Author John Steinbeck said in “Travels With Charley” that he wanted to reconnect with Americans while on a cross-country trek.

One could say Whitman College juniors Gokay Abaci and Harry Kelso did just that — and trusted in strangers — when opting for a road trip over Thanksgiving break.

Harry wanted to interview someone at a fusion power company in Los Angeles and Gokay, a psychology major and international student from Turkey, needed to apply for a Danish visa in San Francisco for his study abroad program in Copenhagen.  

Part of the journey was an 18-hour train trip from Portland to San Francisco, where Gokay kept his visa appointment, and then they drove a rented car to Los Angeles.

“We stopped at many places, surprised some Whitman friends, camped in the middle of redwoods, and drove by the coast,” Gokay emailed.

“The night before the Thanksgiving break, we thought it would be awesome to spend Thanksgiving with a random family,” Gokay said. 

A sign they made read, “We are two college students doing a road trip from Walla Walla to LA and we are looking for a friendly family to spend the Thanksgiving break.” 

En route, they drove a scenic 17-mile stretch of Monterey Bay, and knocked on a few doors. With no luck, they next stopped in Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

Spotting a lot of cars in front of a home, they knocked on the door and showed their sign and a bottle of peach wine. 

“The owner was so welcoming and loved the sign. She invited us over and we had the best Thanksgiving of our lives with three authors, (one of them signed her book for us), musicians, family members of a Native American person who told us he is the great-great-grandson of Chief Spotted Elk, a journalist who worked with politicians at (Washington, D.C.) for many years, and many other wonderful people.”

Discovering the students were headed to Big Sur, their hosts “told us we can spend the night at the former congressman Sam Farr’s house there,” and then confirmed with Sam that Gokay and Harry would be welcome to visit. 

“We spent a great time with him and his family, heard his stories involving his personal and political life, and ate some good food! The place was one of the most gorgeous places we have stayed in and we are still in disbelief this just happened,” Gokay said.

Once in Los Angeles, they spent the night at the house of a person they met on “He owns a national furniture store chain and ramen restaurants, and he told us he became a millionaire at age 27. His house was a mansion with a Jacuzzi and a pool that we didn’t want to get out from! He ordered us sushi and we had a great dinner with lots of great conversations.”

They also took advantage of gift cards their host gave them for his ramen restaurant in Hollywood, dining there when en route to the airport.

“Overall it was an amazing trip and our faith in humanity has increased tremendously,” Gokay said.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at or afternoons at 526-8313.  

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at or afternoons at 526-8313. 

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