Roadside Encounters

A look at some of the dogs and people we’ve encountered in our travels …


Name: Charlie

Breed: Golden Retriever

Age: 7

Encountered: A rest area in Middleofnowhere, Texas

Headed: To California, from Raleigh, North Carolina

Travel habits: Sleeps a lot



Name: Bear

Breed: Lab-shepherd mix

Age: Unknown

Encountered: An exit ramp off eastbound I-40 near Clines Corners, N.M.

Headed: Home to Bristol, Virginia, from parts unknown

Backstory: Bear seemed an easygoing sort, but his owners — a husband, wife and son — ran into car trouble and spent all $400 they had on fixing the radiator, or so they said. So they hand-wrote a sign about their misfortune and sat on the exit ramp with Bear, seeking donations. Seeing them stranded, I stopped, met Bear, and asked if they needed help.

“We’re flat broke,” the husband said. I gave them $20, but — that only being half a tank these days — they didn’t seem too happy about it. Then I asked if I could take a picture of their dog. “You’ll have to ask my wife,” the husband said. The wife, sitting on the ground behind the trunk of the car, said, “I don’t allow pictures of anything.” She said it quite gruffly. I got back in my car and moved on, stopping to take this photo from far away.



Name: Tobias

Breed: Chihuahua

Age: 13

Encountered: Outside his home in Albuquerque

Headed: Out to the courtyard of his apartment on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue

Backstory: At 13, Tobias isn’t doing a lot of traveling, content to stay home with his owner, who took him in as a foster two years ago from Quixote Humane Incorporated, a Chihuahua rescue organization in Albuquerque. Despite having no teeth, and a malformed leg, and, from all appearances, some abuse in his past,  he’s a contented little fellow, and very protective of his master.



Name: Domino

Breed: Dalmatian

Age: 13

Encountered: Arizona’s Painted Cliffs Welcome Center, on Interstate 40

Headed: Back home to Oregon from a trip to New Mexico

Backstory: When Domino’s owner fires up the RV, Domino is happy to ride along.

Domino gets restless about every three hours, though, and wants to get out for a walk, as he was doing at this rest area  just across the New Mexico line.

Domino’s owner, who lives with his daughter, hits the road for two or three months at a time, seeing the country and drifting where the spirit moves him.

“I call it tumbleweeding,” he says.

We like that phrase.



Name: Cutie

Breed: Shih-tzu / Pekingese

Age: 6

Encountered: Resting in the shade at Tlaquepaque, an arts and crafts village in Sedona, Arizona.

Headed: On a Sunday outing with her owner.

Backstory: Cutie, whose owner has lived in Sedona since 1964, seems used to going along on outings.

She was settled in the shade underneath a bench, but poked her head out when Ace walked by.

She has one blue eye, one brown, the only one in the litter like that, her owner said.



Name: Summer Yazzie

Tribe: Navajo

Age: Turning 11 this month

Encountered: At a roadside jewelry stand off Highway 89 on the Navajo reservation, just north of the turnoff to Tuba City, Arizona.

Backstory: Summer, her sister, Vitara, and her mother, Violet, a jewelry designer, live in Tuba City.

But on most days you can find them selling Violet’s handmade jewelry in a lean-to on the side of the highway. Violet says she sells it online as well.

Violet described her daughter as a “future diva.”

She wants to be an American Idol contestant.

 Judging from her singing — she performed a Taylor Swift song for me  — she’d be a strong contender.

Summer’s also a dog lover, and has one of her own, Cameron, named after the nearby town.



Name: Jeff Clark and his dog, Haley

Age: Jeff appeared to be around 40, Haley’s but a pup

Breed: Jeff’s a white guy; Haley’s a collie mix

Encountered: At a Chevron station in Flagstaff, Arizona

Headed: From their home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado to Carlsbad, California — a ride of more than 900 miles

Miles to go: About 600

Backstory: Partly for the adventure of it, partly because Jeff has some temporary work in Carlsbad, man and dog set off on a bicycle built for two.

Clark installed a shopping cart over the back seat, in which Haley rides.

She’s leashed to the crate and her favorite toy, a blue stuffed cat, dangles from its side.

At night, they sleep in RV parks, or alongside the road.

Jeff said there were plenty of doubters when he announced his plans to take a 600-mile bike ride with his dog.

But he doesn’t care.

“Everybody says I’m crazy,” he said, “and I’m going to prove them right.”




Snoopy (above)

Maya (the black Chihuahua)

 Zoey (the brown and white Chihuahua)

Encountered: Making a rest stop behind a convenience store in Holbrook, Arizona

Headed: Home to Phoenix after a vacation in Colorado.

Backstory: The three pooches are traveling with mother, father and daughter in a Ford Mustang. All three dogs ride in the back with the daughter, who, standing behind Snoopy in the photo, was also wearing Snoopy loungewear.



Name: Maxwell

Age: 10 months

Breed: Retriever/German shepherd/Rottweiler?

Encountered: Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park in Santa Fe

Backstory: Max (right) was the only survivor of a litter that contracted Parvovirus. After four days at the vets’ office, he was pronounced healthy and adopted by a Santa Fe resident who takes him to the dog park daily. He looked so much like my dog Ace (left) did at that age — same coloring, same curly tail, same floppy ears — I had to take his picture.



 Names: Run (above) and Alex (below)

Ages: Run is 13, Alex is 2

Breeds: Run is a shih-tzu; Alex is a Maltese

Encountered: Outside a convenience store in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Headed: To Santa Fe and Taos

From: Their home in Lawton, Oklahoma

Backstory: Run and Alex are perfectly content in the back seat of their Buick as they travel with their owner, Marty, and her friend, Chris.

“They always go where I go,” Marty said. In the backseat, she added, they’ve got everything they need: something to chew on, water, food and each other.



Names: Brownie (left) and Coco (right)

Breed: Labradoodle mixes (Mom was a Labradoodle)

Age: 18 months

Encountered: At a rest area on Interstate 40, near Winston-Salem

Headed: Home to the Raleigh area after a few days in the mountains of Georgia

Backstory: Coco and Brownie are from the same litter. It appears Coco got more Labra; Brownie got more doodle.



Names: Clancy, Brighton and Ladybug

Breeds: Labrador and golden retrievers

Ages: Various

Encountered: At a Starbucks in Winston-Salem

Headed: In the short term, home from Georgia. But Ladybug is being raised to be a guide dog. So were Clancy and Brighton, but they didn’t make the cut.

Background: At first glance, seeing two dogs at her feet and a puppy in a crate on the ground next to her, I thought Karen Carey might be a dog broker, hoping to move some merchandise outside Starbucks.

Turns out she’s an attorney in Winston-Salem who has been raising potential guide dogs for years. Ladybug is the seventh she’s taken in.

Having worked with two different guide dog organizations, Carey raises and socializes the pups (hence the Starbucks trip) until they are ready to go off to school and, upon completion, get an assignment.

Like our friend Cheyenne, they don’t always have what it takes – as was the case with Brighton and Clancy, both of whom Carey went on to adopt as her own.



Name: Soula

Breed: Catahoula leopard dog mix

Age: 8 months old

Encountered: At a Starbucks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Backstory: Soula was adopted from a shelter in South Carolina. When we ran into her, she was eager to meet Ace, but got a little upset when her owner started giving Ace whipped cream from her cup.  Soula kept lunging and nipping — gently and only at the air. Ace kept lapping up the whipped cream, as Soula’s owner, working on teaching her to share, held her down with one hand.





Name: Jolie

Breed: Boxer

Age: 20 months

Encountered: Sitting with her owner outside Port City Java in Wilmington, North Carolina

Backstory: Jolie visits the coffee shop with her owner almost every day. She’s lively, and still puppy-like, but didn’t blink an eye when thunder and lightning rolled through.

She’s her owner’s fourth boxer, and has a reverse brindle coat, meaning she’s predominantly black with some brown, as opposed to predominantly brown with some black. Her owner made it a point not to get another fawn-colored boxer, like his last, thinking that might lead to him comparing her too often with his former dog.

He was clearly a big-time dog-lover. “God really knew what he or she was doing,” he said, “when he or she made dog.”




Name: Baby

Breed: German shepherd

Age: 6

Encountered: Poolside, kind of, at the Motel 6 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Backstory: Motel 6’s allow dogs — just not in the pool.

So Baby’s owners, spending some time at the motel while between houses, hooked her leash to the gate so she could watch — longingly, it seemed — as her family cooled off in the water.

Baby probably would have been happier inside the fence, but she seemed content to be at least close to her family.

She found a shady spot in the mulch, made herself comfortable and, in true German shepherd style, looked on.



Name: Charles Edwards

AKA: “The mayor of NoDa”

Age: 58

Encountered: At the Smelly Cat Coffee House in Charlotte

Backstory: Charles is a fixture in Charlotte’s NoDa district, where he has lived all his life, except for a month in Philadelphia. He didn’t like it and moved back home. Charles holds several jobs in the neighborhood, including one at the Neighborhood Theater, a music venue he says was once an X-rated movie house. Charles has watched as the one-time mill area made the transition to an eclectic arts district.

Charles says hello to all who pass, and everybody seems to know his name — though I’m not sure who first dubbed him honorary mayor.

I was sitting outside the coffee shop, where two children had stopped to pet Ace, when Charles approached. 

He came up and shook my hand, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of dollar bills. He handed both of the children a dollar, and told them to put it in their piggy banks.



Names: Raj and Hug

Age: Hug (the dog) is three.

Breed: Hug is a Rottweiller-German shepherd mix.

Encountered: In a trailer park in Norfolk, Virginia.

Backstory: I was taking Ace for his after dinner walk, when — as we passed through a parking lot, behind a mobile home park — a car slowly pulled up alongside us.

“He looks just like my dog,” the driver, speaking in a thick Indian accent, said. “He lives right over there,” he added, pointing at a mobile home that backed up to the parking lot.

He introduced himself as Raj, and we talked for five minutes as he petted Ace, who’d stuck his nose through the open car window.

After Raj pulled away, I circled the block, and walked back along busy Military Highway, headed  to my Motel 6. 

From out of nowhere, Raj pulled up alongside me again, this time with his daughter in the passenger seat. He stopped his car in the traffic so she could meet Ace, through the window, as well. Then he insisted I come see his dog.

“I’ll meet you there in two minutes,” he said as a long line of cars backed up behind him.

I went back to my room, grabbed my camera and returned to the mobile home park. As Ace and I walked up to his home, Hug came out, pulling the slightly built Raj behind him.

Ace and Hug hit it off fine. And they are remarkably similar in appearance — same eyes, same ears, same curly tail.

They both enjoyed some water and treats, supplied by Raj’s wife. She works at a nearby McDonalds.  Raj, who moved to the U.S. 30 years ago from New Delhi, used to work at a McDonalds and drove a limousine until he got sick

He can’t work anymore, his wife explained.

Raj and his family adopted Hug from a local shelter about two years ago. Raj says he has always had dogs and can’t imagine life without one. He shook hands with Ace before we left and gave him a prolonged hug.

“I love dogs too much,” he said. “Yes, I love dogs too much.”



Name: Rocky

Age: 6

Breed: Rottweiler-beagle mix

Encountered: At a Motel 6 across from the Richmond airport

Backstory: Rocky has been a guest at this Motel 6 — for two years. He lives in a second floor room with his owners, a painter named Dave and his daughter Jessie. At $33 a night, and an even lower rate when you pay by the week, it works out about the same as rent, Dave says. Besides, he adds, “I like motels.”

Rocky can be seen wandering various parts of the property on his own, and every morning when he’s let out of the room, he goes directly to the motel office for a treat.

We encountered him a few times during our stay, and he got along great with Ace. Both times we saw him, Rocky went into a play stance, leading Ace to chase him around the parking lot.

Dave, a lifelong resident of Richmond, says Rocky has bitten a couple of people, but only when provoked. He’s a sweet and friendly dog — “unless you try to get in my van.”



Names: Gus and Pete

Breed: Bouvier des Flandres

Encountered: At a jazz concert in Baltimore’s Riverside Park over the weekend

Backstory: Gus and Pete are father and son and live with their owners in Dundalk. Sunday night, they made the trip to the city, where — despite the heat and their heavy coats — both seemed happy to sit in the shade and listen to some jazz.


GOTTI (and associates)

Name: Gotti

Breed: I’m not sure … Maltese, maybe?

Named After: John Gotti, the organized crime boss

Encountered: Riverside Park in Baltimore.

Backstory: It had been a while since I’d seen Gotti, who I used to regularly encounter at the park.

That’s him on the bench, and above with two other dogs that, despite the similarity in appearance, are not members of his crime family. They do seem to be whispering something in Gotti’s ear, though. Maybe they’re his lawyers.



Name: Chopper

Age: About 5

Breed: Ummmmm, let’s just say a terrier mix

Encountered: On the docks at Nick’s Fish House and marina in Baltimore

Backstory: Chopper made the transition from desert dog to boat dog several years ago — relocating from Kingman, Arizona to Baltimore, Maryland, where he now  lives aboard a huge yacht (compared to mine, anyway), in the process of being restored by Travis Guthrie.

Guthrie, a boat builder and yacht carpenter,  and Magdalena Sudnik, an artist, are both living on the Lucy Maru — and, as of very recently,  in official wedlock, we can be among the first to report.

(They also do a blog called “Dog on Boat,” which tracks their lives on board, the progress of the two boats they’re restoring and the hijinks of Chopper and a cat named Billy.)

Maggie was painting a mural as part of an art project on on Route 66 when Chopper, as he would be named, came running up from out of nowhere. They’ve been together ever since.

Every day, Chopper — he’s one of at least half a dozen dogs living with liveaboards at Nick’s — runs off the boat, down the pier and into the parking lot at Nick’s where he’s happy diving into the water to chase his ball.

While doing so he, literally, becomes a different dog. When his fine white coat gets drenched, it all but disappears, revealing a dog with black spots. Once he dries off, he’s white again.

Travis and Maggie, who have been together about eight years, can be seen toiling on the Lucy Maru just about every day — though one gets the feeling it’s more than just toil.

Their plan is to finish the restoration and do what they’ve long been contemplating: Sail off into the sunset.




Name: Samantha

Breed: Standard poodle

Age: 1

Encountered: Outside a coffee shop in Sag Harbor, New York

Backstory: Arriving in Sag Harbor to start retracing the route John Steinbeck took with his poodle Charley, the first dog I encountered was, strangely enough, a poodle. Samantha belongs to Mark Brennan, who works during the week on Wall Street and spends weekends in Sag Harbor. Samantha was a real lover, and she put a few moves on my dog, but Ace all but ignored her, too busy focusing with all his intensity on the bagel Mark was eating.



Names: Duke and Truman 

Breeds:  Duke’s a black German shepherd, Truman’s a Rottweiler mix

Ages: Duke is going on 9, Truman’s 3

Encountered: At the Dunes’ Edge Campground in Provincetown, Mass.

Backstory: A woman named Eileen from Tennessee pulled into the campsite adjoining mine in a cute little Coach House motorhome — just like the one I’ve been coveting. I stepped out of my tent, put my RVNV aside and went over to meet the two dogs traveling with her. Truman’s a bundle of energy, Duke (named after the school that Eileen attended) a bit more mature. Both were as friendly as they can be. Eileen was, too, offering me some of the chocolate tart she picked up at a bakery down the road. She bought the motorhome and started traveling after the death of her husband. She was gradually making her way back home to Seiverville, Tenn., after a trip to Canada and other points.



Name: Finley

Breed: Landseer Newfoundland

Age: 19 months

Encountered: Along the pier in Provincetown, Mass., recently deemed the most dog-friendly town in America.

Backstory: We ran into Finley (and a couple of hundred other dogs) during our weekend in Provincetown.

He was lounging on the pier, the breeze rippling through his black and white fur.

He was sitting with his owner, next to one of many artist kiosk’s that, along with whale watching charters, line the dock.

Finley’s owner says, like most Newfoundlands, Finley loves the water — whether he’s playing in the surf, swimming or on a boat.

Finley — lucky dog — lives in Provincetown year-round.



Names: Too many to mention.

Breeds: Too many to mention.

Encountered: At Dog Mountain, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Backstory: Despite the death this year of its founder, Dog Mountain held its annual Dog Fest over the weekend — this time making it a celebration of not just dogs, but also of the life and art of Stephen Huneck.

Hundreds showed up for the event.

“We know he would have wanted everyone to have a great time,” said Gwen Huneck, widow of the artist who commited suicide earlier this year. “That is, after all, why the artist created Dog Mountain and the Dog Chapel. Stephen wanted families with their dogs to have fun and enjoy nature in a place where they can bond with their furry family members as well as other dog lovers.”

We brought you the story of artist Stephen Huneck and Dog Mountain in an earlier post. But these photos from Sunday’s festival may best explain what it’s all about. In a word, dogs.

“Stephen believed having dogs in our lives encourages us to love,  laugh and play more often, all qualities that are good for the soul,” Gwen said. “He also believed being around dogs makes it easier for people to interact with each other and make new friends.”



Name: Charlie

Breed: Saint Bernard

Age: 4

Encountered: At a rest area in western Montana, just a couple of miles before the Idaho state line.

Backstory: Charlie, a female with a sweet disposition, was headed back home to Seattle from a road trip to Wisconsin.

She lumbered out of the car to meet Ace, but Ace was more interested in the treats her owner — a former Baltimore resident — had in her pocket.

Ace and Charlie stared at each other, sniffed, and munched some more treats together.

Then they did what they were there to do, climbed back into their respective cars and rolled through Idaho.



Name: Tugg

Breed: Lhasa Apso

Age: 16 months

Encountered: At Volunteer Park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Backstory: “Joyful, dignified, mischievous and aloof.” That’s how the American Kennel Club describes the personality of the Lhasa Apso.

The personality of Tugg — while he looks pretty dignified at left — may be completely different, for all I know.

I only spent a couple of minutes with him — most of that taking photographs, which he didn’t seem to mind at all — before his human, Amanda, took off.

The breed originated hundreds of years ago in the remote Himalayan Mountains, and served mainly to guard the homes of Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries. Those were near the sacred city of Lhasa.

That explains the Lhasa, but what about the Apso?

According to, there are two theories.


One is that it comes from rapso, the Tibetan word for goat. Supposedly, the breed’s coat resembled that of the goats kept by Tibetan herders. Another is that because of the breed’s role guarding sacred places, ancient Tibetans referred to it as apso seng kye, which translates into “bark lion sentinel dog.”

I don’t know which, if either, is right.

The message I got from Tugg — whose face, to me, even without the setting sun dappling it, reflected both wisdom and inscrutability — was that he’d prefer the mystery to remain.



Name: Unknown

Age: Unknown

Breed: Chihuahua or Chihuahua mix

Encountered: At a stoplight in Tillamook, Oregon

Backstory: I’m not sure what this little dog was so upset about, but when I pulled up alongside, he or she barked away — right up until the light turned green.



Name: Jake

Breed: Golden retriever

Age: 2

Encountered: Sitting in the back of a pickup truck, outside the Paradise Cafe in Port Orford, Oregon.

Backstory: We spotted Jake, patiently waiting in the rain for his master, when we pulled in for some breakfast at the Paradise Cafe. I snapped a quick picture and went inside, taking a seat at the counter — as it turned out, right next to Jake’s owner.

It was a homey little eatery, where regulars have their own coffee cups, lined up on a shelf, and, rather than numerous individual conversations, there’s just one big one, between staff and customers, from table to table. Someone at the counter might say something, and then someone three tables away would chime in. It’s a small town thing.

Jake’s a fine dog, his owner told me while finishing off his breakfast — and not as old as he looks.

He had to have his face shaved a few weeks ago so he could be stitched up after he fell out the back of the moving truck.

Despite that, Jake still rides in the back of the truck.

His owner told me that he named Jake after the dog in the song, “Feed Jake,” by the Pirates of the Mississippi.

“It’s a cool song, it’s got bums and hookers and everything,” he said.



Name: Unknown

Breed: Golden retriever; maybe a purebred, maybe with a little Chow mixed in, but that’s just a guess

Age: Unknown

Encountered: In a parking lot in Paso Robles, California

Backstory: We don’t know it. But he or she seemed a patient sort, content to sit in the (covered) back of a pick up truck and enjoy his or her window on the world. We’d stopped for a burger, and waited a bit for his owner to appear, but had to move on.



Name: James Dean

Breed: Brooding rebel

Age: 24 at the time of his death. Were he alive today, he’d be 79.

Encountered: The James Dean sign is at Blackwell’s Corner, a gas station, nut dealer and memorabilia shop in Lost Hills, California that bills itself as “James Dean’s last stop.”

Backstory: An icon of 1950s Hollywood, Dean was killed in a head-on collision in 1955 — the same year the movie version of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” came out, in which Dean had a starring role.

Steinbeck reportedly didn’t like Dean personally, but thought he was perfect for the role of Cal Trask.

After the movie’s release, Dean was driving his Porsche to Salinas for a car race. About 20 minutes after he gassed up at Blackwell’s Corner, an oncoming car struck his vehicle.

He would posthumously receive an Academy Award nomination for best actor.

Today, Blackwell’s Corner specializes in pistachios and almonds, and also sells 1950s memorabilia.

It offers a free pack of James Dean trading cards with a purchase of $75 or more.



Name: Unknown

Breed: Chihuahua mix

Age: Unknown

Encountered: Atop a scattered pile of discarded clothing in Slab City, outside of Niland, California.

Backstory: During my visit to Slab City, I stopped to take a photograph of a pile of clothing spread across, what else, a concrete slab. It serves as a drop off point, where denizens of and visitors to the makeshift community can discard unwanted clothing that others might be able to use.

I saw something move in the pile; then saw that it was a dog.

He lay there trembling, and wouldn’t come when I called. Nor did he get up when I tossed a dog treat, even though it landed just inches away.

There were two bowls, one that held water, one that had held food, but both were empty.

I looked around for some humans, but no one was in sight. I approached a couple of trailers to see if they might be the owners of the dog, but nobody was home. When a woman with a Chihuahua of her own walked by, she said she, being new there, didn’t know anything about the dog and left.

I tossed some more treats, refilled his water bowl, and anguished over what to do. Report him to animal control as a stray? But what if he wasn’t? What if he’d just wandered over there from his owner’s trailer or RV to take a nap in the sun? What if animal control picked him up and did what they often do before any owners had time to claim him?

He had a slight bump on his lower jaw, and he seemed well fed, but the bowls led me to think he’d been abandoned, and he just kept trembling.

Mind your own business, the voice on my left shoulder said. Take him with you, said the voice on my right.

Unable to just drive away, I called him again. He didn’t budge. But when I went to pick him up he did, jumping off the slab and heading toward a trailer. He seemed to have a destination in mind, and, though he stopped a couple of times to look back at me, he kept walking away.

And, after watching him disappear around a corner, so did I, wondering if I had been on the verge of being a do-gooder doing wrong, or if I hadn’t done good enough.



Name: Sugar

Breed: Corgi-golden retriever mix

Encountered: Two rooms down from mine at a Motel 6 in Tucson.

Backstory: Sugar and her human had one more day at a Motel 6 before catching flights home to Edmonton, Alberta.

They’d come south to spend Thanksgiving with friends in Patagonia, Arizona. 

Sugar was flying home on Continental, but her owner on another airline, because Continental’s human fare was a bit steep.

Sugar welcomed us when we arrived, came into our room,  and even tried out  the bed.

If you’re wondering why the shadow in the photo seems to be larger than the dog pictured, it’s because it belongs to Ace, who, as you might guess, was pretty sweet on Sugar.



Name: Sarah

Breed: Pit bull

Age: 7

Encountered: In a parking lot in Cave Creek, Arizona, where her owner sells cowboy hats at a roadside stand.

Backstory: Everyday, Michael Chazan, of Phoenix, sets up his tables on a dusty parking lot and hawks hats from Guatemala.

At first, he would bring his daughter’s dog with him — partly for company, partly because, he’s found,  dogs can help bring in business.

When his daughter moved away, he debated whether he should bring along his own dog, Sarah, who he’s had since she was a pup. While amazingly and unwaveringly friendly, she is a pit bull, and while he knows she’s a sweetheart, some customers, he feared, might shy away because of the breed she happens to be.

He gave it a try anyway, and Sarah proved to be as good for business as she is at being a friend.

I picked up her affectionate vibe from 50 yards away. When she saw me, her tail began wagging wildly. She got down on all fours, shaking with anticipation of meeting someone new.

I had no choice but to go over and say hello. And now — though I’m not the cowboy hat type — I’m wearing a cowboy hat.

Michael says Sarah is good at luring in customers, and while he sometimes tells customers that his dog will eat them if they don’t buy the hat they tried on, one look at Sarah’s smiling face lets them know, if they didn’t already, that it’s a joke.

Sarah is good with other dogs, too, Michael said, and she seemed to adore Ace, licking his face and prancing around him.

He, as is usually his way with assertive females, all but ignored her.

I, on the other hand was smitten — and not just because we both have big heads. It was her sweet disposition that hooked me, reeled me in and sealed the sale, with a big sloppy lick.



Name: Sonny Barger

Breed: Hell’s Angel

Age: 72

Encountered: At The Buffalo Chip, a bar and restaurant in Cave Creek, Arizona

Backstory: Sonny (at right, that’s me on the left) was a founding member of the Hell’s Angels, helping establish the Oakland, California, chapter of the club in 1957.

I ran into him this week after I stopped to buy a cowboy hat.

“Those are Hell’s Angels,” the parking lot cowboy hat salesman told me, pointing out the five Harleys lined up outside of a bar and restaurant called The Buffalo Chip.

“Yeah, right,” I thought, and possibly said out loud. While I’ve seen thousands of motorcyclists descend on Cave Creek in my brief time here — most of them right next door to my trailer park at a place called The Hideaway — they are mostly stockbrokers and accountants and the like, who transform into bikers on the weekend.

“No, this is the real deal,” said my roadside haberdasher. “Sonny Barger is in there.”

Ralph Hubert “Sonny” Barger just so happens to be a founding member of the Hell’s Angels.

So, leaving Ace in the car, I walked in, rudely interrupted a conversation he was having and asked if I could take his picture.

Barger shook my hand and said he could do better than that. “I have a photographer with me.” He called over one of the members of a crew from Fox Movies, in town to scout out locations for a movie based on his autobiography. I handed the photographer my camera and he took the photo at the top of this post. (So, if you don’t like it, Sonny, blame him.)

I apologized to Barger for not taking my newly purchased cowboy hat off, and explained to him that it had just been dipped in water and was forming to the exact size of my head. Barger was polite and accommodating, and he told me that the movie was something he’d been hoping to get done for 10 years. Now, it appears, it’s going to happen.

Barger was a prominent figure in Hunter S. Thompson’s bestselling book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. He’s also mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s best seller, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

He has shown up in movies, too. He appeared in “Hells Angels on Wheels,” and was one of several members of the motorcycle club (I think they prefer the word club to gang) who had cameo speaking parts in “Hell’s Angels ’69.” Just last month he made a short guest appearance on “Sons Of Anarchy,” the television series about a fictional outlaw motorcycle club, based on the Hell’s Angels.

Altogether, Barger has spent about 13 years of his life behind bars, four of those for conspiring to blow up the clubhouse of a rival motorcycle club, the Outlaws, in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1983, Barger was diagnosed with throat cancer, suspected to be connected to smoking three pack of Camels a day for 30 years. He underwent surgery, smoking a cigarette, it is said, on his way to the operating room. His vocal cords were removed, but he learned to speak again using the muscles in his throat. When he talks, he holds a finger over the hole in his neck.

In more recent years, he has become an author, and his books include Freedom: Credos from the Road, Dead in 5 Heartbeats, 6 Chambers, 1 Bullet and his 2001 autobiography,  Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. In recent years Barger has worked to promote motorcycle safety, co-authoring The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles and, in 2010, Let’s Ride: Sonny Barger’s Guide to Motorcycling.

Barger is a resident of Cave Creek and remains an active member of the Hells Angels Cave Creek Chapter.



Names: Buddy Holly (named after the performer) and Peggy Sue (the fawn-colored one, named after Holly’s hit song)

Breed: Pugs

Ages: Buddy is 3; Peggy Sue is 4

Encountered: At what’s billed as the largest free-standing cross in America, near Interstate 40 in Groom, Texas — not far from where I almost met my doom 18 years ago.

Backstory: The two pugs, and the couple who owns them, were headed home to Hobart, Oklahoma after a Christmas visit to Arizona.

The owners of the pampered pugs planned a stop at the cross, which is 19 stories tall and, in the flatlands of the Texas panhandle, visible from 20 miles away.

I stopped there because the big cross wasn’t there the last time I passed through — and I thought it was the same exit where I slid off the icy highway and rolled down an embankment on an earlier cross country trip. As it turned out, where I nearly met my maker was the next exit east.

The pugs’ owners were big fans of God, Buddy Holly, pugs and, judging from their racing jackets, NASCAR.

Buddy Holly and Peggy Sue enjoyed a long potty stop on the periphery of the property.

Then they jumped back in the car while their owners went to see the church and gift shop.



Name: Underdog

Breed: German shepherd

Age: 3

Encountered: On I-40, then at a liquor store parking lot in Maumelle, Arkansas.

Backstory: When a pickup truck was passing me on Interstate 40 in Arkansas, I did that quick little sideways look we all do — or at least I do. I’m not sure why I do that. Is it to see if it, against all odds, it might be someone I know? Is it in hopes of making a love connection, or at least some eye contact to break up the interstate monotony? Maybe it’s just to check and see if that person is giving me the sideways look.

In this case, the eyes that looked back at me were those of a German shepherd, sitting in the passenger seat. When the pickup he was in pulled off at the next exit, I followed, all the way to a liquor store, where, in the parking lot, I parked alongside it and asked the driver if I could take a picture of his dog.

Underdog’s owner, who appeared to be on a run to secure some New Year’s Eve essentials, runs his own company, called, according to the side of the trailer his truck pulled, Leaf Removal & More. He used to live in Little Rock, but recently moved to nearby Conway.

“I got me a house by the lake,” he said. “I’m happy there.”

Happy New Year to Underdog, and all underdogs everywhere.



Names: Mikey and Soju 

Breeds: Pug and Great Dane 

Encountered: At Riverside Park in Baltimore

Backstory: I got to spend some time with two of my favorite local dogs yesterday — a day whose warm temperatures led both humans and canines to linger at Riverside Park, in no particular hurry to get back home.

Even if it’s not here to stay, the mild weather was welcome — especially to Ace, after a winter of being rushed through the dog walk by an owner hoping to quickly get the “mission” accomplished and himself back indoors …

“C’mon, do your business, my toes are frozen. It’s too cold. Let’s go.”

In retrospect, in this past month, I’ve probably been, in Ace’s eye, a bit of a buzzkill.

Doing his duty, I don’t think, has ever been the foremost mission in Ace’s mind during trips to the park (hence the urging). He sees it as more of a happy hour, or preferably two — a chance to add to his scent portfolio, visit old dog friends, meet some new ones, and track down those folks who, at some point in history, have provided him with a treat.

Yesterday was the kind of visit he likes best — a long one, with good dog friends to play with, new ones to sniff out, and lots of humans to mooch off. (If you have treats in your pocket, Ace will determine which pocket and, should you need prompting, attempt to insert his nose inside it. When it comes to freeloading, I think I have learned some of his skills, and he has picked up some of mine.)

We got to catch up with our old friend Soju — he’s named after the vodka-like (but sweeter) Korean beverage. Soju and Ace are old friends, and they used to wrestle endlessly at Riverside, a true up-on-the-hind-legs, paw-swinging battle of the titans. When one of them went down, you could almost feel the earth shake.

They went at it for a bit yesterday, with Ace, the older of the two, watching as Soju galloped around him in circles, then tackling him like a lazy linebacker when Soju veered close enough.

Mikey stayed out of the fray — a wise choice given he’s not much bigger than a football. Mikey, a therapy dog with one of the more expressive faces you’ll ever see, generally avoids the roughhousing, choosing instead to sit at your feet, looking up at you with big brown bulging eyes until you give him a treat, no matter how long it takes.

Good things, he seems to know, come to those who wait — and spring is one example. Yesterday didn’t mark it’s arrival, but even a false precursor was welcome, and dogs and humans soaked it up. It occurs to me that we should send thank you notes to spring — perhaps that would lead her to stay around a little longer and forestall the inevitable arrival of her evil sister summer, who always comes to early and stays past her welcome.

Speaking of staying past one’s welcome, Ace and I — after enjoying a glorious month in a friend’s empty house in Federal Hill — will be hitting the road again next week.

As of now, it appears we will be heading south, where we plan to stay in an undetermined location for an indeterminate period of time. How’s that for a plan?

Once again, we’ll tear ourselves away from Baltimore, where — in addition to promoting my new book — the last month has allowed us to get ourselves organized, experience a semblance of stability, soak in a hot tub on a rooftop deck (just me, not Ace) and savor the pleasures of our old neighborhood.

I’ll miss my corner bar. Ace will miss his favorite park. But, as I think I said nine months ago — when Ace and I first embarked on our journey to discover America, its dogs and the people who love them — there’s one thing we’ll miss most of all:

Friends … big and small.



Name: Betty

Breed: Boston terrier

Age: 14 years

Encountered: At Heart of Gold, a jewelry store in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Ace and I were sitting outside a coffee shop when suddenly I felt my seat start moving. I’d looped Ace’s leash over the back of my chair, and he moved it a full inch before I turned around to see what he was trying to get to.

It was a Boston terrier. She did her business in the pine needles and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.

Ace whimpered, insisting, it seemed, that we go find her. He pulled me into Heart of Gold, where the owner was packing up — going out of business after nine months.

Despite the situation, she was happy to talk about her greying old dog, Betty, who comes to work with her every day.

She got Betty as a pup in Florida, part of a litter sired by a pedigreed Boston terrier who went by the name Willie B. Cute.

Betty’s owner, who’s moving to Texas after the shop gets packed up,  happily agreed to me taking Betty’s picture, but — not wanting to be in any pictures herself — handed the dog off to her employee.

The result was a photo that captured — if I do say so myself — both the quiet dignity of old age and the joyful energy of youth.

After our quick photo session, Betty, who’s going deaf, was returned to the floor, where she immediately began scooting her butt across the carpet. She was scolded only mildly and continued scooting. That’s one of the things that comes with the dignity of old age — when you have an itch, you scratch it.



Name: Elsie

Age: Almost 6 months

Breed: German shepherd/beagle mix

Encountered: At Reynolda Village, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Adopted two months ago by a young couple, Elsie bumped into Ace, quite literally, as we rounded a corner in a collection of shops, restaurants, galleries and businesses known as Reynolda Village. The village was originally built by tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds to house workers at his estate.

What was the Reynolds country home is now the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, and it and its surrounding 1,067-acre estate — complete with hiking trails and formal gardens — seems to be pretty dog- friendly (though not leash-free) territory.

Elsie — and our guess is she was headed for K-9 Doggie Bakery and Boutique, just around the corner — was initially taken aback upon running into Ace, but only for a second. Then she seemed mostly curious, and fearless. She sniffed those parts of him she could reach, then attempted to engage him nose to nose, before she and her humans moved on.



Name: Butch

Age: 15

Breed: Pug

Encountered: Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Not long after moving into our new place, Ace and I ran into Butch, who lives around the corner.

He’s mostly blind, and mostly deaf, according to his owner, Martha. He has probably had some strokes, too. He tilts to the left when walks.

Martha still talks to Butch, even though he probably can’t hear her, and I did too when I took him for a walk last week, volunteering after I heard Martha had hurt her back.

Martha explained the basics to me — pull up on his leash to support him when he’s going up or down a curb, try not to let him walk into a telephone pole. But if he does, it’s no big deal. He’s a resilient little fellow, accustomed to handling the bumps life throws our way.

Butch doesn’t go that far, usually, and lets you know when he has had enough by sitting down and refusing to budge, but he didn’t seem to tire out on his walk with Ace, following him through the grass and sometimes winding underneath him through his legs.

Ace, who seems to be able to sense old age and fragility in his fellow dogs, didn’t step on him once.



Name: Piero

Age: 6

Breed: Yellow Lab

Encountered: At Washington Perk, a coffee house/grocery/deli in Winston-Salem, N.C. that — just down the street from the city’s dog park — has become one of Ace’s favorite hangouts.

Backstory: We were enjoying some breakfast Saturday morning on the outside deck when Piero arrived with his humans.

His owners said the name was Italian for Peter, or at least one variation of that, and that they gave all their pets Italian names.

Like Ace, Piero sat quietly, and grew more intent when food arrived.

Piero seemed a very happy dog. Being a yellow lab, he may not be headed for the dean’s list, his owner noted.

But then he did know enough to get into the shade, which was more than you could say for us.




Age: 2 1/2 years

Breed: Corgi-Chow mix

Encountered: At Washington Park, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Ace and I were visiting Winston-Salem’s dog park when Bailey came trotting in — a demure little thing with a pretty close to ground level view of the world.

Built like a fire hydrant with short stocky legs and a neck as big as her head, she was adopted by her owner from the Forsyth County Humane Society a couple of years ago.

Despite being short of stature, she had no trouble leaping a foot-high barrier, and, with two more leaps, jumping up on a picnic table, at which point she towered over Ace and all the other dogs, who she seemed content to lay there and watch.



Names: Gracie and Chloe

Age: 4 years old

Breed: Golden retrievers

Encountered: Along the Silas Creek Trail in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Recent transplants from Florida, Gracie and Chloe are getting accustomed to Winston-Salem. They’re shown here walking with their owner, Terry. When he and his wife went to look at them and the rest of the litter, they disagreed on which one they wanted. He liked one of the lighter colored ones, while his wife preferred the darker.

And that’s why Terry walks two dogs.



Name: Muffy

Age: 3 years

Breed: Poodle

Encountered: In downtown Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: The first time Muffy’s owner walked past Ace on the sidewalk, she picked her little poodle up, carrying her to a spot on the sidewalk where she and her friend set up their chairs to listen to a concert.

There, Muffy sat for the duration, on one lap or the other.

As they were leaving, they stopped and talked, and although she still held Muffy in her arms, she didn’t seem as fearful that my dog was going to gobble her’s up.

Muffy’s owner said she’d never had a dog before Muffy.  Her mother never liked dogs. But after her mother passed away, she found Muffy at the local humane society and adopted her.

“It’s the best thing I ever did,” she said.



Name: Lily

Age: 3 years

Breed: Goldendoodle

Encountered: At a street concert in downtown Winston-Salem

Backstory: We ran into about five other dogs when we went to Saturday night’s “Summer on Trade” concert, including Lily, who, unlike some of our other Roadside Encounters, was actually on the road.

Several blocks are closed off for the summer weekend concerts, and Lily seemed happy to be there, drawing lots of admirers. Her humans have another dog at home, a 12-year-old Newfoundland, but she doesn’t get out as much as she used to.



Name: Gatsby

Breed: Great Dane

Age: 3

Encountered: At an outdoor concert by Possum Jenkins in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: We wouldn’t call him spoiled — at least not to his face — but Gatsby had it pretty cushy Saturday night, lounging on the giant dog bed his owners toted along because Gatsby finds the street itself something less than comfortable to lay on.

When I started taking his picture he got up, repositioning himself on the lap of his owner Steve Joiner, who works for Truliant Federal Credit Union, which sponsors the Summer on Trade concert series. Judging from Joiner’s reaction — there was none — Gatsby must do that a lot.

Later, Gatsby reassumed his position on his cushion, paying close attention as Joiner and his wife, Nora, passed snacks back and forth.



Roadside Encounters, Travels with Ace

Name: Moses

Breed: Otterhound

Age: 3

Encountered: Go Dog Wash, in Winston-Salem

Backstory: Ace was in serious need of bath — has been for a couple of months now — so we popped into a self-service dog wash in Winston-Salem. That’s where we met Moses, looking every bit as full of wisdom as his namesake.

Moses weighs 150 pounds, according to his owner, Jennifer. She’d already washed Moses’ sister (though not by birth), a Samoyed, who waited patiently, barking from time to time, as her human completed the far bigger job.

Jennifer, like me, had some trouble with the token machine, which was not taking credit cards, as it usually does. She had to pack both dogs up — the wet one and the dry one — and drive to the bank and come back. I used up all $10 of tokens wetting Ace down and applying shampoo. He waited, all lathered up, while I tried my last $5 bill in the machine. It didn’t like it. So I had to go next door to a dry cleaners to break a $20. Final cost, counting the dryer: $20. Lesson learned: Get all your tokens beforehand.

Ace was cooperative, until I tried the blow dryer on him. He squirmed, but put up with that. It’s a pretty handy way to wash a dog — and with Ace’s recent mystery back and leg issues, I didn’t want to put him in the slippery bathtub at home. At the dog wash, I just walked him up the ramp, into the giant tub with a rubberized bottom, then washed, rinsed, conditioned and rinsed — all with the nozzle provided.

Moses was even more patient than Ace. He seemed a very mellow dog, sitting perfectly still until his owner was done. Then he decided he needed to shake. A wet otterhound, when he shakes, really parts the water, or I guess, technically, the water parts him. It went everywhere.



Name: Tiny

Breed: Miniature Pinscher

Age: Unknown

Encountered: Outside a Thai restaurant in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: I ran into Tiny on my way to a speaking engagement. He was wandering unleashed among the tables in front of the restaurant, leading me to wonder if he might be lost.

I asked one dining couple if he was their’s. They said no. Two other people sitting nearby said he was their’s. They worked there, which explained why Tiny acted as if he owns the place, every once in a while peering through the front door, then hopping up on a chair, as if waiting to be served.



Name: Charlie

Age: 9

Breed: Poodle

Encountered: While walking my dog in my neighborhood in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: More than a year after setting off to retrace the path of John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley, we finally ran into a poodle named Charlie.

Even though it’s spelled differently, Charlie is named after the dog Steinbeck explored the country with in “Travels with Charley.”

His owner is a big fan of the book.

Ace and I ran into her and Charlie while passing the Diamondback Grill, where Ace always stops for water and a treat. It’s just down the road from where our year of travels came to an end, when Ace and I moved into the very apartment I was born in.

(You can read about our travels here, check out some of our other roadside encounters here, and buy the handsome wall calendar that features scenes from some of the place we stopped here.)

It struck me as interesting that only after completing our quest — only after we finished our 27,000 miles of Charley-inspired travels around the country — we’d finally encounter a poodle named Charley, or even Charlie.

Perhaps it just goes to show you, or at least me — when you finally stop looking for something, that’s usually when you find it.


10 comments for “Roadside Encounters

  1. Jeana
    February 16, 2011 at 2:14 am

    I really enjoyed the pictures and comments about dogs you met on the road. I don’t think dogs are memorialized enough or given proper credit when due. I applaud you for that.
    I think if there weren’t dogs in the world, people wouldn’t know what the hell to do with themselves. Certainly people meet one another, talk more easily and laugh better if there are dogs helping them out. By “people” I mean me.
    Dogs are an excellent example of how to be in the world – except for the butt sniffing thing – because people are too tall – dogs are built at relative but level so it’s easier to get a good sniff without falling down.
    I do miss my human friends who have passed, but I miss my dog friends even more.

  2. Sue
    February 16, 2011 at 6:20 am

    John, Did you ever hear anymore from/about Jeff Clark and Haley? The pair that were traveling from CO to CA on the bicycle for two. I think of them now and then and wonder about their adventure. Sue

  3. Rose Oeler
    May 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Hi John,
    Just finished reading about your travels with Ace and all the great dogs
    and people you have met. you must really love to travel.
    I really enjoy reading your stories. I live in Central Pa. and am planning
    a trip this June across country. Will be making a stop in Groom, Texas. Just wondering if you made a stop at the Blessed Mary Resturant while in
    Groom. Keep up the great travels.

  4. Jessie
    June 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    This is absolutely amazing. It is a very warm relief to see that some people are still decent and still love the animals that God has gifted us with. Dogs especially are so full of grace and understanding that is rarely found today. I am trilled to hear and see that you have taken it upon yourself to share that grace and understanding with the world with this site. Keep us all updated on your adventures with Ace.
    Best of luck…

  5. Barbara
    October 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Loved reading this and looking at all the pups. Managed to kill almost an entire afternoon at a boring job being entertained by your travels and the dogs you and Ace have encountered. I find just about everything about dogs terribly interesting. Have nine of them myself. Keep it coming!

  6. DeEtte
    November 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Found your website from Rolling Dog Farm (I’m a subscriber) and I’ve been sitting here reading story after wonderful story. I absolutely love dogs and often snap photos of various dogs myself. Great job on writing out these little stories, funny, insightful, and heart warming. Keep up the good work!

    p.s. love your Ace!

  7. Taz
    November 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Wonderful website! I’m also a dog lover and will visit this site and blog often.

  8. evangeline lawrence
    December 2, 2011 at 2:19 am

    What a joy to hear stories that are so special.

  9. Jill Carter
    July 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Absolutely wonderful!! What a joy it was to read all the stories. I was never a dog person until my boyfriend (now husband) started leaving his black lab with me when he went to work. Then Alex, the lab, got skin cancer and I took care of him until he went to Rainbow Bridge with the other animals who have passed. All of a sudden, I loved dogs and had never realized what I had been missing. Jeff, my hubby, bought me a miniature poodle and he was christened Flash. He is now a year old and I don’t know what I would do without him, or Jeff for that matter. Keep up the great stories. By the way, I live in Paso Robles, where you took one of the pictures!!

  10. April 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    i enjoyed your photos and stories. Thanks!

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