Travels With Steinbeck

A Sense of Place, part two

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

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“Place where folks live is them folks.” The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck had a life-long interest in who Americans were in relation to where they were. Steinbeck believed place equals character. In his fiction he often depicted the dysfunction that resulted from rootlessness. In his non-fiction he railed against the impact of the mobile home on American culture.

Steinbeck’s strong belief in the power of place aside, he felt ambivalent about his roots in Salinas, California. An outsider as a youth, he never felt at home there as an adult. The region and its denizens fed his fiction, but that caused resentment from those who didn’t appreciate how he depicted them, and from others who questioned his left-leaning politics. In addition to other affronts, local bookstores declined to carry his earlier books and a book club, of which his mother was a member, refused to read him, saying the club only considered, “decent” books. Steinbeck ended up fleeing and living in New York City and summering in Sag Harbor on Long Island—staying close to the sea, which he dearly loved, but far away from where he grew up. On his trip around America he stopped to visit family and, as he wrote in Travels with Charley, “I arrived in Monterey and the fight began.” After nightly arguments over politics with his conservative sisters, and almost getting in a fight at Johnny Garcia’s bar, his old watering hole, Steinbeck concluded, “Tom Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory. My departure was flight.”

Please see post from August 29th for sources for this information.

Itinerary: The good folks from Jackson Hole Book Trader found me a copy of a Rand McNally Road Atlas from 1959.  Between Travels with Charley, Steinbeck’s letters from the road, and the atlas, I should be able to determine his route with fair accuracy.  For instance, I wondered if Steinbeck followed I-40 or Route 66 across Arizona and New Mexico.  The 1959 Atlas shows only a small portion of I-40 completed in New Mexico.  Perhaps Steinbeck followed a combination of the two roads but I’m betting he spent a lot of time on 66.  Just like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath.

Three days until departure.

The Dog: Max is still recovering from his attack by a killer vet resulting in the loss of nine teeth.  He is perking up a little and eating a bit of soft food. As the vet so wisely put it, he doesn’t really need teeth to hunt and kill his food anyhow.  He should be fine by Monday when we depart.

Landscape: The picture below depicts another special part of “my place.”  It is a solitary tree on top of the butte our house sits on.  The “Lone Cowboy” as I call it, is the destination of a favorite hike out our back door.

Sweet Notes: I’ve had many good wishes and promises to ride along from my friends at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park where I volunteer in the summer, and from my friends of the “Deaf as a Post” gentlemen’s luncheon club hosted by local luminary, Bert Raynes.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

"Lone Cowboy" tree against a backdrop of the Tetons

"Lone Cowboy" tree against a backdrop of the Tetons

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later.

Copyright © 2009


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