Travels With Steinbeck


Wrapping the Trip That Took Me.*

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.”

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Best Western, Buda, Texas. The flags say it all.

It is Monday November 9th, and I’m on my way home. This Friday when I arrive in Jackson it will have been 68 days on the road and approximately 15,000 miles around America—an adventure of a lifetime.

What lies ahead? I left barely knowing how to post to a blog and am returning with close to 265 fans on the Travels with Steinbeck Facebook page (and I appreciate every one of you—really, I do.) In short, I have learned so much on this trip. The support of friends, new and old, and the interest from so many blog followers is humbling beyond belief. For years I labored alone with this dream (with the obvious exception of Dimmie’s unwavering support). Now, I’ve been joined by my brother, David as we work to raise funds for a documentary of this trip—and all of you.

What lies ahead is a book—to be completed early next spring—a documentary film, if the funding can be secured, and a teacher’s guide. In the last two months, I spoke with the students at ten schools about John Steinbeck, his life and work, and my adventure—and I would love to continue with that. It was pure joy to share my passion for Steinbeck and this pilgrimage with so many. The students were wonderful.

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Bambi got a bath in Buda.

Here are a few highs and lows:

Best Commercial Digs: Bishop Farm Bed and Breakfast, Lisbon, New Hampshire.

Worst Commercial Digs: Too Kute-KOA, Canaan, Maine, (signs that refer to “tinkle” and “poop”).

Best Camp: KOA, Lewiston, New York.

Worst Camp: Tye RV, Tye, Texas (planes, trains and automobiles).

Best Road Sign: Sign on steep mountain road above Georgetown, Colorado. “Truckers—no brakes? Stay on I-70! Do not exit into town!” (crash somewhere else).

Worst Road Sign: “325 miles to El Paso” (Texas).

Most Amazing Steinbeck Revelation: “Dad hadn’t ever camped prior to the Charley trip.” Thomas Steinbeck.

Most Amazing Realization: It might seem obvious but television does not accurately reflect the mood of this great country, nor our people. I never heard a word spoken in anger. I never witnessed an angry gesture.

What Are Americans Like Today? Hopeful, caring, optimistic, positive, still dreaming.

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I'm thinking we could use that blessing 24/7.

Worst Day: Knocked the trailer off the blocks trying to hook up on the Santa Barbara to San Diego day, and it went downhill from there.

Best Day: Yes sir! Big Sur!

Best Country and Western Lyric. “I know what I was feelin’ but what was I thinkin’?”

Best Meal: Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans.

Worst Meal: Various and sundry “hot” motel breakfasts.

Coldest Temperature: 23 degrees and snowing in Western North Dakota.

Warmest Temperature: 93 degrees and sunny in San Diego.

Sweetest Connection: The Acadian/Cajun link—French spoken in northern Maine and western Louisiana.

Most Surprisingly Beautiful Terrain: Both Eastern Kansas and Central Texas delighted me.

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Many thanks to many kids of all ages for riding along.

The Thing We As Americans Most Need to Remember.  We are fighting, and our young people are dying, in two wars.

The Thing We Should Most Appreciate as Americans. The beauty and diversity of this “monster land” and of her people.

Change that Steinbeck Would Find Most Encouraging. Several of our major waterways, such as the Niagara River, have recovered from past abuse.

Change That Steinbeck Would Find Most Discouraging. Casinos—they are ubiquitous.

Best State Slogan. New Mexico. “Land of Enchantment.”

Best State Flag. Texas Lone Star (so sad to see it at half-mast).

Best Advice. “Remember who wrote it.” Gail Steinbeck

Worst Advice. “Just take a left, a right, two lefts and another right.”

Would I Do it Again? I would, I really would (if Dimmie would come with me).Max -profileTWS

My Hero. My man, Max.  David Swift photo to right.

My Mentor and Guide. JS (I bade him farewell in New Orleans when I turned back to the west).

Sweet Notes: So, so many wonderful warm supportive gestures. So many warm wonderful people. I am humbled, and I am grateful.

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Best photo: Kiva, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

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

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.


Les Gens de Couleur Libres.*

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.”Cajun food in Sulphur, Louisiana.

The Route: Somewhere around Exit 875 on I-10, Texas stopped messin’ with me and I entered the whole different world of Louisiana. I followed 10 all the way to New Orleans, stopping in Sulphur, LA for Cajun boudin (boo-dan) and a crawfish peaux boy at Richards (Ree-shards) Boudin and Seafood.

The Landscape: I crossed the Black Bayou just after entering Louisiana and later cruised along 14 miles of interstate-on-stilts across Henderson Swamp, part of the Atchafalaya Basin east of Lafayette. It was only the second time I had ever seen a swamp (the first was sea kayaking with my two sons in South Carolina). Swamps are fascinating biological wonders. Trees with several species of raptors perched in high limbs shot up seemingly right out of the blue/gray water. An occasional swamp boat motored around the tiny islands.  It has been beautiful balmy weather here in the low 70s.

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A ferry docking on the Mississippi in New Orleans.

The Steinbeck Connection: In late November, 1960, when Steinbeck visited New Orleans, he was preoccupied by a vicious display of bigotry know in the national media as “The Cheerleaders.”  The Cheerleaders were adult white women who heckled and harassed small black children attempting to integrate public schools. I visited the Main Branch of the New Orleans Public Library and studied both the white and black press from around November 14, 1960, the first day of the federally mandated desegregation. Thirty percent of white students were absent, most with parental consent, during the first few days of integration. The Louisianan Weekly described the protest activity as “jeers, catcalls, screaming uncomplimentary epithets, and waving crudely printed, misspelled signs.” The Times-Picayune described the greeting the U.S. Marshalls received escorting the “negro children” to schools as “hooting and hollering, booing and name-calling, but without the threat of violence.” What is most striking about the newspaper accounts of events of that pivotal time is that the black children and their parents stated that they were not afraid.

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A wedding march on Bourbon Street with a white groom and a black bride.

It was clear that, in 2009, I was not going to witness this sort of virulent bigotry in this most tolerant and diverse of American cities. However, there are ads running on TV featuring sports celebrities calling for interracial tolerance in this region. Also, Sean Olivier of Olivier’s Creole Restaurant (the gumbo was delicious), a drop-dead handsome man typical of mixed races (think Tiger and Barrack) informed me that when he stands outside his French Quarter Restaurant in a shirt and tie, some white visitors cross the street to avoid him. Pierre La France, also a Creole of Color, who has been driving cabs for New Orleans for over 40 years, never attended an integrated school as a child. He remembers riding on busses to baseball games—when white boys entered the bus, he was expected to move to the back. “My children and grandchildren wouldn’t stand for it today. Things have changed, thank God. But it was 200 years of captivity and we are still not all the way there.”

My brother David and I agreed that the Baptist Church leader, who hosts the “Jews Killed Jesus” and  “God Hates Fags” websites, represents the frontline of vicious bigotry today. In fact, they are

planning a protest of the Fort Hood Memorial Service because the U.S. Military is “fag-infested.” David and I have both attended events that were protested by the infamous group. One of David’s photos is at right—sad, sad indeed.

Words cannot describe...

 

 

I was curious about the lingering effect of Katrina. Sean Olivier said it is depressing—his mother’s house is the only one on her block that has been reoccupied. Many houses are still being razed because it is often cheaper than trying to remodel. I spoke with an African American man named Philip who was painting an iron fence on St. Charles Street. Philip said he had to leave his home in the 9th ward during the storm and returned after 3 days to find water over his head. Philip feels New Orleans is still only 75% back to normal.

The Dog: Although Max has not gone crazy here in the city like he did in San Francisco, by now he must have memorized every pee-gram in the alley next to the The Best Western-St. Christopher Hotel were we are staying. We certainly have moseyed up and down the alley enough times, stopping at every scent. Oh, I get it. He’s just picking up on the pace of the south and the city, walking with all the urgency of an elderly Louisiana gentleman on the way to nowhere in particular.

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An eclectic celebration on the Riverwalk in New Orleans in support of Sous Terre (Dirt Money), a foundation dedicated to removing the lead from the soil.

Sweet Notes: After journeying successfully for over 12,000 miles, I felt it was time to pay my respects to St. Christopher. I stayed in the Best Western-St. Christopher Hotel in New Orleans, just two blocks from the French Quarter. The St. Christopher resides in an historic brick building built on property Paul Tulane gave to Tulane University in 1882. The original bricks are exposed in the comfortable and well-appointed rooms. My well-lit suite had four floor-to-ceiling windows including one in the bathroom, looking out over the city.

I am long overdue thanking my good hiking buddy David Swift for his excellent photographs, which launched my little pal and me on this trip. Thanks for riding along David.

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

*”Free People of Color,” known today as “Creoles of Color” or simply “Creoles.”

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Best Western-St. Christopher on Magazine Street.


Still Messin’ with Texas.

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.”

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I examine the cotton tassels on my mud flaps after driving through Texas cotton country.

The Route: After leaving Amarillo, Steinbeck passed through Sweetwater, Balinger, Austin and, after bypassing Houston, Beaumont.  As is often the case when angling North to South across a state, he followed country roads, as did I. Although too numerous to mention, those roads were a fine way to see the Lone Star State. Max and I spent the night in Beaumont, near exit 851 and not yet too Louisiana.

The Landscape:. Just as soon as you feel you have Texas pegged, it changes. In general, the state  is more lush and tree-covered, such as with pin oaks, than expected. In terms of landscape there are many  faces to Texas, but the people only present one—exceptionally friendly and helpful. Somewhere in Central Texas I felt like I passed from the Western U.S. into the South.

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Texas folks takin' the high road.

Profile: I made my miles to Beaumont, Texas by 7:30 p.m. and after taking care of Max, walked to Joe’s Crab Shack with three things on my mind; seafood, beer and baseball.  All that was forgotten when I met a very charming barkeep named Krista. I knew she was local and I was back in the South when I heard her say, “do what?” as a way of saying “say that again, please.” Krista explained that Beaumont was just a “huge small town of 250,000.” She is 23 and has been tending bar for 5 years. Four little Texan boys sat near the other end of the bar in their baseball uniforms and watched the game while bantering with Krista (I overheard one remark about the Joe’s Crab Shack slogan stretched across her chest —”Bite Me.”  The boys swilled something out of a dark bottle—root beer perhaps. When I suggested that the characters at the other end of the bar might have had too much to drink. Krista said they had been cut off  after one beer. “Texas law, she said, if you can’t see over the bar you only get one beer.” Krista’s boyfriend recently moved to Florida and she says it is hard to maintain a relationship from 5 states away.  Krista likes the Yankee pitcher because he used to play for the Astros.  She likes football too. Krista has all the well-know qualities of a southern belle.  She is blonde, cute, and smiley-warm as a southern summer night. She also possesses the best kept secret of many southern belles, she is very smart. Of Mice and Men was her favorite book in high school. She really got the relationship, the dream, the tragedy. She wrote several papers about it.  When I told her it was one of  Steinbeck’s most banned books, she remembered  parents of schoolmates who complained about the language. I heard her commiserate with an angry co-worker in an “I’m Feeling Crabby,” t-shirt who had been jerked around by customers and then left a 2-buck tip.  Pretty tough, Krista said, when you’re only paid $2.16 an hour plus tips. Krista reminded me that Texans “bleed orange” for the Longhorns and presented me with a gift, an orange Joe’s Crab Shack shirt. Today, I’ll drive to New Orleans, bleeding orange, thanks to Krista.

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Planes, trains and automobiles.

So as not to overly gush about Texas, I should report that, near Abilene, I experienced the worst RV park of the trip. I expect interstate traffic sounds in RV parks, and trains near highways are pretty much commonplace in this country, but the manager of this park in Tye, Texas failed to mention we were right under an ear-splitting flight path for a nearby airport.

The Dog: Max is doing great.  I hate to think how his health will deteriorate after he returns home and Dimmie puts him back on organic dog food.  Eggs and Arby’s beef seem to suit him (as long as I don’t forget his fish oil, baby aspirin and glucosamine).

Sweet Notes: Krista, you were the sweetest of the sweet in the sweet state of Texas.  Thanks for the t-shirt and thanks 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


Don’t Mess with Texans (they might secede).

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.”

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View from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico.

Steinbeck’s route: Steinbeck briefly drove on new I-40 in 1960. There was only one short stretch completed in the entire country in 1959 and that was in east central New Mexico near Santa Rosa. For the most part, he followed Route 66 to Amarillo, Texas where he spent several days getting Rociante’s broken window fixed. From Amarillo he must have taken U.S. 87 to Lubbock, Texas and U.S. 84 to Sweetwater, Texas.

The Landscape: Whereas flat terrain covered with brown grasses stretching to distant juniper and pinion-covered buttes seemed wrong for eastern New Mexico, it seemed right for Texas. Perhaps that’s because Western Texas doesn’t make pretenses about being anything else but cow and horse country. I read of one western Texas panhandle ranch that encompassed 3,000,000 acres in 1885. We camped at Palo Duro State Park near the town of Canyon south of Amarillo. It was a rugged canyon with several tree-dotted tiers leading down to a cottonwood-lined Red River—a welcome break from the relatively monotonous ranch and farm country surrounding.  South of Amarillo was for the most part, more of the same with the occasional high promontory or low riparian area. There was so much cotton lining the roads that my mud flats are now adorned with a row of cotton tassels. The sky has been clear, the winds mild and the temperatures, though cold at night, in the 70s during the day. “I like the flavor of Texas, but I wouldn’t want to live here. I might not fit in.” Jeanne Zeigler.

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Here I am with a pumpkin on Halloween. Conran, a member of the Pumpkin Clan of Acoma Pueblo.

The Steinbeck Connection: “I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion.” Travels with Charley.

Steinbeck arrived at Amarillo with a broken windshield. I pulled in with a broken hitch.  I have an appointment to have the hitch fixed in Austin, Texas and we are driving (nice to say “we,” for three days I have a second driver for the only time on this trip) with extreme caution.

Steinbeck’s description of Texas in Travels with Charley is memorable. His wife Elaine had a deep Texas connection and Steinbeck obviously knew the state well. He treated it with respect and good humor. He joked about the Lone Star State’s right to secede at will and how Texans love to threaten to do so, but are offended at the slightest suggestion that they should. Gayle, the reference librarian at the Main Branch of the Amarillo Public Library laughed when I read her that passage and said that it is still true today. We found no media evidence of Steinbeck’s extended stay in the area in 1960, including having Thanksgiving at the nearby ranch of a “friend.”  Steinbeck was very successful maintaining his desired anonymity in the Amarillo area.

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Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas

The Dog: Let me begin by saying no animals were hurt in the following events. Max had a weird day yesterday—he fell out of the car at a gas station but I broke his fall and he was fine.  Last night I had my first fire of the trip and as I was handing Max’s leash to my sister, he walked right into the fire, slightly singeing his beautiful white coat on the side before we could retrieve him. He was not hurt a bit but did smell a little smoky. Jeanne, a former blond herself, pronounced him the “blonde” of the dog set.

Sweet Notes: Thank you, Sis for riding along through much of Texas. Hello to the Buchmeiers, my first German family to jump aboard. Thank you Gayle and Robyn for your sweet support at the Amarillo Main Library reference desk and for riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

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Big Texan dude.

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009