Pitstopping in Pittsburgh

Monday, 04 October 2010 12:29 PM Written by 

EIGHTY FOUR, PA. -- My house

Lucky me, since John Steinbeck zipped past Erie on the New York Thruway 50 years ago, and Erie is only two hours from here, I drove home last night.

My house.

It's only a brief pitstop on a 10,000-mile course. Think of my first leg from Sag Harbor to Maine to Erie -- 2,130 Steinbeck Miles -- as a test-drive or a shakedown cruise.

I need to adjust some things with my car bed and my communications system.

I better get the Bluetooth hooked up in my RAV4 or I'm going to get into a wreck trying to unlock my smart phone every time someone calls me.

I'm glad no one took video of me trying to take notes, shoot photos/video and talk on my phone at the same time -- not that I would ever do those things while driving down Route 11 in Maine at 60 mph.

By Wednesday or Thursday, I'll head for Chicago. On his trip Steinbeck rendezvoused there with his wife Elaine at the Ambassador East Hotel downtown for four or five days.

He got there from Niagara Falls/Buffalo via the New York Thruway (I-90) to Madison, Ohio, where he picked up US 20 until he could jump on the Indiana Toll Road to Chicago.


Steinbeck's first experiences with the speed and flow and intense truck traffic on these first sections of the Interstate Highway System frightened and bothered him, as he describes in "Travels With Charley."

He missed being able to stop at fruit stands or diners. But statistically he was much safer driving on those four-lane "gashes of concrete and tar" than he had been when he was happily tooling down the two-lane deathroads of New England.

Steinbeck, who was a big baseball fan,  arrived in Chicago on or about Oct. 5 -- the day the Pirates-Yankees World Series started with a 4-3 Pittsburgh win.

 I'll visit that elegant hotel in the heart of Chicago's historic Gold Coast district; it's where the biggest celebrities, movie stars and cool guys like Sinatra and his gang stayed when they came to town to entertain mob bosses.

Chicago's Gold Coast.

I won't sleep at the Ambassador, unless they have a nice dark parking lot.

After Chicago, Steinbeck hit the Steinbeck Highway again, alone except for Charley, on the morning of Monday, Oct. 10, 1960.

Before he left for what would be a quick seven-day dash through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho to Seattle, Steinbeck, Elaine and Charley did a sleepover at his hero Adlai Stevenson's farm in Libertyville, Ill.

I'll also drop by Libertyville for a quick tour of that now historic site to see if I can find any ghosts. Meanwhile, I've got to stock up on more official Reporter's Notebooks.

Oh yeah.

If, like my mom, you missed my interview with Scott Simon of NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday," it is here.  

And if you want to start at the beginning of my retracing of John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley" trip, go here.


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