Travels With Steinbeck


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


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Dave Hall says:

    Greg, just loving the commentary. The photos are great. This is a wonderful trip for all of us…

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Vanessa says:

    What interesting people and places you have come across thus far, and it’s only the beginning. We miss you around here.

    Stay safe and have fun.


    | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago
  3. * David Zeigler says:

    Bro, actually what I drove through was pretty pure and unadulterated cow pee. It was coming out between the slats in the back of that cattle truck like being shot from a four inch fire hose right into the middle of my lane. I couldn’t miss it. Had to stop and wash my car in the very next town.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago
  4. * Pat says:

    Hi Greg,

    The trip sounds great so far. I’m just loving the pictures of Max posing with all the folks you’re meeting! Getting the school kids to “go along” with you is such a wonderful idea, too. We’ll be starting our own small trip to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California this week with our little 13 foot Casita trailer and so we’ll be thinking of you. Continued good luck and hi from the other Greg.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago

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