When an unemployed writer sets out to re-create the itinerary of John Steinbeck’s Travel’s with Charley, literary travel meets budget travel and pet travel — and fun ensues. Pulitzer prize-winning reporter John Woestendiek has detailed many of his adventures on his blog, Travels with Ace. Today he talks with Animal Cafe about how the year-long trip came about and touches on some of its highlights.
The Anatomy of a Road Trip
Unable to find a job after having quit one at a newspaper to write Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend, John realizes he has no reason to hang around doing nothing when, for the money he would save on rent, he could travel the country with Ace, his friendly 130-pound pup (a Rottweiler, Akita, Chow and Pitbull mix — and a poster dog for why breed bans are ridiculous). The notion explored in Dog, Inc., that people have regrets about their dogs’ deaths to the point of wanting to bring them back, was another impetus for the trip. John wanted to spend quality time with Ace instead of just mourning his passing when it was too late.
Some of the cost-cutting methods John tried worked out well; others didn’t. Putting his belongings into storage in Baltimore turned out not to be the best idea, for example, there being a vermin issue. On the other hand, their stays at Motel 6 — 80 in all — were very successful once the clerks got over their fears that the well-behaved Ace would jump over the reception desk to get treats. As John explained, Ace was rewarded for bellying up to a bar they used to frequent, but the dog never was pushy about it.
Couch surfing is another economizing method John tried — just once — finding it a little odd. In case you haven’t heard of the phenomenon, check out the website.
A Few Trip Highlights
Through some wonderful examples of serendipity, John and Ace:
- Ended up living in the house where John was born and that he and his family left when he was one year old.
- Met mystery writer, politician, musician and — it turns out — dog rescuer Kinky Friedman
- Met one of Michael Vick’s dogs through a contact at a strip club
Can the Book Be Far Behind?
There’s far more, of course, than could be touched on in this interview, and the Travels with Ace blog doesn’t provide an organizing arc for the experiences that a book would be able to. No promises were made, but 2012 is the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Travels with Charley. Travels with Ace — should it be written — will provide more dog, less politics than Steinbeck’s memoir.
Incidentally, I’ve started a pet travel book club over at Will My Dog Hate Me, and the first book we’re going to discuss, on November 10, is Travels With Charley. I hope you’ll come by. And maybe if I ask him nicely, John will join the discussion too.