sprawl, or unsightly industrialized areas. Mountainous terrain has predominated. Yet the place that seems the most like it would have looked fifty years ago is Eastern Long Island where I have not seen any fast food restaurants or big box stores. Eastern Long Island does, of course, have its share of McMansions, but it still retains a rural, agricultural feel, and is dotted with family businesses, produce stands and corn mazes.

The Steinbeck Connection: “Under the big oaks at my place at Sag Harbor sat Rocinante, handsome and self-contained, and neighbors came to visit, some neighbors we didn’t even know we had.” Travels with Charley

I stood under those oaks this morning at Number 2 Bluff Point Lane and imagined Rocinante packed and ready to depart the next morning. Steinbeck’s cottage is simple and secluded. His writing cabin, Joyous Garde stands guard over the end of the shaded point overlooking the bay.

Profile: Everyone in Sag Harbor has been wonderful and helpful starting with Suzie Smyth at the library. I just want to briefly profile a few others. Although I missed speaking with vacationing Nada Barry, a friend of Steinbeck’s and current owner of The Wharf Shop, I was fortunate to meet Gwen, her daughter. Gwen is a lovely, charming woman who shared some stories about John Steinbeck and then, when an item I was seeking wasn’t quite right, she directed me to another store. We were talking about how Sag Harbor had changed. I mentioned a sign in a storefront for a $2,000.00 reward for returning a lost standard poodle. Gwen said, “Yes, that has caused quite a stir.  All of us have our kids out looking for that dog.”

Marty Trunzo is a local celebrity. At 91 years of age he may be the longest cutting barber in the state of New York. While Marty trimmed my hair we spoke of many things—from Southern cooking (which he is for) to celibacy for priests (which he is against). Marty remembers cutting Steinbeck’s hair occasionally. He also remembers greeting Steinbeck on the street and getting a grunt in response.

According to John Ward, a drinking and fishing buddy of Steinbeck’s who Steinbeck referred to as, “The Mayor of the Village” in Travels with Charley, that is simply because Steinbeck wanted to be left alone. He didn’t want to be recognized or fussed over. He wanted to be one of the guys.” Ward told me too much has changed in Sag Harbor over the last 10 years and Steinbeck wouldn’t like it. That’s ironic, I said, because Steinbeck felt that way about Monterey in the sixties. John Ward said he had met Steinbeck through Bob Barry, Nada’s deceased husband. According to Ward, Steinbeck had a small circle of friends here that he thoroughly enjoyed. Several worked on the Whaling Festival for which Steinbeck served as Honorary Chairman.  Ward said, Steinbeck’s motto regarding the Festival was, “The bigger the Snafu the better. We can make a big mistake, bigger next year.”

The Dog: Max seems to have a new “leash” on life. He is perky and adventuresome. Last night while walking through the cornfields of the farm where I’m staying, he chased Millie the Guinea Fowl. Millie bustled off pitching a hissy fit. Later Max tried to leap into the field on the scent of a deer we saw waving its white flag of a tail in the tall cornrows.

Sweet Notes: I had the very good luck to be fed and boarded by two families while visiting Sag Harbor. (Actually, I hear my mother Winifred’s voice saying, “You’re not lucky, Greg, you’re blessed.) So, I’ve been blessed with the loving support of Chris, Thryza and Tammy C. of Middlebury, Connecticut and Susan, Alexander and Elizabeth G. of Water Mill, New York. Wonderful people all, and they have all pledged 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


The Route takes me back to my Roots.

A weary road warrior.

A weary road warrior.

The farmhouse in which my father was born, along with his 6 brothers and 5 sisters.

The farmhouse in which my father was born, along with his 6 brothers and 5 sisters.

Toni, my agent, handler, dog wrangler and all around angel.

Toni, my agent, handler, dog wrangler and all around angel.

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.”

Itinerary: I-81 north through Virginia, West (By God) Virginia and Maryland to Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Steinbeck’s route: There is only one interpretation of what Steinbeck writes of this section of his trip—he was suffering from burnout and homesickness. There is only one way he could have gone as he sought the quickest way to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Route 11 to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which was once the western terminus of the turnpike; that’s where the pike hits the Tuscarora Mountains just east of the Susquehanna River flowing toward the top of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Landscape: Sweet fertile farmland (and the occasional sub-division of homes), for sure, but rolling foothills to the Appalachian Mountains to the immediate west.

The Steinbeck Connection: “I bulldozed blindly through West Virginia, plunged into Pennsylvania and grooved Rocinante to the great wide turnpike. There was no night, no day, no distance.  I must have stopped to fill my gas tank, to walk and feed Charley, to eat, to telephone, but I don’t remember any of it.” Travels with Charley

Profile: I spent two very happy days with my “farm” family in Carlisle. My close association with these good folks was mostly in childhood when my parents would get us all together here in Carlisle. My father, Jacob Zeigler was teaching at Kiski School, a boarding school for boys near Pittsburgh and my brothers, David and Jake, and sister, Jeanne all grew up on the school campus. Dad liked to return to the farm he grew up on as often as possible and expose us to wonders of true rural living.

Let me just say briefly, there is something very special about being around relatives. It may be the common ruddiness to the cheeks, color to the hair and lilt of the tongue.  There is a comfort—no doubt atavistic—a fullness in the heart that says, I’m safe here, I belong here, these are my people.

This is how it went. Soon to be second wife to my cousin Steve Zeigler, Toni Berger took me under her wing and set up speaking engagements at two high schools and a press interview, and saw to other needs such as gas and propane. Cousin Steve changed the oil in my car and was clearly pleased to reconnect. Cousin Patsy Reich put me up for two days, did my laundry and cooked delicious farm breakfasts. I tried to do my humble unskilled part by buying everyone dinner and washing Patsy’s windows too high for her to reach.

There is a revealing American story of three generations here. My father grew up with eleven siblings; there were seven boys and five girls total. He was the only one to attend high school. His brother Sam and my Aunt Mary had Patsy, Shirley (now living in San Diego) and Steve. Steve and Patsy live near the family farm, now mostly subdivided and leased. Sam, a very smart and gentle, but physically powerful farmer never attended high school, his son Steve never attended college. Steve’s four children from a former marriage include a Vet, a doctor, an HR specialist who just finished college, and a builder who, like his grandfather, can fix anything. The builder, Jake Zeigler, at 19, has already purchased his own home and just bought five lovely hay-covered acres right across the street from the house in which his grandfather, and his namesake, my father, grew up.

Sweet Notes: Toni, Steve, Patsy—I’m deeply grateful, not only for the kindness but for the connection. You kids at Cumberland Valley High and Carlisle High were great! 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


On the Route at Last.

DSC00056

Welcome to Abingdon.

"The Abingdon Tourist" by artist David Patton.

"The Abingdon Tourist" by artist David Patton.

Rich with Revolutionary War history.

Rich with Revolutionary War history.

The Abingdon Visitors' Center.

The Abingdon Visitors' 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.”

Itinerary: Back-tracked from North Georgia to I-40 East to Asheville, North Carolina; I-26 West (going due north out of Asheville) to I-81 North (through Abingdon, Virginia) to Staunton, Virginia.

Steinbeck’s Route: As I look at my 1959 Rand McNally it had to have been Route 11 which still goes right through Abingdon, and parallels I-81.

The Landscape: The I-26 stretch is about as rugged and scenic as the Appalachian Mountains get. The Virginia section is more rolling western foothills but the farms are postcard-pretty. The occasional rock escarpment is rugged and eroded. The rock looks older than Rocky Mountain rock—why, I guess it is.

The Steinbeck Connection: “My own journey started long before I left, and was over before I returned.  I know exactly where and when it was over. Near Abingdon in the dogleg of Virginia….” Travels with Charley.

I stopped in Abingdon today; happy to be on the actual route, even if it was the place where Steinbeck finally hit his saturation point.  I chatted with Nicole at the Abingdon Visitors’ Center.  She was sparkly, bespectacled, frizzy-haired and passed the test I believe all such center employees should have to pass, she was warm and welcoming.  She didn’t realize Abingdon holds the honor of being the last town mentioned on Steinbeck’s journey. She wasn’t aware of the 50th anniversary of the trip coming up next fall.  But I taught Nicole a few facts about Steinbeck and she taught me something equally as interesting.

Abingdon, with a population of 7,938 and nestled in Washington, County, may have the only theatre in America where tickets can be had in exchange for food. Barter Theater was established in 1933 when Robert Porterfield brought 22 fellow actors to his hometown and established the idea of bartering foodstuffs in exchange for a theatre ticket. Several famous playwrights accepted hams as royalties. One exception was George Bernard Shaw, a vegetarian. Shaw bartered his rights to a play for spinach.  Barter Theater became the State Theater of Virginia in 1946. Today, it is still possible to secure tickets twice a year for food, which is then donated to the food bank. Barter Theater offered, “Of Mice and Men” as part of its 2009 season.

Two calls to Washington County Library (to see if anyone there knew where Steinbeck stayed in the area) went to voice mail and were not returned as of this post.

The Dog: I snuck Max into my motel room for a few hours the other day because it was so bloody hot in the car. He slept in his kennel for a while, but I knew when I let him out I was pushing my luck. Still, I gave him a hug and a little talking to. I said that I was making him a star but even rock stars can’t pee with impunity on motel room rugs. I think he heard me because he went straight to the bathroom and went on the tile floor. Hey, it was at least easier to clean up. Fortunately, by then, it had cooled down enough to “86” him surreptitiously back to the car.

Sweet Notes: Thank you, Jessica for telling Earle, the Honors English teacher at the local high school about Travels with Steinbeck. Earle promises to connect his students to the blog as they journey through Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, and they all plan 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


A hound dog named “Hound Dog.”

Carroll and Jane—20% of the Democrats from Green, Kansas.

Carroll and Jane—40% of the Democrats from Green, Kansas.

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.”

Itinerary: I-70 to St. Louis, I-64, I-57, and I-24 to Nashville, I-40 to Clyde, NC and smaller roads to North Georgia. After Kansas came: Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia (over two days). All together, 2300 miles over seven days.

The Landscape: For the first time I was feeling a little of the fatigue that Steinbeck refers to often in Travels with Charley. I didn’t sleep well near the trains in Paxico, Kansas and, as a result, Missouri was a bit of a blur. However, trees increase in number and intensity, terrain becomes more varied and hilly and crossing our mighty rivers (such as the Missouri and Mississippi) is always a thrill.  While driving the Smoky Mountain twists and turns of I-40 through Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, I realized I had started this leg of the journey in the mountains of Wyoming and over 2,000 miles later I was ending in the Smokies, a different kind of beauty, but beautiful mountains all the same. Yes, they looked smoky from the moisture in the air, as green overlapping ridges climbed up to precipitous blue/grey summits.

The Steinbeck Connection: Parked by a lake in Michigan on private property, Steinbeck was accosted by a young man who’s job it was to throw him off for trespassing. After artfully defusing the situation, the man not only allowed Steinbeck to park Rocinante near the lake for the night, but he came back the next morning to fish with him.

I thought of that scene from Travels with Charley as I went down to Mill Creek near Paxico, Kansas with three young men and a boy in search of catfish, and in so doing caught my big story for the day.

Josh’s 6 year-old son Isaac stubbed a finger on a pass thrown by his dad, and wailed briefly, but was soon placated with a trip to nearby Mill Creek. Mark, an electrician’s apprentice waded up the middle of the rushing stream wearing a lineman’s harness with his hound dog named, “Hound Dog” attached to it by a nylon rope. Adam, also an apprentice electrician, fished near Josh. I stood by the creek and watched the two men cast with Isaac looking on. A bet of thirty bucks was riding on the first fish caught. Dusk was coming on with a riot of night sounds in surround-sound and freight trains passing by. In the haze, the moon looked like a slice of lemon.

Josh, his wife April, Isaac and their baby girl were living at the RV Park while remodeling their house in Paxico. Adam, Mark and Hound Dog shared a separate trailer. Josh had never lived more than 50 miles from that spot. He liked it that way—small towns suited. Josh had said earlier—over the dinner we shared at a picnic table—that eight of his crew of eighteen had been laid off, and several had been demoted. Work is slow. But life goes on, houses are remodeled, catfish are caught (on a good night) and boys learn to catch a spiral pass.

Profile: I had breakfast in Warrenton, Missouri, just west of St. Louis, with two folks from, where else, Eastern Kansas. Sometimes you’re still in Kansas after you’ve entered Missouri. Jane and Carroll were heading home to Green, Kansas where they are grain farmers after a life of raising hogs. They had driven to Pittsburgh to a conference on Welsh heritage, a particular interest of Jane’s. Carroll is tan, sturdy, stocky and is 71 years old.  Jane is sturdy, bright-eyed, in her mid-sixties and has shiny white hair—they both look they could crack walnuts with their powerful hands.  They had slept half the nights on their two-week trip in their Pontiac Vibe in which the seats recline, yes, but do not lie flat. I told Carroll he was my role model. With typical pragmatism, Jane said, “We don’t sleep well anyway, might as well not sleep well in the car in a campground, as in a motel.

Jane has an interest in the Underground Railroad in Eastern Kansas and explained to me that The Beecher Bible and Rifle Church (see picture last post) was established by folks who hid rifles under their bibles in their wagons—determined to fight for their belief that Kansas should remain free of slavery.

I realized I was talking to a Kansas farm wife who was a liberal.  When asked, Jane said with a fist pump, “Absolutely, I’m a child of the sixties.” Carroll said he was the more pragmatic one and that he had only recently joined Jane as a democrat. Jane beamed at the wisdom in her husband’s recent conversion. I could only imagine how long this forceful “child of the sixties” had been working on that. Carroll told me with pride how many four-year college degrees there were in their two families.  He said, one of his two boys (now both college educated) had considered dropping out of college at one point, “But he was afraid of what would happen when he told his mother.”

I asked about the economy. “Grain has collapsed but not necessarily because of the economy,” Carroll said. Then Jane proceeded to give me a lecture in buying futures that are controlled by hedge funds, etc.  It apparently has little to do with actual supply and demand.  I asked how many other democrats there are in Green. “Ah, one other family,” Jane said.  “And oh, my sister-in-law Helen, too.”  I asked what the Obama chatter was like out there.  They said people are tolerant and giving in general, but the talk was getting nasty.  “Too much radio,” Jane said. “Too much Rush,” said Carroll.

Sweet Notes: Many thanks to the wonderful adults and students of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Rabun Gap, Georgia for your hospitality and support, and for promising 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


A Day for Silence.

In 2001, I was the President of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in North Georgia.  And like any other day, I was scheduled to address the student body in a routine meeting discussing upcoming school events. Then the towers were hit, and a few minutes later I faced the students. I was, for the first time in my career, speechless. The kids knew what had happened, and we just stared at each other in stunned disbelief, and in silence.

How would John Steinbeck have reacted to the news on 9/11/2001? Perhaps in the same way. In retrospect, it seems right, and fitting to the enormity of the tragedy. This silent tribute to a part of Eastern Kansas I found to be beautiful, intriguing and restorative, is also a tribute to what, and who, we as Americans lost on September 11th, 2001.

Top: Paxico train station, no longer in service. Center: Early morning eastbound train near Paxico. The Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, a free-state church est. in 1857 in Wabaunsee. Bottom: The Oz Museum in Wamego.

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Kanorodo.

From left, Max, Otha, James and Marquitta

From left, Max, Otha, James and Marquitta

Tonya, with textbook—multitasking as usual.

Tonya, with textbook—multitasking as usual.

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.”

(See map of classic route at right)

Itinerary: Wednesday—Glenwood Springs, Colorado to Burlington, Kanorodo (sometimes you’re in Kansas before you leave Colorado).  Thursday—Burlington, Kanorodo to Plaxico, Kansas.  Mileage, approximately 650. I stayed at the Burlington Comfort Inn last night. This post is from the immaculate Mill Creek Campground in Plaxico which includes a church pew in the Men’s Room and a well marked storm shelter.

The Landscape: Let me just share a story my brother told me.  Years ago, he was driving one of the flat-to-the-horizon two-lanes across Kansas through wheat and cow country when a stock truck passed in the opposite direction.  Apparently, a cow had it’s butt right up against the slats of the truck and a yellow stream was ejected horizonally within 20 feet of my brother’s little car. He drove directly into the spray which blocked his vision for some time and caused him to turn on his wipers. His thought as he pulled over to the shoulder, “Thank God I’m not in a convertible.”

Truth be told, Kansas is beautiful (especially Eastern Kansas) and was a pleasure to cross on I-70.  And four lanes cuts way down on bovine encounters (thank God!).

Profile: I met two oil and gas men in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn.  One asked about the Bambi.  He said he had not seen such a small Airstream.  He and his buddies travel constantly for work—New York last week, Colorado this.  “We are from Oklahoma, but motels are our friends.”  Iowa next week.  “Good money,” I asked? “Not any more. Not in this economy.”  My talker—his buddy was on his cell—was huge, at least a yard wide in his coveralls and sported a scraggly carmel-colored goatee.  “Why’s that?” “Soon as our new president came in my work dropped straight off (gesture down with hand and a side-glance at an attractive African-American woman sitting nearby at a smoker’s bench). I pushed him and asked if it hadn’t really started during the last administration.  “Nope it was the month he took office” (hand gesture again).  “I sit at home for months at a time without work and then have to travel much further when I do have it—gotta go where the work is, but I only have a girlfriend, so it’s not too bad.” “She doesn’t mind?” I asked. “As long as a man is bringing home money a woman doesn’t mind,” the woman said, with a smile. We all laughed. “Even if he’s gone for a month?” “Yup!” If that’s what it takes,” she said.

I tracked down that interesting woman and we chatted in the lobby.  Her name is Marquitta and she is 42 years old. Marquitta is from Aurora, a suburb of Denver.  She was traveling with her  parents to a funeral in Austin, Texas and their car car had broken down, twice. They were waiting for it to be fixed, again. Marquitta is serene, articulate and comfortable in her skin. She is family-oriented. She has a husband and three daughters and talks to her mother every day on the phone. But all that came at a price. Thirteen years ago she was an addict distributing a controlled substance and got caught. Now as one who is straightened out her life and counsels at-risk folks professionally, she feels, because of  the stigma, it is just too hard for people to turn their lives around. Housing and credit are the two big problems with a criminal record. “People don’t even want someone who has had a misdemeanor. Plus programs are not gender-specific and most are geared toward men. Thus, the revolving door.”

I asked her about intolerance?  “Of course I run into it…” She narrowed her large eyes and leaned in, “…but I ain’t got time for that BS. I’ve gone through so much, I’ve gotten out of my way, now I can’t let petty people get in my way. I just look like—this is your problem—and walk away.”

Then I got talking with Tonya.  She was studying a pathology text while tending the front desk. She is 36, wears glasses, is pretty in a plain sort of way and has one eye a bit askew. Tonya is studying for a nursing degree so she can return home to live near her recently widowed Mom in Oklahoma. She is working out legal custody of her three kids even though their Dad moved out of state without doing so. She wants things in order. Her two-year pre-nursing (associates degree) has taken 3 ½ years so far because she is a single mom and works two jobs.  She has no health insurance.  The economy has been especially tough on her because everything costs more, especially in such a remote location. But she doesn’t tie it directly to the current President.

Three kids, two jobs, and nursing school.  Think this woman is a multitasker?  And we call folks like Tonya average Americans.

What would John Steinbeck think of these three Americans? I think he would be impressed with their resilience and their utter lack of bitterness during difficult times.  Most of all, I believe he would admire their optimism and resourcefulness.

Central Kansas wind farm.

Central Kansas wind farm.

The Dog: Arby’s for dinner Wednesday night after two days of eating way too healthy.  Max loved his roast beef  sandwich (sans bun) and he loved being in Beef country.  We passed Bovina Colorado, no services in Bovina, only cows.

Sweet Notes: Steve Ayer sent a comment saying that my adventure is resonating with him—that it encouraged him to reread Travels with Charley and that his wife’s book club will also be reading it and riding along. My sis Jeanne invited to me to spend time with those wonderful second graders at Rowland Hall and then Susan Koles placed the link to my blog on the school’s website.  I’m grateful they are 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


Colorado.

Max in the Box!

Max in the Box!

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.”

This Post from Ami’s Acres RV Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on 9/9/09.  Ami’s is a beautiful, clean park and owner Craig couldn’t be nicer.

Itinerary: Approximate miles yesterday—350.  I-15 South of Salt Lake City to U.S. 6 up Spanish Fork Canyon through Price, Utah to I-70 at Green River, Utah. I could only go 60 on 6, but 70 was easy on 70.

The Landscape: I have always loved Central Utah; the sere beauty of the Book Cliffs and San Rafael Swell often overlooked for the admittedly gorgeous convoluted country further south that is home to five national parks.  However, once you turn east on I-70, and lasting all the way to Colorado, even the most diehard desert rat would be hard-pressed to find topography of interest.  I must say the sign that read simply, “Eagles on Highway” was interesting—although I didn’t see any—and I would guess unique. Let’s call it a very desolate beauty.

I had never driven I-70 through Central Colorado before and except for I-90 across Western Montana it may be the loveliest stretch of super-highway in the country. At first the brown and grey rubble-filled mountains are without foliage like Eastern Utah, but the bottomlands are lush with orchards and vineyards. The highway winds along the Colorado River for miles as the mountains green up with elevation. It was a hot one, though, the temperature at Fruita, Colorado was 93 degrees at 5 p.m.

Profile: Just want to say a word about Penny and Rick, a young industrious Salt Lake couple with an angelic five-week-old daughter who is African-American. My guess is, Penny and Rick wanted a baby, got one and are thrilled. Race was not, is not, a factor. These two folks went through a four or five year ordeal trying to locate a child. Rick was quoted as saying he refused to get excited this time until he was holding the baby. Recently when asked if he was sleeping through the night, he said, “No, I just stay up all night staring at Fiona while she sleeps.” I suppose some would say adopting a child of a different race bears additional responsibility. I would argue that blended families and mixed races (say, like Tiger and Barack) are the future and ultimate end to racial tension. Proximity eradicates ignorance.

Most importantly, what Penny and Rick are doing could not have happened fifty years in Utah when Steinbeck was traveling around America.

In New Orleans for Travels with Charley, Steinbeck witnessed adult white females called “Cheerleaders” in the media, being cheered on by the crowd while they heckled small black children trying to integrate schools. He had no tolerance for the powerful preying on the weak and he wrote  that this display of virulent racism made him physically ill. We’ve come a long way…but, our President spoke to America’s school children yesterday and many American families, especially in Utah and Texas wanted their children to remain at home. One cartoon depicted a protester yelling at little children, “He’s trying to indoctrinizate your brains.” Let’s set politics aside for a second, and just let me ask, what about this man would make you think he is not a person you could trust your kids to for a weekend, let along have him speak to them? Unless of course, this is all about race.

The rig, featuring the Airstream Bambi named Winnie.

The rig, featuring the Airstream Bambi named Winnie.

The Steinbeck Connection: Still several days before I intersect with the last leg of his actual route in Georgia but I have a recommendation.  (And please remember, I’m a student of Steinbeck and do not purport to be a Steinbeck scholar.) Read The Log from the Sea of Cortez at the same time you read The Pearl and you will understand a great deal about John Steinbeck’s process—as actual experience feeds nonfiction and nonfiction shapes fiction. You will also marvel at his timeless control of the language and beautiful imagery in either genre.

The Dog: Within fifteen minutes of home on the first day of the trip I realized the benefit of a small adaptable dog. Due to severe space limitations, there was only one place for the blue tub I use for food and that was also the only space for Max. I plopped him down on a towel in the bottom of the tub. He looked around as if to say, “This is different,” and promptly did what he does best, curled up and went to sleep.  Now that we have the Airstream, Max has ample room to roam in the car.

Max had his first walk in Salt Lake City since his dental surgery—once around the block. He did well. Very perky. A large gray-haired woman sitting on a stool to weed her flower garden said “hello,” and “cute dog.”

Max loved the admiration of the wonderful second graders at Rowland Hall.  He is sending them his first postcard from Colorado today.

Sweet Notes: So many friends sending their best wishes, (even calling) spreading the word, and riding along. The new look of this blog compliments of Libby—you’re the best. Thanks to Toni for complicated coordination in Carlisle 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