Travels With Steinbeck

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


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Dave Hall says:

    Love the latest, G.Z. Keep ’em comin’

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 10 months ago
  2. * Tom Armstrong says:

    I see a remarkable resemblance between you and JS. Note that Zig would never grunt in response to a friendly barber. Love to Max and happy motoring.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 10 months ago

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