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.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 24th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, american, animals, baby boomers, bill steigerwald, blog, blogging, blogs, charley, connecticut, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, ferry boat, industry, john woestendiek, long island, new york, newspaper, pets, pittsburgh post-gazette, poodle, reporters, road trip, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, travels without charley
It was 117 degrees.
Which normally would be a good argument for not going back to Phoenix, after completing our swing through northern Arizona and Utah. But, as it’s home to my brother and father, and I’d left some of my baggage there — the physical kind, with zippers and handles and pouches in which to put things and then forget them — we returned.
Also, I had to pick up some ohmidog! materials I’d ordered online and had sent to my brother’s home — some new business cards and magnet signs that allowed me to turn my regular old, overloaded, as of yesterday officially paid off Jeep Liberty into …
I figured, with all the ground we’re covering, why not do a little advertising for the old website? Now my fellow motorists can see my ohmidog! sign, maybe even remember that it’s spelled o-h-m-i-d-o-g, and look it up online when they get back to the comfort and convenience of their homes — if not sooner.
In hopes of keeping my big magnet sign from being ripped off, I also attached some little magnet cards to which people can help themselves.
We’re giving the ohmidogmobile! its first test this week, as we drive back to Santa Fe for a weeklong pet-sitting gig at the home of some friends. I’ll be taking care of their three dogs in exchange for getting to use their home, and hold wild parties in it, while they’re gone on a trip to New York.
We’ve made a few decisions — holding wild parties not actually being among them — regarding our continuing journey. We still have no solid plans — that would be wrong — but we’ve decided to try and stay on the road for six months. We’ll start heading back east after Santa Fe, work our way to the Atlantic Ocean, dip our toes in it, maybe check back in on Baltimore, and then head back west again on a more northerly route, zigging and zagging — but mostly zagging — across the U.S. for another four months, plus.
Why? Because we gave up the old homestead. Because job offers aren’t pouring in. But mainly because we love it — I’m sure I do, I think Ace does — and I’m thinking it might be worth writing about someday in a form other than blogging.
Not that we have anything against blogging. I wonder though. Would John Steinbeck — our inspiration for this trip — have blogged? As he crossed America with his poodle Charley, would he — were the technology available — have sought out power sources, logged into his computer and jumped on Facebook? Or would he have viewed it all as a massive waste of time — time that could have spent connecting face-to-face with fellow humans? How shameful would it have been, in retrospect, if John Steinbeck, rather than writing “Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” was spending his time composing html, fighting off hackers and Tweeting what he ate for dinner?
(Which reminds me, I had some excellent dim sum the other day, including several dishes I couldn’t identify, at C-Fu Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant opened in Chandler by Ron Lou, a former professonal football player.)
In 1961, when Steinbeck made his three-month trip with his dog, he was marveling at things like vending machines that dispensed soda with ice, and hot cups of soup and coffee, and at a cutting edge form of housing known as mobile homes. Technology has dizzyingly and exponentially advanced since then, not so much saving us time and effort as giving us new headaches and making us more dependent on that which we don’t really understand.
John Steinbeck, for instance, didn’t have a malfunction indicator light on Rocinante, the name he gave his camper truck. He couldn’t Google in search of dog-friendly lodgings. He couldn’t check in with loved ones by cell phone, order pizza online, or turn to Mapquest to figure out how far he could get by when. On the other hand, he didn’t have to worry about Internet connections, or keep track of what needed recharging. Something always does — cellphone, camera, voice recorder, computer, myself.
I don’t fancy myself a modern-day Steinbeck. I’m not traveling with a bottle of applejack to share with those I encounter on the road. I’m not even sure what applejack is. (I could Google it, and get an instant answer. But instant answers, on top of often being wrong, can suck the mystery out of life. What fun is going over that next hill, around that next curve, when you already know what will be there?)
But I am a huge Steinbeck fan. So I was pretty excited when, on a return visit to my father’s house, he managed to dig up a letter he once received from Steinbeck — in connection with an article Newsday was doing at the time. It was mailed the year before Steinbeck and Charley departed on their trip.
In re-reading the book for the fourth time — like driving a familiar road, I get something new out of it each time — I’ve come to the conclusion that, while I’m no John Steinbeck, my dog Ace is a far more interesting canine than Charley.
This week we push on, eastwardly — though we’ll definitely be back this way again to see some people and write about some things we missed. Meantime, we’re in search of new hills, new vistas, new dogs, new folks, new mystery, new people to freeload off of … and maybe some applejack.
(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 6th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, america, animals, applejack, blogging, charley, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, facebook, google, john steinbeck, lodging, mapquest, motels, mystery, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, steinbeck, technology, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with charley, twitter
I’m even more honored to learn that we are in the category “misfits.”
Click the link on the top of our leftside rail to vote for us, though I should point out it does requiring logging in and setting up an account with the Sun — meaning not that you have to subscribe, only that they will probably bug you to later.
As I am a good week late learning of this competition, and as dogs don’t get to vote, I don’t hold out much hope of besting the other “misfits.”
But a respectable showing would be nice — at least topping, say, “The Baltimore Sewing Examiner.”
Ace, being both neutered and neutral, isn’t normally one to take sides, but he will be pulling for the University of North Carolina Tarheels in tonight’s final four game against Villanova, at his master’s command.
In Chapel Hill yesterday, Ace, after picking up a new bandana, attended a journalism school picnic for some retiring professors — and got to enjoy some Bullock’s barbecue, once when high winds flipped my plate over, again when a kindly Bullock’s employee brought him a plateful.
In addition to a little gas, Ace also got to pass along his best wishes to the retiring — or halfway retiring — professor Donald Shaw, who, many years ago taught Ace’s master a thing or two, including calling things by their correct names. So make that School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Best of luck to Donald, and if I may — against his teachings — be slightly less than objective:
Posted by John Woestendiek April 4th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, basketball, blog, blogging, chapel hill, donald shaw, final four, journalism, mass communication, ncaa, ohmidog!, professor, tarheels, tournament, university of north carolina, villanova