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Sound reasoning: What would Charley think?

With a deep bass toot, the ferry to Connecticut began churning across Long Island Sound. I leaned over the railing and, as the water rushed by, felt a deep sense of accomplishment — for the ground we’ve already covered and that which we will be covering in the second phase of our trip.

Ace not being around — he was inside the car in the ferry’s gut — I gave myself, figuratively, of course, a pat on the back. This was a good idea — my highly original plan to copy (more or less) John Steinbeck’s trip. Others have retraced the route, and written about it, but I had the foresight to be starting off exactly 50 years to the day after Steinbeck did.

I had just settled on a bench, and had stopped patting myself, when Bill Steigerwald walked by, camera around his neck, notepad at his side, taking it all in and looking at passengers that way reporters look at people — like they are cuts of meat that might be worth tasting — as he pursued his highly original plan … to copy John Steinbeck’s trip.

So we sat and talked, comparing notes about our highly original plans to copy John Steinbeck’s trip. We decided, I think, that we liked each other, and concluded that though our goals our similar — a book, somewhere down the road – we weren’t barking up, or peeing on, the same tree.

Steigerwald, like me, was a career newspaper guy. We both accepted buyout offers from our newspapers — he in 2009, from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, me in 2008 from the Baltimore Sun — in hopes that, if we continued our writerly ways, we might survive in 21st Century America without having to become fast food cooks, Wal-Mart greeters, or strip club flaks. And both of us are now self-subsidizing our travels in hopes that some day, in some way, somebody might want to buy what we want to write.

We are both brilliant, in a stupid kind of way; or maybe we’re stupid, in a brilliant kind of way.

Steigerwald, who is traveling doglessly, is reporting on his trip — which will be a more precise retracing of Steinbeck’s route than mine — for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he also once worked. He, like me, is blogging about it daily.

Bill is 62, five years older than me, but I think we’re both among a large group of once-and-maybe-still-somewhat-idealistic baby boomer former reporters who jumped ship amid the industry’s downward spiral. Now we’re seeking a flotation device. In my case, at least, I’ve continued doing what I’ve always done — write stories — even though I’m not paid (other than by my fine advertisers) for it. I wonder if people who have left other careers do that — keep plying their trade even though the salary and benefits have stopped.  To some extent, I think yes. One’s job gets in one’s blood. So retired lawyers probably keep arguing long after their last case closed. Former politicians probably continue to lie. TV weather reporters likely continue to make erroneous forecasts.

Possibly the whistling ferry loader in charge of getting cars aboard the boat yesterday will keep whistling, waving his arms, complaining about “f***in’ management” and saying things like, “Give me a couple of minutes, I’ll wave youse up,” for at least several months after he starts drawing a pension.

With writers, though, I think that runs even deeper — either because we see it as somehow noble, or because we don’t know how do do anything else. Like dogs, we tend to keep following and sniffing along the trail we are on. It’s not a totally mindless pursuit. We do what we know how to do. We know there might be something good ahead.

Not knowing, either, how to board a ferry, I just followed the shouted orders yesterday. I didn’t get a ticket in advance, so I paid $61 for my sound crossing; Bill, clearly a better planner than me, paid $49.

I took him down to the bowels of the ferry, and we compared vehicles. He has a red sport utility much like the one I’m in, but his backseat — because he’s not toting a dog — is open, with a large mattress he can sleep on. I showed him my dog, then took Ace up on the deck, which I had assumed wasn’t allowed, but actually was.

Bill fell for Ace, but, as he wrote today, was kind of glad – after seeing how much space my dog took up in my vehicle — that he didn’t have a dog along.

We parted ways — both intent on continuing our highly original plans to copy John Steinbeck’s trip — agreeing to try to meet up again in Maine or Michigan or Montana. As he plans to complete his trip in six weeks, I’ll probably be lagging behind, though.

As I waited my turn to pull off the ferry, I wondered what Charley — now buried behind John Steinbeck’s house in Sag Harbor – would make of it all: all these literary/scholarly/newspaper/blogging types who, over the years, have seen fit to repeat the trek that he made with his master.

Silly humans, he might think, following their so-called instincts, which aren’t very good in the first place.

My guess is he would get a good doggie chuckle out of it all. He’d probably break into a poodle smile.

“Ftt,” he’d say.

Comments

Comment from Karen
Time October 1, 2010 at 9:38 am

I am envious. I, too, had the highly original idea of following in Charley’s pawsteps but you are doing it and I am not. Actually after surfing the web, I see that a lot of Charley-followers are out there on our highways. Best of luck to you and Ace.

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