Travels With Steinbeck

A Wintery Blast.

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: I followed I-90 for a ways and got around the Twin Cities megalopolis with relative ease and, with the help of GPS lady (still haven’t settled on a name—Betty, maybe.) At Sauk Centre I opted for the two-lanes again, and followed U.S. 71 to U.S. 10 and on to Detroit Lakes. Betty insists on a street address in order to guide me to towns and cities. I satisfy her by making one up. I generally choose “1200 Main Street” because just about every town has one. I got particular pleasure out of punching in “Main Street” in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis’s boyhood home. Only a lit-geek would think that was cool. If you are one, then you know why.

Old rides beneath new in Minnesota.

Old rides beneath new in Minnesota.

The Landscape: Funny, I had this persistent image of Wisconsin being a pretty, smart, popular girl and Minnesota being her rugged, hard-working, but comparatively plain brother. Then I reread Steinbeck’s description of Wisconsin in Travels with Charley this morning and was reminded that he had compared Wisconsin to what we would call today, a “high maintenance” woman. “But this fact does not make her less lovely—if you can afford her,” Steinbeck wrote.

The Steinbeck Connection: I have followed my vagabond mentor’s lead over the last five weeks. Mine is an act of, lets be honest, imitation. It is a pilgrimage fueled by admiration, firm but not fanatical. At rare times I feel I may have improved slightly on what JS did, or what he observed. But yesterday, I did something important for him. Something he was not able to do 49 years ago.

The drive from Mauston, Wisconsin to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota is long under the best of circumstances. Add to that four hours of being lost in Minneapolis/St. Paul, as was reported by Steinbeck and you have what I would call a driving day from hell. Since the author arrived late to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, he kept going to his destination (Detroit Lakes) and did not have a chance to enjoy the birthplace of his friend, Sinclair Lewis. I did.

The Sinclair Lewis interpretative

Display from the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center

Display from the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center.

Center (and Chamber of Commerce) was a comfortable building staffed by friendly people. The Lewis exhibit was attractive, informative and free. Sure, it had the odd manikin in period dress performing no apparent function, but, for a small town, this is a good exhibit, well-maintained. I learned a lot.

“I had read Main Street when I was in high school, and I remember the violent hatred it aroused in the countyside of his nativity.” Travels with Charley. Judging by the tribute to Lewis in the interpretative center, I’d say they got over it.

Steinbeck mentioned in one of his letters home that all the talk in this area was, not about politics, but baseball. I have heard two conversations in the last 24 hours on that most beloved of Americans preoccupations—one in Wisconsin, a men’s coffee klatch at breakfast, and one in Detroit Lakes, two gals who work the early shift at the lodge where I’m staying.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Minnesota Twins are playing the New York Yankees in the division playoffs.

The Dog: Had to perform a tickectomy on Max’s head this morning. I pinned him inside my jacket in order to tweezer him. He was not happy. Late for ticks.

A thing of the past?

A thing of the past?

Sweet Notes: I pulled into Detroit Lakes with a front blowing in across the Plains—snow, black ice and freezing temperatures. I hunkered down at The Lodge on Detroit Lake and discovered the best combination of view, accommodations and service for the dollar that I have encountered in 6,000 miles. Peggy and Kathy at the front desk could not be nicer and more helpful. The Lodge is the only place I have ever stayed that offers in-room recycling. They also have environmentally friendly BeeKind Products and packaging by Gilchrist and Soames. Cathy and Peggy have promised 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

The Bambi named Winnie gets cold feet.

The Bambi named Winnie gets cold feet.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Jane Roth says:

    Stay warm and enjoy the ride!

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Tom Armstrong says:

    Funny that you should mention baseball and the Yankees….on October 13th, 1960 Bill Mazeroski hit the most famous homerun in World Series history to defeat the evil empire. “They break all the records and we win the game.”–Gino Cimoli

    TA from PA

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

    Max seems to be getting younger and younger as the trip goes on….

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago

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