Currently viewing the tag: "U.S. Highway 1"

The ‘Travels With Charley’ Timeline — Day 6

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 1960 – Deer Isle, Maine

John Steinbeck left Eleanor Brace’s house on Deer Isle in on Wednesday afternoon and drove north along the coast on U.S. Highway 1 toward the top of Maine. He called his wife from a grocery store, but where he stopped for the night is not known. It was probably in or near Calais, in northeast Maine on the Canadian border.

 

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Waitress Traci Brown takes care of some locals at Karen’s Diner in Calais, Maine.

Breakfast in Calais

We’ll never know if Steinbeck stopped at the border town of Calais for a bed or a cup of bad coffee, but he had to pass down its main street as he drove north on U.S. 1 toward the top of Maine. Pronounced callous despite or perhaps in spite of its French origins, Calais is in Washington County, the state’s poorest. Across the St. Croix River from New Brunswick, Calais was only 22 miles from my beach resort at Gleason Cove. Its economy was far healthier in 1960, according to one of the local “Down Easters”/”Up Easters” I met at the counter in Karen’s Main Street Diner.

The 60-something man, wearing a pristine gold and black United States Army baseball cap, told a familiar story of change and decline. Hundreds of good-paying jobs had disappeared at the paper mills. Young people were leaving and would never come back. The town had lost 25 percent of its population since 1990 and was now about 3,100. Local unemployment was 11 percent compared to the state average of 7.9 percent. If it weren’t for the fact that the department of homeland security beefed up the three border crossings with Canada after it learned one of the 9/11 hijackers entered the States at Calais, he said, there’d be even fewer jobs around.

Karen’s had to be the best diner in a hundred miles – maybe the only one. A friendly pit stop for anyone following Steinbeck’s trail into upper Maine, it’s one of those priceless family-run eateries where getting a perfect breakfast is routine, not a matter of chance. I ordered what would become my signature breakfast for the rest of my trip. It was a #2 at Karen’s – two eggs over medium, sausage, home fries, wheat toast and coffee. It cost $6.25 and became the standard against which I compared 25 others like it that followed. Steinbeck wrote that getting a bad breakfast on the road was almost impossible, and he was still right.

— Excerpted from “Dogging Steinbeck”

 

The ‘Travels With Charley’ Timeline — Day 7

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It’s not a very accurate representation of Steinbeck’s foray into New England, but it makes the point — he went north and east before heading west.

Thursday, Sept. 29, 1960 – To the top of Maine

From wherever he stopped Wednesday night in northeast Maine, Steinbeck drives north into Aroostook County on U.S. Highway 1. Tracing the U.S.-Canadian border on the south side of the St. Croix River, he reaches the top of Maine, turns south on state Route 11 and plunges deep into the pine wilderness of Maine’s interior. He has to park alone Thursday night somewhere on Route 11 under a concrete bridge in the rain.

Aroostook County

Aroostook County is famous for two things – potatoes and its enormous size. It’s one fifth of Maine and bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. No one traveling north from Calais along the pretty St. Croix River would challenge those facts. I was 929 miles from Steinbeck’s Sag Harbor driveway. Steinbeck drove the same stretch of U.S. Route 1 on Sept. 29, 1960, exactly 50 years ahead of me. He had a weird thing about wanting to touch the top of Maine before heading west, a weird thing he ultimately regretted as he realized how endless and empty the state was. Steinbeck also wanted to see the famed potato fields of Aroostook County, then the foremost spud-producing area of the country.

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Maine’s State Route 11, which Steinbeck took south from Fort Kent, is beautiful, empty and devoid of motels, as Steinbeck learned.

After 2,400 miles tracing the edge of the East Coast all the way from Key West, U.S. Highway 1 evaporates without fanfare in the town of Fort Kent. As Steinbeck did, when Route 1 vanished I turned south on state Route 11 for the long haul back to New Hampshire and the way West.

Before I left Fort Kent, I suffered a shock that made me realize what a strange, atypical part of America I had been traveling through. It happened when I saw a black college student on the street. She was the first non-white person I could remember seeing since a pizza shop in downtown Northampton.

The 2010 Census tells the statistical tale. The previous three states I had been in – Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – might be full of color in the fall, but year round their lilywhite populations don’t look like much of the rest of the country. Each had black populations of about 1 percent. The national percentage was 12.6 percent. The same lack of color would be true for other long stretches of the Steinbeck Highway.

— Excerpted from “Dogging Steinbeck”