Don Draper Meets the Chicago School

May 20, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the next-to-last episode of “Mad Men,” Don Draper has walked out of an important meeting at work and driven to Wisconsin searching for a waitress he had a brief affair with. Not finding her, he now continues to Kansas and Oklahoma. He is on the road.  The reference point though is not Kerouac but a much earlier book. The title of the episode is “The Milk and Honey Route.”

Nels Anderson was a “Chicago school” sociologist, a student of Park and Burgess in the 1920s. That school produced what we would now call urban ethnographies – Harvey Zorbaugh’s The Gold Coast and the Slum: A Sociological Study of Chicago’s Near North Side (1929) or Paul Cressey’s The Taxi-Dance Hall: A Sociological Study in Commercialized Recreation and City Life (1932).  Perhaps the first of these ethnographies was Anderson’s The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man (1923).

In 1931,Anderson also published a more popular treatment of the same material. He used a pen name, Dean Stiff. The book was The Milk and Honey Route.

(Older readers: if the cover art looks vaguely familiar, that’s because the illustrator,
Ernie Bushmiller, was the creator of the comic strip “Nancy,” which began in 1938.)

The road the real hobo follows is never ending. It is always heading into the sunset of promise but it never fully keeps its promise. Thus the road the hobo roams always beckons him on, much as does the undealt card in a game of stud. Every new bend of the road is disillusioning but never disappointing, so that once you get the spirit of the hobo you never reach the stone wall of utter disillusionment. You follow on hopefully from one bend of the road to another, until in the end you step off the cliff.

Substitute “Don Draper” for “hobo” in that paragraph, and you get something you might have read this week in one of the many appreciations of “Mad Men.”


Corey said...

Thanks for posting this Jay. I recently read the Hobo and was surprised by how well it has aged. I knew that Anderson did some other writing under a pen name; now I know what to go look for.

Jay Livingston said...

Corey, All I could find online was one short excerpt (here). But it had that paragraph I quoted, and it seemed so apt. As Anderson says, the phrase was part of the hobo vocabulary, so Weiner could have gotten it from someplace else. But I like to think that his source was sociology.