Travels With Steinbeck

I’m That Man who Danced with his Wife in Chicago.*

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 a short-two lane journey on rural U.S. 20 to pretty much knock off Northern Ohio, I followed  I-90 to Chicago.  The tolls and traffic were terrible!

Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Steinbeck’s route: This will require more research on my part. There is reason to believe he went straight on I-20 (today’s I-90) and also evidence that Steinbeck detoured up into Michigan. More on that later.  Regardless of the route,we both had the same strong motivation, seeing our wives after several weeks.  And the same destination, the Ambassador East Hotel on North State Parkway.  Steinbeck got lost trying to find the hotel—we couldn’t find it with a GPS and finally had to knock on a door and ask for help.

The Landscape: What can you say about Indiana, oh, that it has great colleges and universities.

The Steinbeck Connection: The main connection is, of course, the Ambassador East. Steinbeck describes it in TWC as an “elegant and expensive pleasure dome” where he was well-known. According to Historic Hotels of America, The Ambassador East was built in 1926 and it’s “world famous” Pump Room Restaurant is  the place to be seen in the “prestigious Gold Coast” region of Chicago.  I found the Pump Room to be full of itself and its celebrity photos (of which there are 725—couldn’t find Steinbeck), but empty of charm and people. The staff, was for the most part, jaded. The Pump Room is also outrageously expensive at twenty-five bucks for a glass of wine and a drink. The service in the hotel was poor requiring three requests to get foam pillows. We went exploring and found our “peeps” at Butch McGuire’s Tavern and Grill where three drinks, dinner, lots of laughs and a ball game on TV could be had for fifty bucks.

An "elegant and expensive pleasure dome."

An "elegant and expensive pleasure dome."

I will admit the room was nicely appointed and quiet at the AE, and there Dimmie and I danced to music on the radio and did that other wonderful thing loving couples do after an extended time apart, but I’m going to draw the curtain on that act.

The Dog: Max overdid it a bit when we first arrived.  I had left the door of the trailer open with him inside. He never goes down the step without help. When a boy came too close walking his medium-sized brown dog on a leash, Max dove, superman-style out the door, ready to engage.  I jumped out onto the lawn in my socks and danced around on one foot trying to keep Max away from the visitor with my other. The boy was being turned in circles by his dog who was seeking a piece of Max. I finally got Max by the tail while his antagonist was dragged off snarling and snapping. The next day Max was moving kinda slow and favoring one leg. I got a baby aspirin down him cloaked in Swiss cheese and dropped him at the Airport Pet Lodge were we had booked him a suite, a grooming and hopefully a good rest. Charley was given similar treatment in Chicago.

The Ambassador East is filled with interesting nooks and narrow hallways.

The Ambassador East is filled with interesting nooks and narrow hallways.

Sweet Notes: Jeffery, waiter-extraordinaire at Butch McGuire’s was the first person we met in Chicago who got excited about Steinbeck and my journey. He remembered enjoying The Grapes of Wrath, and he plans 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

*Remember that song, “I know a man who danced with his wife—in Chicago, etc.?”


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Laura Schott says:

    Hi Greg! Just caught up on your trip. $25 for a drink?! Yikes. Poor Max – bet he tried to give ‘im hell! Hope he enjoyed the well-deserved day at the spa. 🙂

    I love the postcard board in the MS – was up there yesterday to take a look and included it in this week’s E-News along with your blog adddress again.

    Take care and safe travels!

    Love, Laura

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Ruth Ann says:

    No better time to be following the northernmost part of your journey (the one nearest to the Canadian border) than early October, when the colours proclaim themselves so vividly.
    I love seeing Max happy and active… you have given him a new ‘leash’ for sure.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago

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