MADISON, OHIO -- U.S. 20, THE STEINBECK HIGHWAY
Steinbeck was comfortably ensconced at the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago on this date in 1960. I'll catch up with his ghost soon enough, because unlike him I won't spend four or five days relaxing at one of the nicest hotels in the hemisphere.
Meanwhile, I left my house at 8:30 and took I-79, the Ohio Turnpike and Route 11 to I-90 west.
At 11 a.m., after 150 miles, I got off I-90 at Madison, Ohio, just like Steinbeck did because that's where I-90 ended in 1960. I-90 has a lot more development at its exits than in Steinbeck's time, obviously.
The woods have grown thicker and taller and have taken away any view of the farmland he might have seen. About the only thing popping up above the trees nowadays are cell towers.
I quickly picked up US 20 west, the road he took across northern Ohio, which goes straight through the weakened heart of downtown Cleveland 50 miles west of here. But I couldn't take much of the four-lane road, where the traffic was thick and aggressive.
After passing through the healthy and well-preserved brick downtown of Willoughby, I entered the frantic suburban sprawl of Cleveland's eastern suburbs.
I am immune to sprawl. But Steinbeck would have had a fatal stroke if he had come upon all the crazy commercial development all Americans take for granted -- big malls and Target stores and Jeep dealerships and T.J. Maxx and Giant Eagle supermarkets.
Traffic was nasty and annoying. I was already thinking of bailing out and getting back on I-90 when I pulled into a Verizon Wireless store to see if someone could unclog the email on my smart phone.
As the Verizon guy was fixing my phone -- by popping out the battery, which allegedly fixes everything -- I asked a businessman shopping for a new Blackberry if US 20 went right through downtown Cleveland (I knew it did).
He tried to get me to save myself a lot of grief and take I-90, which any normal person would take, but I told him I had to stay on US 20.
I asked if US 20's traffic was heavy all the way into downtown. Not only that, he said, they've got cameras at some red lights and US 20/Euclid Avenue goes through "many atmospheric changes."
Now that was a great euphemism for describing the sketchier neighborhoods of central Cleveland that look nothing like they did when Steinbeck traveled them.
I decided then and there that I had more important things to do than spend an extra two hours of my life crawling though the saddest streets of urban Cleveland.
I had seen what 50 years of bad social and economic policy had done to Rochester's innards. Cleveland was only going to be worse.
I jumped back on I-90 and did an end run around Cleveland that the great Jim Brown would have been proud of.
When I write my book, I'll explore the hunk of US 20 that goes through Cleveland. I had to make some time. I had to get to Maumee, Ohio, the Toledo suburb on US 20, where via the Internet I had lined up an appointment at Rouen Toyota Scion to get an oil change and my tires rotated.