Arts, Entertainment, Living

Sprinting with John Steinbeck

Monday, 11 October 2010 03:03 PM Written by
ANOKA, MINN. -- Sparky's Cafe
John Steinbeck wrote a number of letters to his wife Elaine from the road, so for most of the week of Oct. 9-16, 1960, it is fairly easy to pinpoint where he actually stayed each night as he sprinted from Chicago to Seattle.
Steinbeck and Charley left the Chicago area in his pickup-camper truck Rocinante on Monday morning, Oct. 10, 1960. Elaine flew back to New York.
Based on his road letters and the logic of space and time as we earthlings know it, and not what he wrote in "Charley," he slept:
     Monday night  (Oct. 10, 1960) -- Mauston, Wisc.
     He camped at a truck stop on US 12, possibly at Ernie's Truck Stop.
     Tuesday night (Oct. 11, 1960) -- Near Detroit Lakes, Minn. (east of Fargo, N.D.). 
     He camped at a truck stop among a bunch of trucks that handled cattle and he looked down on a valley filled with turkeys. (In "Travels With Charley" he seamlessly combines the Wisconsin and Minnesota stops into one night.)
     Wednesday night (Oct. 12,1960) -- 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 that he camped overnight in the Badlands, where he heard the coyotes howl. He couldn't have camped overnight at either place because he was in a motel in Beach.
     Thursday night (Oct. 13, 1960) -- Near Bozeman, Mt.
     He 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, west of Missoula, in Rocinante on a private farm.
     After deciding Friday morning in Livingston that he was too close to Yellowstone Park to not go there, he went south to the park's northern entrance.  He didn't spend more than an hour in Yellowstone, he wrote in "Charley," because of Charley's fierce reaction to the bears, which in those days stood by the roads looking for handouts. He retraced his route to Livingston and drove west on US 10.
     Saturday night (Oct. 15) -- Somewhere between northwest Montana and Seattle.
     This is 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. But given his eagerness to meet Elaine again in Seatttle, it's unlikely that he drove such a short distance that day and stopped. He had to sleep overnight at least once somewhere on the way to Seattle, but I've no clues.
     Sunday night (Oct. 16) or Monday (Oct. 17) -- Seattle, at a modern motel at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
     He could have stopped and spent the night 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 and drive down the Pacific Coast with Steinbeck and Charley.
     These are the facts of Steinbeck's Chicago-to-Seattle sprint as far as my research/reporting has found so far. As part of my mad obsession, I will be going to each of these stops this week. I hope to be in Seattle before Monday.
      Next stop on the Steinbeck Highway is Detroit Lakes, Minn.

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In a first of hopefully many for the blog, here is the video review for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.  It's a slightly condensed version of the written review that shows a glimpse of the gameplay, as well as myself in the middle of a jam session.  

You can view it by clicking here.  Enjoy!

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Room Without a View

Monday, 11 October 2010 07:48 AM Written by

ST. PAUL, MINN. --  6:45 a.m., Super 8, Room 125

I was unfair to Super 8.

I was silly and paranoid to think my RAV4 was in danger overnight in this neighborhood -- about which I know nothing except that last night it was both dark and spooky and bright with the lights of commerce. 

I guess two straight nights sleeping under the lights at Walmarts had spoiled me. I saw shadows and imagined a 3 a.m. car theft or break in. 

I felt better at dawn when I looked out and saw this BP station and Subway through my semi-transparent window.DSC_0037

Today I head for Fargo, N.D., by way of Sauk Centre, the town John Steinbeck made a point of driving through because it was the birthplace of his former buddy "Red" Sinclair Lewis, or was it Sinclair "Red" Lewis?Sinclair_Lewis_1930

Anyway, Steinbeck knew by 1960 that after he died his fame was going to be exploited by his hometown of Salinas, Calif., the town whose people and places showed up in his books, more often than not in unflattering ways.

Lewis satirized small-town life and small-town businessmen. He wasn't particularly fond of American culture or capitalism, though his success at skewering it in his novels brought him riches and fame.

Steinbeck was curious how Lewis' hometown treated its famous son, whose books "Main Street" and "Babbitt" were fictionalized and uncomplimentary versions of the good folks of Sauk Centre.

Steinbeck ended up just driving through Sauk Centre. Maybe I'll find out why later today when the Steinbeck Highway takes me there.

Local traffic: The young ovenight guy at the desk says I'm four miles from downtown St. Paul, a city of 295,000. If Mesa, Ariz., hasn't already passed Pittsburgh in the population race, St. Paul is another threat to outnumber the 'burgh.

St. Paul doesn't have a major league baseball team. Either.

But I've been here less than 12 hours and I already know St. Paul has something Pittsburgh doesn't have but needs if it wants to keep from sliding under the (totally meaningless) 300,000 population number -- immigrants.

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'The Event' redux

Monday, 11 October 2010 02:00 AM Written by

Event10-11Now that I've seen the first three episodes of NBC's "The Event" -- No. 4 airs tonight at 9 on WPXI -- I'm definitely interested in following the series but I also think it's more like "Heroes" (the good, first-season "Heroes") than it is like "Lost."

Read more after the jump. ...

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Monday, 11 October 2010 12:00 AM Written by


I am ecstatic to bring my thoughts on fashion and style to the PG blogging community and I am eager to hear your questions/concerns about fashion. Please drop me an email ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) or comment and let me know what you would like to see on Clutch!

During the fall, winter and even some of the spring months in Pittsburgh, we spend a majority of our time in coats of all shapes and sizes- blazers for the not so frigid temps, trenches for the rainy days and parkas for the Snowmageddons.

Wearing the same jacket or coat over and over again can become boring, at least for me. As I (unwillingly) retrieved my fall and winter coats from storage this past weekend, I thought of the following ways to accessorize them so they don't become so tiresome:

• Brooches/pins: Instead of wearing one brooch or pin on your jacket, try clustering several together to make a statement (See photo above).
• Belts: If you find a jacket a bit too big or want to define your waist, try wearing a belt on the outside of your jacket.
• Scarves: Frequently switch up your fall/winter scarves. Choose scarves that are brightly colored or patterned. For a more lux look, try adding a faux fur collar.
• Alterations: If you're crafty, try replacing the buttons on your jackets or shortening the arm length. These small sewing projects can immediately transform an outdated jacket into something completely new.

No matter what your coat(s) of choice are for this fall/winter, be sure to stay warm!

Check back Wednesday for another Clutch post!

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Not Mr. Steinbeck's Neighborhood

Sunday, 10 October 2010 11:04 PM Written by

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Not-so-Super 8

 There's a St. Paul Police Department cop in the parking lot with his front door open, his computer fired up and an unhappy young pregnant woman looking troubled.

At least no one is going to steal or molest my RAV for the next 20 minutes. I don't think John Steinbeck had these worries about Rocinante while he was hanging at the Ambassador East in Chicago. may have let me down with this pick. 

Actually, I've put myself in jeopardy. I got greedy and went for a $60 2-star motel. Two-star motels are Days Inns, Super 8s, Sketchy Stays.

The Walmart Sunspot Inn in Sparta, Wisc., where I shared the parking lot last night with a pickup truck and trailer, is looking better all the time.

New Rule: Nothing under 3-stars on Hotwire.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's lakes, rivers, hills, pines, leaves, dells, traffic and farmers' fields are in my rearview mirror.

Here's a pair of metaphoric/symbolic goodbye-Wisconsin photos from US 10 as I headed west for the Wisconsin-Minnesota border at Prescott.


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John Steinbeck's Truck Stop

Sunday, 10 October 2010 02:53 PM Written by

MAUSTON, WISC. -- US 12, American Legion Post 81

"This is what we called a 'skinny road,' " Bob Rose said Saturday night.

Bob was referring to US 12, the "skinny" two-lane road outside the Legion Post's front door. The skinny two-lane road John Steinbeck took from Chicago to Mauston 50 years ago.

Whatever Bob said about highways, trucks and what it looked like in 1960 Mauston, I believed.

He had credibility. Not only had he been a truck driver for 47 years, he racked up enough road-warrior miles -- 5 million -- to go around the earth 232 times. I didn't check his math, because, like I say, I believe everything he said.

If he said the truck stop/coffee shop where Steinbeck camped the night of Oct. 10, 1960, was Ernie's Truck Stop, then it was.

Ernie's is long gone now, along with all the other truck-servicing businesses that flourished on US 12 in pre-interstate Mauston.

Until the interstate -- I-94 -- pulled the trucks off US 12 in the mid-'60s, US 12 was the main freight route from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Now all the truck stops are at Mauston's I-94 exits.

Mauston, a town of about 4,400 compared to 2,100 in 1960, was Steinbeck's first stop after leaving Chicago.

He wrote a letter to his wife from Mauston, saying, "I am camped in a cornfield behind a truckers service area and coffee shop." (He also wrote that he had listened to World Series Game 5 on the radio, which the Pirates won, 5-2: "There is great joy here in the Pirates," he said, and people talked about baseball, not politics.) 

In "Travels With Charley" Steinbeck mentions Charley's delight in finding piles of manure that had been cleaned out of cattle trucks. And he says he walked to a valley and looked down at a sea of turkeys being raised for America's thanksgiving dinners.2010-10-09_18.40.56A

I had found Bob and his wife Dona (with one "n") at the legion hall, where they had come to dance to the music of, no typo, Shitz & Giggles.

They both were born and raised in Mauston and lived in places like Chicago and Minneapolis. Now he's retired and living back in Mauston (except that he winters in Yuma, Ariz., where shoveling snow is not a seasonal requisite).

After hearing what Steinbeck said in his letter and weighing their local knowledge, Bob and Dona agreed it had to be Ernie's Truck Stop.

Ernie Schmoker and his wife Anne ran it. "On Sundays we'd go there from church for lunch and pie," Dona said. "Anne made the best pies -- all homemade."

Bob and Dona concurred that there was a turkey farm in the area in 1960. And cattle trucks would occasionally have to be cleaned at one of Mauston's several truck stops. But Ernie's didn't have manure piles near it and provided no view of the turkey farm.

Steinbeck no doubt used his dramatic license to create a composite truck stop based on his Monday night at a Mauston truck stop and his stop the next night near Detroit Lakes, Minn., where he told his wife in a letter there were cattle trucks and a valley full of turkeys nearby.

Bob worked for Consolidated Freightways from the time he got out of the Korean War in 1951 until 1998. He's now 81 but he can still tell you what it was like to drive every mile of just about every US and state highway in the USA.

He took aluminum from Oswego, N.Y., to St. Paul, cattle from Billings to Minneapolis and cast-iron woodstoves from Wisconsin to Pittsburgh -- which, now that I think of it, was like carrying coal to New Castle. In the early years, he wore a collared shirt and a tie while he drove.

After the sun went down, and after the leader of Shitz & Giggles generously sprinkled salt on the dance floor for the Roses and their fellow dancers, I drove over to where Ernie's Truck Stop used to be.DSC_0109

It's about a mile south of town -- where the busy and prosperous Brenner Tank Services operations are and where two dozen tanker trucks are haphazardly parked. Behind Brenner's garages and offices is a corn field, its stubble cropped to within about a foot of the dirt.

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"King of Rock & Soul" Solomon Burke dies

Sunday, 10 October 2010 11:14 AM Written by

The legendary soul singer Solomon Burke died yesterday in Amsterdam, on his way to a concert. He was 70. He was one of those artists who really earned the description "larger than life."

Here's a news story from the AP, and a look at his life on Wikipedia.

And here's a video of the man doing what he did so well:

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