Travels With Steinbeck

Westward Bound.

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.”

Steinbeck’s route: Somewhere North of Buffalo, Steinbeck tried to cross into Canada to take the northern route above Lake Erie to Detroit. Canadian authorities asked the author if he had a certificate of rabies vaccination for Charley. He did not. He was informed that he would not be allowed to reenter the U.S. with the dog without it. In frustration, he hopped on I-90, which was apparently completed to Madison, Ohio and then I-20 (today’s I-90) to Chicago. Oddly enough, he mentions that route taking him into Michigan and, in fact, I-20 did not go through Michigan, it skirted along the top of Indiana.

Morning moon over Northwestern Ohio.

Morning moon over Northwestern Ohio.

My Itinerary: I-90 to Cleveland and then Ohio-2 along Lake Erie to Maumee State Park where I camped Northeast of Toledo, Ohio. Four weeks on the road today—5,500 miles.

The Landscape: State-2 along Lake Erie, although flat (“flea-at,” a mid-westerner might say), was an unexpected bonus. Bushes and shrubs in autumnal hues tending toward purple and violet, fields of rich brown grasses, produce stands with pumpkins everywhere, and lake views forever.

The Steinbeck Connection: Now I’m about to hit the ragged centers, the Youngstowns and Detroits etc., crawling with production. I can’t avoid them. There they are—right in the way. I only know they make me nervous.” Letter from John Steinbeck to his wife Elaine (September 30, 1960) from the border between New Hampshire and Vermont.

They make me nervous too—always have. I grew up a country mouse in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania and have usually lived in small towns or rural areas as an adult. Large “arteries” around cities and my own seem to work in sync, as the urban highways become more chaotic my knuckles whiten and my blood pressure surges.

Home away from home. This home was near Niagara Falls.

Home away from home. This home was near Niagara Falls.

Thinking that perhaps well-meaning (I’m nothing, if not well-meaning) “rubber tramps” such as I, may have their own special guardian angel, I’m pleased to report that thus far, congested urban areas have not been a problem.  I seem to be lucking out and hitting them on Sundays (such as Cleveland, yesterday). Of course, I write this on a Monday morning with Chicago dead ahead (gulp).

Maine produce.

Maine produce.

Profile: At the tree-covered and quiet North Niagara Falls KOA, I met Rodney. Rod is a floor manager for a casino in Colorado. He and wife Donna were just completing a three-week trip and had been to many of the places I had visited. He was not familiar with Steinbeck. When I mentioned Travels with Charley, he said, “Nope, I’m just getting into ‘trailerin’” Then he smiled, and asked me if I was Charley. Later he mentioned dropping out of high school and still having done well, but is adamant that kids must have a good education and computer skills today.

When we met, Rodney was walking his male Maltese, Harley, who acts just like Max—love every human, attack every other animal regardless of size. Rodney was chewing tobacco and spitting while we talked, had a goatee, salt and pepper hair, wore glasses and was short in stature. He is 58 years old.

Ohio produce.

Ohio produce.

He said the economy is strong in his town but that is not a good indication because people gamble more during tough times. “Not that that’s a good thing,” he said glancing up at me.

Rodney is a high energy, short-stab, finger-point for emphasis, kind of guy—sometimes pointing into my chest.  He’s friendly, loves this country, loved the colored lights on Niagara Falls. “One of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.”

Rodney and Donna joined me in the Winnie for drinks. We laughed a lot and really enjoyed each other’s company. What was striking was how much these two folks who, “have been messing around since we were fourteen,” still enjoy each other. Not a critical word was exchanged between them. Donna has black hair, green eyes and a warm smile.

Rodney, “We have to fix this health care situation. This has to be worked out. I spoke with a Canadian today and she says their system works. This is America!”

Rodney, “No matter how old they are, you should tell your kids you love them every day.”

As I mentioned, Rodney is the floor manager for a casino, yet he doesn’t gamble.

Rodney, Donna and Harley

Rodney, Donna and Harley

Sweet Notes: I’ve met many great folks on this trip, Rodney and Donna among them, but as we parted, I felt that this was a couple I would see again. They have promised to ride along. I received a supportive phone call from my friend BJ the other day. Thank you BJ, for the support (I need all I can get) 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


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Ruth Ann says:

    Sounds like the landscape continues sweet and the people sweeter. Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend – so much to be thankful for, eh?
    ps. Did you know that Abe Lincoln and his right-hand man Seward cooked up the American Thanksgiving holiday and placed it at the end of November as a relief for the dreary weather? Yup.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
    • * travelswithsteinbeck says:

      No did you know he was not born in IL? Hey this was pretty fast (your comment). I just posted. You’re like…like, eh, like a road runner.

      | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Dave Hall says:

    Really enjoying the ride…

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago

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