Back on the Steinbeck Highway

Wednesday, 06 October 2010 07:00 PM Written by 

EIGHTY FOUR, PA. -- My house

Tomorrow morning as early as possible I'll head off in my red RAV to Madison, Ohio, where I'll pick up Steinbeck's 50-year-old trail and follow it west, west, west to Seattle.

Madison is where I-90/the New York Thruway ended in 1960. And that's where Steinbeck got off the interstate after driving from Buffalo, where he said he had stayed at the "grandest auto court" he could find after his border misadventures at the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge in Niagara Falls.

Note: To save a little time and prove that I am not completely anal about sticking to Steinbeck's exact route, I'm skipping the stretch of I-90 between Erie and Madison; it's just 63 miles of interstate and it's indistinguishable from the rest of I-90, which I've driven at least a hundred times. It's 63 miles of this:DSC_1958_copy

Steinbeck's interstate terrors were over for a while at Madison, where he picked up US Route 20.

He wrote that US 20 took him quickly past Cleveland and Toledo, which I suspect won't be the case tomorrow, and into western Ohio and, he writes,  into Michigan.

There's something weird about Michigan in "Travels With Charley."

US 20 doesn't go into Michigan, but it gets pretty close. Did he wander off in search of a lake to camp by? Maybe.

There are lakes on both sides of the Ohio-Michigan state line a few miles north of US 20 by the Lake La Su an Wilderness and he would have had to stop for the night around there.

A page or two later, Michigan makes a more incongruous appearance.

Just before he wrote in "Charley" that he met up with a young man who he goes fishing with the next morning, Steinbeck writes that he is camped and "sitting alone beside a lake in northern Michigan."

Northern Michigan?

No way did he ever drive up to northern Michigan.

He was lonely and hurrying to meet his wife in Chicago. It had to have been a slip of the pen on his part that no copy editor ever spotted. He must have meant southern Michigan or northern Indiana.   

In any case, Steinbeck most likely stopped overnight somewhere in western Ohio (halfway between Buffalo and Chicago, which are 600 miles apart).

Maybe he did end up parked on Michigan soil for a night. Good for him. Another state under his fan belt.

The next day Steinbeck said he hopped on the Indiana Toll Road and, after a quick late-night/early morning snooze at a rest stop,  drove into downtown Chicago before dawn.

There he'd meet his jet-propelled wife Elaine at the prestigious and posh Ambassador East Hotel of Pump Room fame (below).

The Ambassador's where I'll go Friday -- to look, not sleep.

The Pump Room at the Ambassador East.

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