Friday, April 17, 2015

The closest I ever got to meeting John Steinbeck


According to my Kindle Paperwhite, which tracks my progress through books, I’ve read about 70% of John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley.”

If you’re not familiar with it, the book chronicles a road trip Steinbeck made in 1960 in a pickup truck with camper shell with his standard poodle Charley, doing a lap of the U.S., starting from his home on Long Island. The point of the trip, he wrote, was to meet people and reacquaint himself with the soul of America.

His son Thom, however, said Steinbeck made the trip because he knew he was dying of heart disease and wanted to see the country one last time. As it turned out, he lived another eight years.

I remember 1960 quite clearly and the book arouses feelings of nostalgia for that time 55 years ago. So much has changed.

Early in his travels, Steinbeck discovers and is enchanted by the growing mobile home culture in the Northeast, marveling at how it was revolutionizing the way Americans thought about housing.

By the time he got to California, however, he realized the downside to a phenomenon that was growing population, but not the property tax base, putting an unexpected strain on government to maintain infrastructure and schools.

Steinbeck was from Salinas, Calif. and spent a lot of time in Monterey. Perhaps his most famous novel is “Cannery Row,” set in Monterey. Cannery Row is a real place, but the fish canneries have been replaced by a world class aquarium and several blocks of shops and boutiques. Maria and I visited there a couple of times and she photographed me with a bronze bust of Steinbeck at Wave Street and Drake Avenue. I let Steinbeck wear my BMW sunglasses for the shot.

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