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Sinclair, Garrison, Morey and me

Sinclair Lewis was supposed to be riding to Minnesota with me. Instead, I had to settle for Garrison Keillor.

My original plan for the drive from Madison, Wisconsin to the quiet little town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota — where Sinclair Lewis grew up and which he mercilessly skewered in his book “Main Street” — was to listen to an audio version of the book on the six hour drive.

Sauk Centre was one of the stops John Steinbeck — a fan and acquaintance of Lewis’ — made with his poodle in “Travels with Charley,” though they didn’t seem to spend much time there.

When I told my sister and her husband of my plan, they both got online to find me an audio version of the 1920 book, and managed to turn one up at the library branch in Stoughton, about 30 miles from their home in DeForest.

I drove there to pick it up, planning to mail it back when I was finished. What the Stoughton branch of the library had, though, were cassettes, and I needed a CD. As we all know, this is the American way – to get us all hooked on one form of technology, and then, when we’re not looking it, switch it, leaving us lost, even if we have GPS, which I don’t.

A friendly library staff member checked her computer and rerouted me to the main branch in Madison, printing out directions to help me find my way.

Downtown Madison was easy to find, but somehow I managed to get lost. The state Capitol serves as a nice huge landmark, but because it looks the same from all sides, and because I’d accidentally strayed from the directions, I circled around for about 30 minutes — crossing Madison’s Main Street about six times — before I accidentally pulled up next to the library.

I parked and ran in, only to find what they had wasn’t the book on CD, but a group discussion of the book on CD. Back at the car, where Ace waited patiently, I had a $20 parking ticket.

So when I set off in the pouring down rain from Madison the next day, Sunday, it was, thanks to my sister, with three sandwiches, three apples, two bananas and a Thermos full of coffee — but no “Main Street.”

Rainy days being perfect for NPR, I tuned in and listened to Garrison Keillor – limited doses of whom I enjoy — all the way from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

That segued into “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” which featured Dick Van Dyke as a guest. He revealed something I didn’t know. The theme to the old Dick Van Dyke Show, which went on the air the same year “Travels with Charley” was published, actually had lyrics, though they weren’t written until after the show went off the air.

The lyrics were written by Morey Amsterdam, who always reminded me of my grandfather, who was always quick with a pun and a musical ditty.

The one I remember best is “Chick in the car and the car won’t go, that’s how you spell Chicago.” It was pretty catchy, but not at all how you spell Chicago.

I’m not sure how we got from Sinclair Lewis to my grandfather, with stops at John SteinbeckGarrison Keillor, and Morey Amsterdam. Blame it on the stream of consciousness that tends to babble so briskly — if not always clearly — when I drive.

While they were all fine storytellers, we shall close as we pull into Sauk Centre and get situated in our room at the Gopher Prairie Motel with the sweet and simple words of Mr. Amsterdam, and one more sappy 60′s song — the lyrics to the Dick Van Dyke Show theme:

So you think that you’ve got troubles?
Well, trouble’s a bubble,
So tell old Mr. Trouble to “Get lost!”

Why not hold your head up high and,
Stop cryin’, start tryin’,
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed

When you find the joy of livin’
Is lovin’ and givin’
You’ll be there when the winning dice are tossed

A smile is just a frown that’s turned upside down,
So smile, and that frown will defrost.
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed!

Comments

Comment from anon
Time October 26, 2010 at 7:22 am

Ebay has several Lewis/Main Street audiobooks

http://books.shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=p3907.m570.l1313&_nkw=main+street+audiobook&_sacat=267

Comment from joey
Time October 27, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I heard the Van Dyke episode too while driving back from WV!

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time October 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I’d like to have his wit when I hit his age. Actually, I’d like to have it now.

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