Travels Without Charley

"Travels With Charley" in Connecticut

Saturday, 11 February 2012 03:45 PM Written by

2010-10-31_16.07.09_copy"Travels Without Charley" explains in great detail how I discovered that John Steinbeck’s 1962 travel classic "Travels With Charley" – marketed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century -- is not a true and honest account of the cross-country trip he made in the fall of 1960. The best place to start is where I did, at the beginning.

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New London, Conn., harbor, where working guys took a break.
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Steinbeck bought booze at a place like this package store in Connecticut.
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Big old houses that Steinbeck and I saw 50 years apart line U.S. 5.


“Charley” & America in Pictures

In the fall of 2010, when I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley,” I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

At least one picture from my trip, starting with Steinbeck's summer home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., will be posted here each day until July 29, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Travels With Charley in Search of America.

 

True Discoveries

I discovered two important truths when I set out to follow John Steinbeck’s "Travels With Charley" route in the fall of 2010. I found out Steinbeck’s iconic nonfiction book was a 50-year-old literary fraud. And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom,  America is still a big, empty, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country. How I stumbled onto Steinbeck’s deceit and the daily account of my 11,276-mile drive from Long Island to Maine to California and back are stored in all their gory detail at Travels Without Charley. Meanwhile, I’m in the process of turning my adventures with John Steinbeck and his famous work into a book of my own. A nonfiction one.

Bill Steigerwald

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

A mini-index:

"'Travels With Charley' Timeline" is a well-linked, well-illustrated, updated timeline that pinpoints, as much as possible, the places Steinbeck was between Sept. 23, 1960, and Dec. 5, 1960, and what I wrote about them when I went there. There are photos and some short, raw, amateur but informative video clips of some of the stops I made on the Steinbeck Highway.

Why I’m Hounding Steinbeck" explains that I didn’t set out to fact-check Steinbeck or his “Charley” trip or cause the great author any grief. I just wanted to retrace his 1960 route and compare what he saw in 1960 with what I saw and then write a book about how America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.

"The Travels With Steinbeck Myth" shows how deeply the myths and fictions of Steinbeck's trip have been buried into the consciousness of American culture.

 

Join the conversation:

Ferry-hopping from Sag Harbor

Friday, 10 February 2012 09:54 AM Written by

2010-10-31_16.07.09_copy_copy_copy"Travels Without Charley" explains in great detail how I discovered that John Steinbeck’s 1962 travel classic "Travels With Charley" – marketed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century -- is not a true and honest account of the cross-country trip he made in the fall of 1960. The best place to start is where I did, at the beginning.

 

 

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The Cross Sound Ferry from Orient Point across Long Island
Sound to Connecticut is a 90-minute cruise.

 

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Tools of the drive-by journalism trade.

 

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I met super journalist John Woestendiek and Ace, fellow "TWC"-chasers,
on board the Susan Anne. They would eat my dust for weeks.

 

 

“Travels With Charley” & America in Pictures

In the fall of 2010, when I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley,” I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

At least one picture from my trip, starting with Steinbeck's summer home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., will be posted here each day until July 29, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Travels With Charley in Search of America.

 

True Discoveries

I discovered two important truths when I set out to follow John Steinbeck’s "Travels With Charley" route in the fall of 2010. I found out Steinbeck’s iconic nonfiction book was a 50-year-old literary fraud. And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom, America is still a big, empty, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country. How I stumbled onto Steinbeck’s deceit and the daily account of my 11,276-mile drive from Long Island to Maine to California and back are stored in all their gory detail at Travels Without Charley. Meanwhile, I’m in the process of turning my adventures with John Steinbeck and his famous work into a book of my own. A nonfiction one.

Bill Steigerwald

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

A mini-index:

"'Travels With Charley' Timeline" is a well-linked, well-illustrated, updated timeline that pinpoints, as much as possible, the places Steinbeck was between Sept. 23, 1960, and Dec. 5, 1960, and what I wrote about them when I went there. There are photos and some short, raw, amateur but informative video clips of some of the stops I made on the Steinbeck Highway.

Why I’m Hounding Steinbeck" explains that I didn’t set out to fact-check Steinbeck or his “Charley” trip or cause the great author any grief. I just wanted to retrace his 1960 route and compare what he saw in 1960 with what I saw and then write a book about how America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.

"The Travels With Steinbeck Myth" shows how deeply the myths and fictions of Steinbeck's trip have been buried into the consciousness of American culture.

 

Join the conversation:

Sag Harbor at dawn, 9/23/2010

Friday, 10 February 2012 09:08 AM Written by
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Downtown Sag Harbor in the afternoon, Sept. 22, 2010.
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Sag Harbor's pier as the moon comes up on Sept. 22, 2010.
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Sag Harbor's harbor as the sun comes up Sept. 23, 2010.

 

2010-10-31_16.07.09_copy "Travels Without Charley" explains in great detail how I discovered that John Steinbeck’s 1962 travel classic "Travels With Charley" – marketed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century -- is not a true and honest account of the cross-country trip he made in the fall of 1960. The best place to start is where I did, at the beginning.

 

“Charley” & America in Pictures

In the fall of 2010, when I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley,” I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

At least one picture from my trip, starting with Steinbeck's summer home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., will be posted here each day until July 29, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Travels With Charley in Search of America.

 

True Discoveries

I discovered two important truths when I set out to follow John Steinbeck’s "Travels With Charley" route in the fall of 2010. I found out Steinbeck’s iconic nonfiction book was a 50-year-old literary fraud. And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom,  America is still a big, empty, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country. How I stumbled onto Steinbeck’s deceit and the daily account of my 11,276-mile drive from Long Island to Maine to California and back are stored in all their gory detail at Travels Without Charley. Meanwhile, I’m in the process of turning my adventures with John Steinbeck and his famous work into a book of my own. A nonfiction one.

Bill Steigerwald

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

A mini-index:

"'Travels With Charley' Timeline" is a well-linked, well-illustrated, updated timeline that pinpoints, as much as possible, the places Steinbeck was between Sept. 23, 1960, and Dec. 5, 1960, and what I wrote about them when I went there. There are photos and some short, raw, amateur but informative video clips of some of the stops I made on the Steinbeck Highway.

Why I’m Hounding Steinbeck" explains that I didn’t set out to fact-check Steinbeck or his “Charley” trip or cause the great author any grief. I just wanted to retrace his 1960 route and compare what he saw in 1960 with what I saw and then write a book about how America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.

"The Travels With Steinbeck Myth" shows how deeply the myths and fictions of Steinbeck's trip have been buried into the consciousness of American culture.

 

Join the conversation:

"Travels With Charley" & America -- in Pictures

Wednesday, 08 February 2012 10:46 AM Written by
DSC_1518_copySag Harbor sidewalks today.

 

2010-10-31_16.07.09

"Travels Without Charley" explains in great detail how I discovered that John Steinbeck’s 1962 travel classic "Travels With Charley" – marketed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century -- is not a true and honest account of the cross-country trip he made in the fall of 1960. The best place to start is where I did, at the beginning.



“Charley” & America in Pictures

In the fall of 2010, when I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley,” I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

At least one picture from my trip, starting with Steinbeck's summer home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., will be posted here each day until July 29, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Travels With Charley in Search of America.


True Discoveries

I discovered two important truths when I set out to follow John Steinbeck’s "Travels With Charley" route in the fall of 2010. I found out Steinbeck’s iconic nonfiction book was a 50-year-old literary fraud. And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom,  America is still a big, empty, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country. How I stumbled onto Steinbeck’s deceit and the daily account of my 11,276-mile drive from Long Island to Maine to California and back are stored in all their gory detail at Travels Without Charley. Meanwhile, I’m in the process of turning my adventures with John Steinbeck and his famous work into a book of my own. A nonfiction one.

Bill Steigerwald

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


A mini-index:

"'Travels With Charley' Timeline" is a well-linked, well-illustrated, updated timeline that pinpoints, as much as possible, the places Steinbeck was between Sept. 23, 1960, and Dec. 5, 1960, and what I wrote about them when I went there. There are photos and some short, raw, amateur but informative video clips of some of the stops I made on the Steinbeck Highway.

 “Why I’m Hounding Steinbeck" explains that I didn’t set out to fact-check Steinbeck or his “Charley” trip or cause the great author any grief. I just wanted to retrace his 1960 route and compare what he saw in 1960 with what I saw and then write a book about how America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.

 "The Travels With Steinbeck Myth" shows how deeply the myths and fictions of Steinbeck's trip have been buried into the consciousness of American culture.

 

Join the conversation:

"Travels With Charley" turns 50

Thursday, 05 January 2012 07:39 PM Written by

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"Travels Without Charley" explains in great detail how I discovered that John Steinbeck’s 1962 travel classic "Travels With Charley" – marketed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century -- is not a true and honest account of the cross-country trip he made in the fall of 1960. The best place to start is where I did, at the beginning.  -- Bill Steigerwald

 

If the world doesn’t end, 2012 will be an important year for “Travels With Charley.”

John Steinbeck’s classic/iconic/beloved but not very true/honest bestseller will celebrate its 50th birthday in late July.

For half a century, Steinbeck’s last major work masqueraded as a nonfiction book.

But as I innocently/accidentally learned in the fall of 2010 by hanging around in university libraries and driving down thousands of miles of two-lane highways, “Travels With Charley” is more fiction and fibs than fact.

The critics were overly kind to “Travels With Charley” in late summer 1962. Most of them raved blindly; none of them seemed to notice the book’s lineup of cardboard characters or their stilted dialogue, which was made of the same hard wood.

Time magazine broke from the pack, however, ripping Steinbeck in a two-paragraph review that seemed unnecessarily harsh when I first read it.

But now, given what I/we know about how Steinbeck actually traveled and how little time he spent alone or spent studying the state of the changing country, Time’s hatchet job looks sharper than ever.

Here’s what Time wrote in August 1962:

“TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, by John Steinbeck (246 pp.; Viking; $4.95). Put a famous author behind the wheel of a three-quarter-ton truck called Rocinante (after Don Quixote's horse), equip him with everything from trenching tools to subzero underwear, send along a pedigreed French poodle named Charley with prostatitis, follow the man and dog on a three-month, 10,000-mile trip through 34 states, and what have you got? One of the dullest travelogues ever to acquire the respectability of a hard cover.

“Vagabond Steinbeck's motive for making the long, lonely journey is admirable: "To try to rediscover this monster land" after years of easy living in Manhattan and a country place in Sag Harbor. L.I. He meets some interesting people: migrant Canucks picking potatoes in Maine, an itinerant Shakespearean actor in North Dakota, his own literary ghost back home in California's Monterey Peninsula. But when the trip is done, Steinbeck's attempt at rediscovery reveals nothing more remarkable than a sure gift for the obvious observation.”

Tough stuff.

But even Time didn’t question the existence of that improbable clan of Canucks in Maine and that fictional actor near Alice, N.D.

 For 50 years, the Steinbeck Studies Industrial Complex and everyone else of importance who read or taught the book have taken Steinbeck’s words for it.

Then I stumbled along.

I didn’t set out to fact-check Steinbeck, ruin anyone’s reading fun or make two generations of Steinbeck scholars look bad. I just followed the facts I found in the Steinbeck books and archives and it turned out that it's fair to conclude that Steinbeck's "nonfiction" book was "something of a fraud."

My discovery of Steinbeck’s literary fraudulence, for all the mainstream media attention it got last spring, hasn’t put much of a dent in “Travels With Charley’s” reputation as a true account of Steinbeck’s trip.

Most people -- if the Google alerts I get are representative of “TWC” readers -- still think they are reading an honest, factual account of a great writer’s famous road trip. And most new readers love the book’s literary guts as much as those unquestioning critics of 1962.

But not everyone is fooled. The mad mind behind the travel blog “Manboy in the Promised Land” recently took time out from bumming around the continent on his motorcycle to read “TWC” and Steinbeck’s earlier nonfiction work, “Log from the Sea of Cortez.”

Manboy was not very respectful and not very impressed, but he was direct:

"Travels with Charley and Log from the Sea of Cortez: Both complete wastes of time. I cried at the end of Travels with Charley when Steinbeck’s pet French poodle Charley died of canine consumption. No, that didn’t happen and Charley never died, at least not in the book. He is most assuredly dead now, along with Steinbeck, although it would have been much better if Charley died during the course of the book because it would have added a small touch of excitement to Steinbeck’s drab tale of driving in America. As long as we’re being honest here, let it be known that this famous author comes across as a giant (sissy) as he relates his story of riding around America in a brand new custom-built pick-up/camper set-up with his pet French poodle. If I remember correctly I finished this read in Alaska, knowing full well that Charley would have been dead long ago if he had been riding sidesaddle with me on the old CB500t; just another creepy mascot, cold and wet and dead and strapped to the back of the seat along with the spare tire and gas can jostling about. And even if Alaska didn’t kill him, the great pilgrimage through the deserts of the American West would have. Remember, the only good poodle is a dead one and no man should be seen with a poodle ever, or even write about their adventures with one. There’s also at least two occasions where Steinbeck creepily rifles through somebody else’s garbage and he’s way too enthusiastic about disposable aluminum cookware, which he likes to cook on and then pitch into the ether, giddily relating how he would use the stuff on his sailboat and then throw it into the ocean...."

Manboy, whose aliases include Pipe Adams, is equally unkind about “Log from the Sea of Cortez.”

The rest of his travel blog, though geared for an audience still too young and carefree to have been drowned in the home mortgage crisis, is entertaining, smart and well-written. But not quite so mean. 

 

True Discoveries

I discovered two important truths when I set out to follow John Steinbeck’s "Travels With Charley" route in the fall of 2010. I found out Steinbeck’s iconic nonfiction book was a 50-year-old literary fraud. And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom,  America is still a big, empty, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country. How I stumbled onto Steinbeck’s deceit and the daily account of my 11,276-mile drive from Long Island to Maine to California and back are stored in all their gory detail at Travels Without Charley. Meanwhile, I’m in the process of turning my adventures with John Steinbeck and his famous work into a book of my own. A nonfiction one.

Bill Steigerwald

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


A mini-index:

"'Travels With Charley' Timeline" is a well-linked, well-illustrated, updated timeline that pinpoints, as much as possible, the places Steinbeck was between Sept. 23, 1960, and Dec. 5, 1960, and what I wrote about them when I went there. There are photos and some short, raw, amateur but informative video clips of some of the stops I made on the Steinbeck Highway.

Why I’m Hounding Steinbeck" explains that I didn’t set out to fact-check Steinbeck or his “Charley” trip or cause the great author any grief. I just wanted to retrace his 1960 route and compare what he saw in 1960 with what I saw and then write a book about how America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.

"The Travels With Steinbeck Myth" shows how deeply the myths and fictions of Steinbeck's trip have been buried into the consciousness of American culture.

 

 

 

 

 

Join the conversation:

John Steinbeck's 2,100-mile Sprint

Sunday, 09 October 2011 09:28 AM Written by
This was a big week of fast traveling for John Steinbeck in 1960 -- and for me exactly a year ago.

After Steinbeck's solo drive to the top of Maine, he streaked under lakes Ontario and Erie to Chicago, where his wife Elaine joined him for a four- or five-day stay at the posh Ambassador East Hotel and a sleepover at Adlai Stevenson's farm in nearby Libertyville, Ill.

Then on the morning of Monday, Oct. 10, 1960, Elaine flew back to New York and Steinbeck and poodle Charley reboarded Rocinante and headed west for Seattle.ca_247_copy_copy

Because Steinbeck wrote letters to Elaine each night from the road, we know where he really was on most of his 2,100-mile sprint to the West Coast, where Elaine would join him again for the next 30 days.

Contrary to what Steinbeck wrote in "Charley," here is where he really slept during the week of Oct. 9-16, 1960. The links connect to what I wrote in this blog/web site when I went to each of the same places, exactly 50 years after Steinbeck did.

Monday night,  Oct. 10 -- Mauston, Wisc. Steinbeck "camped" at a truck stop on US 12, possibly at Ernie's Truck Stop.

Tuesday night Oct. 11 -- Frazee, Minn., east of Fargo, N.D. He "camped" at the Daggett Truck Line's operations, which handled cattle exclusively, and he looked down on a valley filled with turkeys. (In "Travels With Charley" he combines the Wisconsin and Minnesota stops into one night.)

Wednesday night Oct. 12 -- Beach, N.D. In a letter to his wife from Beach he said he was staying in Beach in a motel called "the Dairy Queen." In "Charley," however, he claimed he camped overnight by the Maple River near Alice, N.D., southwest of Fargo, where he met an itinerant Shakespearean actor. He also claimed that on the next night he camped overnight in the Badlands, where he heard the coyotes bark. He couldn't have camped overnight at either place because he was in the Westgate Motel in Beach.DSC_2024_copy_copy_copy_copy

Thursday night Oct. 13 -- Near Bozeman, Mt. The night of the day Maz hit his historic home run for the Pirates to beat the Yankees in the World Series, Steinbeck stayed either at a motel or trailer court, probably in or near Livingston, and watched the third televised JFK-Nixon debate.

Friday night Oct. 14 -- In Montana, 60 miles west of Missoula on US 10, in Rocinante on a private farm. Somehow I had a major brownout and blew right past this Steinbeck Stop. I probably would not have found it anyway. Though Steinbeck wrote a letter to his wife this night from somewhere near Tarkio, Mt.,  where he was exactly is not known. I tried to find out after my trip was over, but the mystery remains.

Saturday night Oct. 15 -- Somewhere between northwest Montana and Seattle. This also proved impossible to pin down. In "Charley" Steinbeck claims he stopped in the mountains near the Idaho-Washington border at a crummy gas station/cabin combo and met a young man who subscribed to the New Yorker, liked fashion and wanted to be a hairdresser.

I tried to find such a place, but to no avail. The cabins and the characters Steinbeck said he met there probably never existed. Given his eagerness to meet Elaine again in Seattle, it's unlikely that he drove such a short distance that day and stopped. He probably had to sleep overnight at least once somewhere on the way to Seattle, but I've found no clues to tell me where.

Sunday night Oct. 16 or Monday Oct. 17 -- Seattle, at a modern motel at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. He could have stopped to sleep somewhere short of Seattle, but he certainly would have arrived in the city no later than Monday. He was hurrying there because Elaine was going to jet out to meet him.

Based on what he wrote in the original draft of "Charley," Steinbeck spent three days waiting in the motel for Elaine to arrive. Then they traveled down the Pacific Coast like honeymooners for a week, stayed in San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel for about five days and moved down to Monterey for a two-week stay at the Steinbeck family cottage by the ocean in Pacific Grove. 

I followed the Traveling Steinbecks' trail out West last October as best I could. A year later, as I try to get a book deal based on my adventures with Steinbeck, I'm still on the road with him and his ghost.

Join the conversation:

Tracing Steinbeck's Trail Again

Thursday, 22 September 2011 08:20 PM Written by

September 23, 2011

Exactly 51 years ago today, on Friday, Sept. 23, 1960, John Steinbeck and his faithful French poodle Charley left on the cross-country road trip that would form the skeleton of the great author's iconic travel book "Travels With Charley." 

A year ago today, as part of an extreme act of entrepreneurial journalism, I set out to retrace Steinbeck's trail as best I could in my Toyota RAV4. Doglessly. Doggedly.

I left the driveway of his old summer home in Sag Harbor on Long Island at sunrise, took three ferrys to New London, Conn., and spent the next seven weeks plying the Steinbeck Highway for 11,276 miles.

All my daily blog items, photos, videos, commentaries, plus details of how I discovered that much of Steinbeck's supposedly nonfiction book is actually fiction and/or fibs, can be found at my Post-Gazette web site "Travels Without Charley."

Meanwhile, here is a reprise of my blog items from Sept. 23, 2010.

 

Hitting the Steinbeck Highway

SAG HARBOR, N.Y. -- Steinbeck's Driveway -- Miles Zero

Goodbye, Sag Harbor.

It's 7 a.m. My RAV4 is in Steinbeck's driveway, ready for launching.

I'm sure he wouldn't mind my trespassing.  The ferry to New London, Conn. -- back to the continent -- embarks at 10.

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Island-Hopping, Ferry-Jumping

EAST HARTFORD, CONN. --  MILE 60

It hasn't been easy getting this far inland.

I was up before dawn after sleeping in my RAV4 on the Sag Harbor pier, trying to blend in with all the yachts berthed nearby.

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Let's pretend I got five hours of actual sleep. A local told me it was a good and safe place -- i.e., I wouldn't be arrested or run out of town -- and he was right.

The idea of any crime going on Sag Harbor -- other than felonious BMW-envy -- is absurd. I never saw a cop while I was there. Of course I was in town less than 18 hours.

I went back to Steinbeck's house at dawn to see if anyone was there and to take a picture of my idling RAV4 in the driveway.

It was like visiting a quiet, perfectly landscaped museum at the end of a well-disguised private lane, which is exactly what it is.

An hour later I had to go back to Steinbeck's for a photo shoot with a local photographer from the Southampton Express.

The paper is doing a little feature on me and my madness written by Mike White, a guy I talked to but never met ("Blogger will retrace Steinbeck's travels 50 years later," Sept. 28).

 

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Ready to roll: Steinbeck's front door. Southampton Express photo.

 

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Ferrying to the Mainland:

I missed my first ferry from Sag Harbor to Shelter Island, so I never had a prayer of catching the big ferry from Orient Point to Connecticut at 10 a.m.

Steinbeck, like my co-voyagers, was no doubt a pro at the island-hopping and ferry-jumping it takes to escape the expensive end of Long Island, but I was a total rookie.

It was a pretty cool sea journey for a landlubber. Two silent but swift 10-minute crossings on and off Shelter Island with about 15 other vehicles. Then the 90-minute trip on the Cross Sound Ferry from Orient Point across Long Island Sound to Connecticut.

I had to drive about 16 miles between ferries. Virtually every home or berry farm I sped past on land was pre-1960-old, classy, rural and picture perfect.

It was a pricy escape from Long Island -- $12 and $9 for the local trips on the small ferries and $49 for the long ride to New London, which 1,000 cars would be making today.

Those steep prices would tax even the average wealthy hamptonite. But commuters get a week's worth of roundtrips for $22, a nice deal for rich people that’s probably subsidized by some government public transit agency somewhere.

On Steinbeck's watery way to New London aboard "the clanking iron ferry boat," he said he saw submarines surfacing nearby and met a sailor on leave -- a nuclear submariner, to be exact. They talked about the nuclear subs that were then filling up the docks at the U.S. naval base in New London on the Thames River.

Like so many Americans in those scary Cold War days, Steinbeck was not fond of the U.S./Soviet strategy of mutual assured destruction, part of which involved building a fleet of Polaris-firing nuclear subs. He didn’t like subs, either, because despite their beauty they were “designed for destruction” and “armed with mass murder.”

I didn't see any subs or sailors. But as I waited with about 90 other vehicles to drive into the empty open belly of the Susan Anne I met Blaize Zabel, 20.

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A high school dropout, he looked tough with his big forearms, black T-shirt and shorts and cross tattoo. But he turned out to be an incredibly nice kid. He was on his way back to his home in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and said he hoped he would have enough money for the Greyhound Bus fare.

I took his picture and gave him the same crazy advice I tell all young people (under 30), including my own kids Billie, Joe and Lucy -- go to L.A. and see what happens. It's been a good move for millions of migrants, including me in the late 1970s.

L.A.’s not as lovable or affordable as it was in the 1980s, but it’s still a la-la land of opportunities. If it isn't a place for you, you'll find out soon enough. Then you can go back home to your hometown, which you'll have decided isn't so bogus after all

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For about two minutes of video of this day's travels and my meeting with John Woestendiek and Ace, click.
On the ferry I also met a 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter, John Woestendiek, 57, formerly of the Baltimore Sun and Philly Inquirer.

John is now the owner-operator of OhMiDog.com and TravelsWithAce.com, two dog-oriented web sites. Ace, his Rotweiller/Akita/Chow/pitbull mutt of 130 pounds, was traveling with him.

He's been on the road for several months already, mostly down South, and he decided it would be cool for him and Ace to start following Steinbeck and Charley's trail exactly 50 years later. He's doing dog-related things as he goes.

John genuflected at Steinbeck's house at dawn, too. He slept last night unmolested by the law behind a business called Sleepies in one of the Hamptons, sprawled across the front seat of his red Jeep Liberty. DSC_1826

Ace, 6, was so big and friendly he made me wish I had a dog along too -- for about four seconds.

Ace provides security and unconditional love but consumes the back of John's Jeep. We exchanged info, took pictures of each other and agreed our paths will probably cross again either in Maine or Montana.

Now -- at 4 p.m. -- I'm writing this at a McDonald's somewhere north of East Hartford on US 5.

I'm on the route I presume Steinbeck took to Deerfield, Mass., home of the Eaglebrook School (where actor Michael Douglas matriculated).

On state Route 85 from New London was the kind of healthy commercial development that Steinbeck never saw -- a mega-car-dealership complex with strange car names  like Hyundai and Subaru.

It gave way quickly to a rural countryside and still-green woods. And the roadside was loosely strung with old white houses and barns and roadhouse restaurants and fruit stands that look like they were there in 1960 to watch Steinbeck whiz past.

Day 2, Sept. 24, 2010: central Massachusetts.


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John Steinbeck finishes "Charley"

Saturday, 03 September 2011 08:58 AM Written by

Fifty-one years ago this Labor Day weekend, as Hurricane Donna bore down on him, John Steinbeck was in Sag Harbor packing up his camper and getting ready to set out on his 10,000-mile road trip to reaquaint himself with America.

Fifty years ago this weekend, Steinbeck had just finished writing the final pages of what would become his last major book, "Travels With Charley." 

He turned the manuscript over to his publisher, the Viking Press, and went on an expensive nine-month tour of Europe with his wife Elaine,  teen-age sons Thom and John IV and the tutor he hired for them. 

The "nonfiction" book “Travels With Charley: In Search of America” would not be published until late July of 1962, when it became an instant best-seller and received generally favorable reviews.DSC_1784_copy_copy

Meanwhile, Steinbeck's friends at Holiday magazine began serializing “Charley” – before it was completely written – in three large parts. 

Called “In Quest of America,” the monthly travel magazine ran Part 1 in July of 1961 and parts two and three in December 1961 and February 1962.

Holiday ran an abridged, shorter version of the book, but otherwise its serial was virtually identical to the book.

"In Quest of America" was, of course, presented as Steinbeck's true account of his trip.

 

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