January 04, 2014
While on my post-Christmas road trip in Monterey, I came across a whole wall of Steinbeck novels on the back wall of the aquarium gift shop. After reading a few blurbs, I realized Steinbeck grew up in that area of Salinas valley. Since I was in his hometown, I thought a book would make a good souvenir of my travels. I settled on “Travels with Charley”, a chronicle of Steinbeck’s cross country exploration with this standard poodle, Charley, riding shotgun.
Within the first pages, I was hooked. 58-year-old Steinbeck was setting out to re-discover America—to reconnect with the common man. He felt he had fallen out of touch. I only hope I have that same spirit of discovery at his age.
He traveled roads I too had traveled alone, except he was traveling in the heart of the 60s. To get inside the mindset and thoughts of the time in all corners of the country was fascinating. And kind words about the Midwest are always well received. I have managed to find kindness wherever I travel but there is an extra level of openness and welcoming in the heartland.
“It seemed to me that the earth was generous and outgoing here in the heartland, and perhaps the people took a cue from it.”
With my thoughts of moving back to Indiana, the part of the book with which I most connected was his description of returning to his childhood home and how his eagerness to explore the open road eventually turned to a yearning to be back in the place he now called home.
He was able to articulate so many of the thoughts I’ve had while living in CA—about the continual sameness. He was discussing his confusion over people wanting to move to Florida.
“I’ve lived in good climate, and it bores the hell out of me. ... For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”
Exactly. I’m not crazy. Not that there are not perks to living in perpetual green but there are few better sensations than the first morning you hear song birds in the spring or see the first bloom of life recovering from the winter chill. It reminds you that the world is constantly evolving, whether or not you join. There’s a sense of urgency to savor each moment as it comes.
His return to Salinas was a strange one. He soon realized that he no longer belonged. While he had been away, the town had changed and those who stayed, changed right along with it. He was the stranger—the piece that didn’t fit. It’s an interesting explanation for the phrase, “You can’t ever go home again.” Great book that arrived in my life right at a time I needed some perspective on change, especially from someone who has seen and lived it all and decided to go back for a second look.