Sleeping on the Steinbeck Highway

Monday, 18 October 2010 12:32 PM Written by 

ELLENSBURG, Wa. -- I-90, 110 Miles from Seattle

As he followed US 10 on his way to Seattle, John Steinbeck came down Main Street in Ellensburg's healthy historic downtown.

He definitely passed the "Since 1922" Palace Cafe, where I got one of my best road breakfasts -- corned beef hash and poached eggs for a pricy $10.DSC_2004_copy_copy_copy

He would not have seen Ace Emporium, the fully certified body piercing establishment, or Bailey's Bibliomania, one of two used book stores inhabiting the row of early 1900s brick storefronts. And being something of a gun nut, he would have loved Bullets Gunshop.

DSC_1999Last night I slept, willingly, happily, in my seventh Walmart parking lot. The temperature in Moses Lake hit 32 degrees but I was completely comfortable in my dark and cozy berth. My nose and my Apple laptop were pretty icy when I awoke at 6, though.

Here's an accounting of 13 sleeping arrangements on the road that have cost me $0 and resulted in no arrests for trespassing or vagrancy:

Seven Walmarts from Bangor to Moses Lake, Wa.; the Long Pier at Sag Harbor; a turnout on the bank of the Connecticut River; a lonely boat launching site 50 feet from the Bay of Fundy; a used car lot in central Maine; my family's cottage on Lake Erie; a rest stop on I-90 in Montana.

Since I left Pittsburgh nearly 6,000 miles ago, I've stayed like an adult at 10 motels from New Jersey to the Holiday Inn in Missoula for an average of around $62 per night. Total cost: about $620.

So for 22 nights on the Steinbeck Highway I've averaged about $28 a night for lodging -- if it's legal to call sleeping in your car lodging. 

I could have sought out cheaper/shakier places and paid much less per night. But instead of risking a stay at the Bates Motel for $45, I'd always rather sleep at one of Walmart's Sunspot Inns for $0.

Dawn by the Bay of Fundy.

Tonight I'll be staying at a Holiday Inn near the Seattle-Tacoma airport for $65, thanks to Hotwire.

There were probably not more than 100 Holiday Inns in 1960, but if I'm extraordinarily lucky, it'll be the same airport motel Steinbeck slept in 50 years ago.

As I know from reading his original manuscript of "Charley," he hung out at the airport for three days or four days while he waited for his wife Elaine to jet out from New York and join him for their slow ride down the Pacific Coast in Rocinante.

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