LANCASTER, N.H. -- Lancaster Motor Inn
Steinbeck passed through this town on the Vermont border twice on his long loop to the top of Maine and back -- once going east on US 2 exactly 50 years ago this weekend and again a week later heading west.
He no doubt noticed the town's surfeit of white churches.
I can see at least five on US 2 from the venerable and welcoming Lancaster Motor Inn, where I am sitting in their lobby borrowing their wi-fi service after a fine $8 breakfast of steak and eggs; a local says 13 or 14 churches serve the town's 3,200 souls/sinners.
Driving through St. Johnsbury, Vt., on my way here was a disappointment. I was hoping to stop at one of the dozens of hip Internet cafes I imagined would be open in "St. Jay's" downtown at 7 a.m.
Instead I had to quickly turn right/east on US 2 and travel through a dingy light industrial district that included the Maple Grove Farms of Vermont's "plant" with attached Gift Shop and Maple Museum.
US 2 was a fast smooth ride. At one point I was doing 65 mph and being pushed from behind by a guy pulling a racing car on a trailer.
Nothing -- mostly nothing. That's all there was except for the gorgeous scenery. Few humans were to be seen on or off the road.
A few mobile homes and trailers came and went. Their snowmobiles and pickup trucks were seductively parked by the side of the road, hung with "For Sale" signs.
Mostly it was mountains and woods and yellow and orange and red and green leaves and an occasional "Moose" warning sign.
Not long before I hit Lancaster and the NH border, I turned a bend on US 2 and found the first screaming evidence that politics and the upcoming off-year elections were important to some folks 'round he-ah.
The front yard of this partisan's farm had it all.
Not only did his driveway have a display of pumpkins for sale -- as did half of the Vermontians who live on US 5 and US 2. But he had carefully posted a dozen political signs along the side of the curve.
If there was any doubt where his sympathies lay, his hand-lettered sign made it clear:
Lancaster's main drag -- US 2 -- was busier than it must be on a Sunday morning when townspeople are pouring into all the white churches.
At 9 a.m. a flea market was setting up on the grass next to the old brick courthouse. Among the sellers of maple syrup and organic vegetables and gluten-free breadstuff was Gerry Gallick, 52.
Gallick, the second person I talked to, could be a poster-victim for the current economic downturn.
He was putting his color photographs and calendars on display, but he was not really a photographer by choice. He was a civil engineer, a former cop, a former truck driver, a musician, a poet -- and now a photographer.
He lost his engineering job in January and can talk your ear off about all the jobs he's looked for since but didn't get.
He's been rejected because he's too old or over-qualified and so he's trying to make a living selling his big color photos of the magnificent local stuff that he said God has made -- the mountains and woods and fauna.
I struck up a conversation with Gallick when I spotted one of his panoramic photos -- the one taken of downtown Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington.
Yes, like Mike from Sag Harbor and others I am destined to meet in the next weeks, he's from the 'burgh -- 31 years removed.
He grew up in Forest Hills, went to Churchill High School and is living in God's Country, right where he wants to be.
Miraculously, we found each other and neither of us was wearing a stitch of Steelers black and gold.