Travels With Steinbeck

On the Route at Last.


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


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Mrs. Bond's Pd 4 English class says:

    Mr. Zeigler,

    You’ll be meeting our English class tomorrow at Carlisle High School. Though you had some trouble with Max in the motel room, we hope we’ll be able to meet him! Please bring him to CHS, so we can say hello.

    See you tomorrow,

    Mrs. Bond’s Period 4 English class 🙂
    Carlisle, PA

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
    • * travelswithsteinbeck says:

      Max loved meeting you guys, as did I. You are great kids in a great school. Max and Greg from CT.

      Sent from my iPhone

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  2. * Dimmie says:

    Sounds like things are heating up in the South! Glad your encounters are proving to be fun! Love you both! 😉

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  3. * Jeanne Zeigler says:

    Good stuff from Virginia…
    I just read the article in the Cumberland paper. It must have been great visiting with some Zs. I would have LOVED being there.
    My class is loving the Max mail (my young friend Ben asked wistfully the other day, “Will we ever hear from Bob?”)

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago

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