Pre-Web Reactions

to Travels with Samantha
These were sent by friends of mine on a mailing list while I was actually on the road or by folks who saw chapters posted on in the months before I added the photographs and converted the chapters to HTML.

i have actually read almost every line, and then faithfully deleted
them, but part of your adventures are hashcoded in my own memory.

the symposium wd seem to be a good dialog to read now-- i am wondering 
what the point to this intense loneliness is, and aristophanes fable is 
as accurate an explanation as sociobiological stories that point out 
that the level of suffering among individuals is not finetuned. so long 
as a person suffers enough to force the right types of herd behavior, no 
master accountant turns the volume down if it appears excessive for 
achieving the desired behavior. lament, lament.

one thing i have wondered: have you considered picking someone up to 
travel with? if i were going it alone, i wonder how far i would go before 
linking to almost anyone adrift... of course,in order to linkup, 
and travel together, the biggest question is not how to connect, but how 
to disengage. maybe no one wd take me up when i made it clear that i 
wd have to reserve the right to disengage, even keeeping the right to make 
a french exit, since explanations can require all the resources that one 
is trying to rescue by parting.

but, have you thought about asking some of these waitresses, come, ride 
with me for a while?

Paul Whitmore ( [commenting in real time on Chapter VII]

In answer to your query of "why aren't more people writing back to me", in my case it's not because your travelogue is uninteresting or dull, but quite the opposite. I feel that a well-written and observant account of travels, which I consider your notes to be, deserves an equally well-thoughout commentary or response. So far as Travels With Samantha (TWS) go, you might indeed turn this into something more formal, particularly if you flesh out your reports with additional background on the places you have visited. (Not to say that what you already have -- e.g. the Alaska Highway -- is deficient.) That attribute - the at times almost scholarly account of things past - is one of the most appealing things about Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia and The Songlines. You might be amused by Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent, a somewhat snide account of Bryson's rediscovery of small-town America, an automobile odyssey prompted by the death of Bryson's father. This is a funny book, but is lacking in that the book has only one voice, Bryson's whether insightful or carping. TWS is rather more interesting in that you actually talk to people :) Bryson's journey is hermetic - he at best passes through without interaction. ... Well, enough bitching about Boston. Now I'll bitch about SE Asian Chinese. I know that many Vancouverites are very unhappy, to put it mildly, about the colonization of Vancouver by expatriate Hong Kongers. I suspect that some of this is due to xenophobia, jealousy or whatever happens when the affluent move into a relatively less affluent area. (Much like the Somervillian resentment of "Barney" students. Remember those incidents ?) On the other hand, I find many HKers crass, rude and grasping. This embarasses me to some extent, in much the same way that I cringe when I encounter the Ugly American, even though I am not from HK and don't understand a quack of Cantonese. (It's also annoying that people think all Chinese sounds like "Hoy ding wak foo !") In other words, the new immigrants are not entirely blameless. The equation of material possessions with one's virtue or worth is all too common with HKers; you can see dozens of imported German sedans and sleek Rolls Royces that barely fit the streets and are entirely impractical for the island of HK. This attitude showed up on even, where some person was smugly bragging about his F4s and how it made him superior to mere 8008s owners, I recall. Michael Chuang (chuang@froto.BIH.Harvard.Edu)
Thanks for sending the [Berlin/Prague diary]. I had a tougher time becoming absorbed into it, just because it dived right away into issues like the residues of Communism and Naziism that remain complex and painful even from afar (let alone for people who both suffered and took part). I thought at first that you were overmatched by the immensity of the experience. Who wouldn't be? But as in your American voyage, your writing captures a fine blend of history, observation, and personal experience. Bon voyage! Dennis Ritchie (
Humble semi-retraction: my friends from Australia have just come back to Boston after a trip up through Vermont to Quebec/Ontario, across to Chicago, and back by way of Pennsylvania etc. They remark enviously on the number of towns they passed through holding Shakespeare in the Park (or whatever) for the summer; apparently even closely adjacent towns run separate productions. What with that and the year-round festivals at Stratford and Niagara on the Lake, they feel Australia is insufficiently into culture . . . Caroline Webb (
Kris and I have been reading your wonderful travel accounts with great pleasure out here in California! Please keep me on your mailing list forever. I've been reading and reading and reading to get up to speed with Oracle's C coding standards, database software, security systems, etc. I thought I had heard all the stories about why C and UNIX are lousy, but reading the Oracle C coding standards revealed a hidden supply of even more inconsistencies, bugs, and just plain brain damage. The things Oracle has had to do to get around lousy implementations alone boggle the mind! The good thing is that there are plenty of people are here with whom to flame about C. I may to keep quiet about UNIX, though. Arthur Gleckler (
Hey Philip! After a week of John's mom being camped out in the living room with my modem, and another week of the OCF remote login being defunct, I finally became frustrated and anxious enough to trundle over to the university and wrestle with the 200 lb. computer here to find out how the hell your trip to Alaska is going. Sorry about the delay! Your trip sounds blissful so far -- right down to the romantic daliance in King Salmon (ah, can Jewish couples ever get their acts together?). I am inspired by your flourishing descriptions of the Upper One; can't wait to arrive myself. On the other hand, the environment can be quite harsh at times, brutally so. I've had friends who were flying in small planes when the engine froze, and who fell thousands of feet into spear-like trees below (which saved them, actually); also friends who were bitten/swiped by bears, or who fell victim to hypothermia. In a way, these cautionary tales make me respect the wild, throbbing, harsh beauty of the country more. Marion Kelly (native Alaska; no Internet address right now)
Those of us who live and work in what you so blithely describe as middle-of-nowhere (as in "Kansas City, St. Louis, middle of nowhere" from the end of your latest Samantha episode) are highly insulted. :-) Middle of nowhere, indeed.... grumble, grumble, grumble.... Elke paints a very rosy picture of East Germany, but you know the prejudices and re-education that went on there were pretty horrendous. I traveled there during the bad old days, and the police state mentality that they all lived in was not to be believed. Did I tell you about my exodus from East Germany during my trip there in the 70's? It would make your hair stand on end. I'll be glad to discuss all this with you should you pass through _my_ middle of nowhere. Naomi Lewin (lewinnj@WKUVX1.BITNET)
Some quick title ideas: "Faces On The Road", "Main Street, Malls, and Me: An American Joyride", "Dispatches From The Minivan Front", "Travels With Samantha", "Dirty Sex In My Minivan" (not artistic but will grab readers), "Boston To Alaska: Faces and Places", "The Single White Male Computer-hacker Photographer's Guide To Travel Across The Americas", "How To Meet Girls In Tourist Locales", "Summer of '93: An American Odyssey", "Last Night In Philadelphia", ... Jon K. Hirschtick (70451.3170@CompuServe.COM)
your last missile [Chapter XVI] was the best. it seemed to be the most searching, and the honesty of your own experience comes through. it's the first one i am keeping, but you should set up an ftp site with the others, so i cd point people toward the alaskan writings. i spent the summer of 76 outside telluride, a mile before placerville, at that time, just a general store/gas station with a population on the sign of 112. i learned a lot about small time desperation. this was before people looked forward to salvation by fiber. the first time i met you at a party at Neil's, when john klein got you to argue over the pronunciation of samoyed, i remember saying that i thought it wd be fun to write for the Weekly World News. and your answer was just, "so why don't you do that?" it is just as clear in reading the way you spent the summer travelling, that you are at least trying to determine what you want to do. There isn't much to talk about, when you must act at some point. probably i am not the only person who responds to your claim, that there isnt much to look forward to from a hurried reply by email from an overworked east coast friend. net-exchanges seem so un-nourishing, and yet, this is one among the millions. it is haunting me how far away from Living life can get. Paul Whitmore (
I went to a party last night at which there was someone who had worked in Munich this past summer. She said she witnessed 5 racial attacks there by Germans, including one by a German guy who punched an Indian woman on a metro---the car was full, but no one intervened. Another time another German harangued two Indians, angry that they were coming to Germany to take his job, using up his resources and so on. Turns out they were Indian-Brits in Germany on vacation! This is apropos of your story in the Utah diary about meeting the German "ambassadors" at Delicate Arch. [Chapter XV] Robert Ashcroft (
OK, I'm adding this to my list of (bike-)books, another preview of coming atttractions. Will what follows be aggreeable by you? __o -\<, ............O/ O ______________________ ______________ ______________ ______ Tales o'type wo/man travels by bike discovers self other cultures writes ________________________________________________ISBN ###### [....] | David Fenimore _Bicycling Across America a Journal on the Open | Road_; Pinedrop Press'89 pbk $10________________ 0962162701 |Philip Greenspun _Looking For Ms. Jewish Forrest Ranger_; (working | title); Yet Unpublished'93______________________ 0000000000 | Utterly bored with his day-to-day menial existence | in the TechBelt aound Boston, Mass, surrounded by | hardware and software up to here and yet unable to | pinpoint the exact cause of his dissatisfaction | with how things are going Philip Greenspun embarks | on a journey of reacquaintance with nature across | America, by any means possible, be they cushy if | no other option. Sure, Walden and all that, but | there's really no reason not to avail oneself of | Room Servide where such available, is there? 30 | days and 5000 Frequent-Flyer miles later he reali- | zes that the real meaning of it all was, let's | face it, dating different Jewish brunettes, dif- | ferent from those that he's left at home. Why? | Because only on such dates could both of them | bloom, er, kvetch together how hard it is for | them to meet and date other Jews. That, plus a | realization, that sprung upon him ut of the blue | while standing on a wooden platform overlooking | the famous bear salmon-feeding grounds at Katmai | In Alaska, that many a nature's creature lead | "completely worthless lives: they sleep, they eat, | they fuck then they sleep again... what's the | point of it all?" What, indeed (except that he | didn't use the F word). Find all about it in the | book; satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. | Brunettes take note: still unattached (blondes, | redheads, younamethemheads too).. Brian Hall _Stealing from a Deep Place: travels in south- eastern Europe_; (Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania) Heinemann Minerva London'88 271pp 24cm ($19)____ 0749390239 [....] Ian Feldman (
I read your Alaska trip postings, partially because I too was in Alaska this summer; in fact, we were about two days ahead of you throughout most of your itinerary. Interesting how two people can have very different perceptions of the same place, depending on their respective interests and biases (and luck). For example, we took the backpacker's bus (twenty or so people, including several off-duty park rangers) into Denali and spent four days in the backcountry; on the second day, we had what the Eielson Visitor's Center ranger later described to us as the clearest weather in 40 days. We just happened to be camped directly under Mount McKinley, and the view that greeted us as we crawled out of the tent made up for all the mosquitoes falling into the stew the previous evening. We saw a great deal of wildlife up close and personal, and it was wonderful. I seem to remember you had bad weather and worse company on the tourist bus, and didn't like the place at all. But it seems you are more interested in the other travelers, and I am more interested in the locals and the locales, and neither view is more valid than the other, of course. And you filter everything through your own biases as a Jewish intellectual city-bred yuppie man, whereas I filter everything through my completely different biases as a Jewish intellectual city-bred yuppie woman... Ilana Stern (
Many of these people were much happier than my friends. They derived satisfaction from things that have made people happy for thousands of years, e.g., children, money, religion. The typical Harvard/MIT lifestyle looked very high-risk by comparison ....Thinking about all these friends growing older, unmarried and childless, I shuddered the way I would watching a family stake their whole fortune on double-zero at a Vegas roulette table. I think you base too much of your impressions here on graduate students. Graduate students are some of the unhappiest people on earth. When those same individuals get tenure at some nice university, they tend to be quite content. Most of them even marry and have children. Being academics, they often have more time to spend with their families than other professionals. MIT may not be representative. My professors at Bryn Mawr were often quite content. Why be a professional at all? First because professions offer interesting work. Intellectual stimulation is a pleasure, and to go without it during your prime hours would be a sacrifice. Second because some semblance of financial security does make life more pleasant. People often will say that an individual didn't need that new car or that vacation, and it's true. On the other hand, who would say they didn't need to send their child to that doctor or that it wasn't better not to be homeless even though their house was just destroyed by some natural disaster? It's convenient that striving for material success and striving for career advancement are often one in the same. Karen S. Zukor (
In defense of liberals: I think that Clinton's greatest achievement so far is more philisophical than practical. Neither Reagan nor Bush had any respect for truth or for intelectual process. To them, the truth was whatever was politically convenient. Witness accepting voodoo economics, star wars, supply side economics (what ever its virtues, it wasn't going to increase tax revenues), changing the definitions of the Commerce department economic measures to improve the appearence of the economy, phoney budget projections, lauding and then satanizing Saddam Hussain, etc. Truth is of course, difficult to ascertain, but I believe that we should have faith in the idea that it exists and that we can attempt to uncover it (I am not a cultural relativist) Then we can argue about the best course of action. I believe Clinton shares these ideas. He may be a pragmatist, and even sometimes a liar, but there is a respect there that was totally missing in Reagan and Bush. Joel Fajans (
Bummer about Rebecca. Double bummer about the robbery in Philadelphia. The backpack I used to travel throughout Europe, and a year later, around the world, was stolen in Philadelphia. Ironically it had survived numerous third world capitals- Kathmandu,Cairo, Bangkok, etc. Similar to your story, they broke the window on my friend's new Explorer to get to it. Is there anybody that isn't burglarized in Philly? Mark Gittes (gittes@ucsu.Colorado.EDU)