- Chasing Charley by Mike Lauterborn
It could be persuasively argued that of all John Steinbeck's works, none has generated more inspiration—and imitation—than Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962), the account of the author's late-in-life, cross-country, canineaccompanied tour of the natural, social, political, and economic landscapes in the mid-century United States. As the fiftieth anniversary of Steinbeck's travel memoir approached, more than a handful of writers published works that embraced the letter and/or spirit of Steinbeck's search to varying degrees. A few examples follow. In Travels with Max: In Search of Steinbeck's American Fifty Years Later (2010), Gregory Ziegler fulfilled a "bucket list" aspiration "to replicate Steinbeck's journey across America" accompanied by Max, his Maltese (Donohue 75–76). Three years later, Bill Steigerwald's Dogging Steinbeck chronicled his re-creation of Steinbeck's journey, sans dog and focusing on "the inaccuracies or perceived impossibilities in Steinbeck's narrative" (Donohue 73). In 2014, Benoit Denizet-Louis published Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country, in which the author and his yellow Labrador toured America to research "the bond between people and dogs" across all socioeconomic strata (Donohue 72, 77). And subsequent to the publication in the early 1990s of future book segments, Lars Eighner's Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Street (2013) provided a full-length account of traveling while gay and homeless with "man's best friend" through the American Southwest.
Added to this list is Mike Lauterborn's Chasing Charley (2018), a richly detailed and highly informative memoir of his Steinbeck-inspired journey to thirty-five states. While the book's title is catchy and alliterative, it is a bit misleading—since Lauterborn's trip was made without the company of a canine, it can be argued that it is Steinbeck he is chasing. And Lauterborn shows reverence and respect for his predecessor in travel throughout this 375-page pursuit. [End Page 97]
Inspired by Travels with Charley after purchasing the book at a Westport, Connecticut, library book sale in 2003, Lauterborn sets out on his crosscountry journey on September 6 of that same year. Just as Steinbeck commenced his trip from Long Island, New York, in 1960, also in September, behind the wheel of Rocinante, a custom-made camper named for Don Quixote's horse, Lauterborn departs from nearby Connecticut driving El Rucio, "a 1995 Ford E-150 Mark III Hi-Top Conversion van" named after Sancho Panza's donkey (4). And he expresses the hope that he "would find some of the very people and locales Steinbeck had visited" (2). He does connect with a handful of millennium survivors who recall Steinbeck's visit, including Arthur Rogers, who provided lodging for the author in the Berkshires.
Lauterborn frequently and faithfully quotes from Travels with Charley, noting where Steinbeck stopped and what Steinbeck saw. Throughout Chasing Charley, the author ponders how Steinbeck would have responded to the technological, ecological, and socioeconomic transformations that transpired in the fifty years since his trek: "I wondered how having a cell phone might have impacted Steinbeck's travel plans. For me it was a critical tool" (16). Comparisons and contrasts between Steinbeck's tour and twenty-first-century conditions abound and make for interesting reading throughout the book. One example of positive stasis entails Steinbeck's Vermont vision of "roadside stands piled with golden pumpkins and russet squashes and baskets of red apples" in villages "neat and white-painted and unchanged for a hundred years except for traffic and paved streets." Lauterborn's assessment nearly five decades later: "The scenery remains as changeless and enchanting today" (20).
An instance of socio-behavioral change is also part of the passage through the Green Mountain State. Regarding Steinbeck's observation of an abundance of antique/repair shops, Lauterborn refers to Steinbeck's "half a garage full of bits and broken pieces" used for "repairing other things." Imagining "Steinbeck's delight tinkering in these shops," he arrives at the conclusion that Steinbeck...