Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Notes from the road

Sorry, world, beginning today, Oct. 2, I’ve decided to report on our daily misadventures, however insignificant, complete with sexy starlet sightings (just kidding).

Our 13 hours of driving begin at 7 a.m. in Chicago with Alyssa at the wheel, Dan napping and Loren reading Sunday newspapers hamster-style, ripping articles from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune (how far that paper has fallen).

On the four-hour drive to Marion, Indiana, Alyssa and Dan propose listening to CDs during our around-the-USA drive to improve ourselves—to learn, say, the Spanish language. Ah, the eager young. I’m less eager but willing, as long it doesn’t cut into sleep-to-survive time.

I ask what we should name our fuel-inefficient van (17 miles, city; 21 miles, highway). We (thanks, Alyssa and Dan) settle on Allegro III, in tribute to my father’s Allegro II fishing boat. I don’t know when my father first knew he had cancer, but toward the end of his life he got out of the wine business and used his Allegro II to follow his dream, a sports fishing business. He would fish, whether he had a customer or not.

Racial discrimination? In Marion, we eat lunch with guests at a Japanese restaurant. All of us have to ask for chopsticks. Except for Dan, who is handed them without asking.

We visit the county courthouse in the center of downtown Marion, site of 1930 lynchings, reportedly the last in the North. I don’t see a step. My swan dive to the pavement leaves me with no injuries, just ripped pants and a scraped left knee. But my new Nikon is suddenly a three-piece camera, ready for the repair shop.

We interview John “Tony” Ghiglione in Medina, Ohio, who asks me if I know what “Tony” stands for. I don’t. He says Italian immigrants insisted it stood for “To New York,” entry point to a better life in America.

At our hotel near the Cleveland airport I spend two hours catching up with e-mails. The most interesting: an ephemera collector in Brattleboro, Vt., volunteers to explain America’s personality, based on his collection; a Twainiac in NYC shows us his website map of Twain locations across the United States.

Two Mark Twain experts confirm that the father of a family friend really did interview Twain in his long johns in 1895 in Seattle, the last stop in our 12,000-mile journey, I used to say 9,000-mile, but we’re driving a lot more miles than I anticipated. We may hit 15,000 miles before returning to campus.

Loren Ghiglione

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