Next up on Noel’s recommended reading list is a little known gem called Travels with Samantha by Philip Greenspun. Written in the mid-1990s, Philip traces his mostly solo journey over the western U.S., Canada, and Alaska. It took me almost ten years to realize this, but the title is a rift on Steinbeck’s classic travel novel Travels with Charlie. Charlie is a poodle, Samantha a Macintosh. In Travels with Charlie, Steinbeck spends a lot of time describing the modern wonders of expressways and vending machines. Philip spends a lot of time in his book explaining to people that newfangled internet thing. A couple places of business even let him use their landline so that he can get on the information highway.
What I like best about Travels with Samantha: The pictures are awesome. Taken pre-digitally they tell the wonder of both the majestic and the familiar. He also has some really funny stories. My favorite involves him being woken from his tent by a big burly biker asking him if he was a Jew. Philip nervously answered yes to which the biker replied “Great! We need a tenth for a minyan.”
Another thing working in Travels with Samantha’s favor is the story of how we came to know the book and its author. Corey and I drove to Alaska after we got married. While camped out near Kluane National Park, we met Philip and his friend while doing laundry. Philip was flying a small plane to Alaska and his friend was driving an RV. After a bit of good conversation, Philip invited Corey and I up in his plane. I will never forget how from that height the Alcan was little more than a thin ribbon of concrete winding through an immense wilderness. Late that night but under the high sun Philip handed us his book and we have not since met face to face (but we have traded emails). The open road is a magical place indeed.