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Steinbeck’s California

I’ve discovered several personal camping truths-

– I need my wide brimmed hiking hat, caps just don’t cut it.
-I like bottles over camelbaks.
-I’m never spinning in circles around some little town looking for a laundromat again.
-and I need a map.

A real map, like in the olden days.  A borrowed, never updated, Garmin is a recipe for a feud, so I gently forced my husband to stop and get his wife a map.  I’m sure he thought I was completely backward to want one because he brought me the “special” map with lots of cartoon pictures of tourist sites for children or something.  It was like the “You are here” maps at Astroworld; only instead of pictures of The Bamboo Shoot ride, there were California highlights.

It’s a good thing, too, because we decided then to make The Steinbeck House one of our Coastal destinations.

 We were staying in the area The Grapes of Wrath was set in, then drove from Yosemite to Hollister, the scene for Travels with Charley.  We passed through the hills and patchwork of farms and ranches near Salinas that inspired the backdrop for East of Eden and The Red Pony (this book was one of the first gifts I ever gave my husband.)   It’s the same valley that Of Mice and Men was set in, further south, and it really was beautiful.  It finished off the last of my preconceived notions about California.

My husband and I wondered how much of the farmland was still owned by the same families and how much had changed for migrant workers since The Grapes of Wrath was published – besides the obvious.

 John Cerney‘s larger than life field hands along the highway seemed to celebrate the same workers.   It was on a farm in this very area the John worked jobs with some of the men whose stories inspired the characters of one of my husband’s favorite books, Tortilla Flat
Then there was the Steinbeck house itself.  We really didn’t spend much time there except to get a guide to all the sites that influenced his writings.  You didn’t really think I just knew all of this history on the man, did you?  From Salinas, we headed to Monterey (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.)

I read that the Chamber of Commerce in Monterey was horrified when Cannery Row was published because it seemed to cast a seedy light on their city.  Of course, the Cannery Row was seedy, but in years since the city has learned to embrace, and exploit, the color his novels gave them.  There is Steinbeck hype all over the place…

and very little seediness.

 We walked the length of this strip, seeing the old Wing Chong Market (called Lee Chong’s in the book)

and La Ida’s Cafe next door.
We ate at The Monterey Canning Co, now a restaurant, where my son and daughter wore their first lobster bibs.  Aw.

 All of the old canneries are now restaurants and souvenir shops.  That part kind of made me think of Galveston and shirts with big, red shark bites taken out of them for sale.  The coast, however, was very different.

 This was the view from our table at the Fishhopper.

 And it was COLD.  After getting some hot chocolate, we drove along the coast to Pacific Grove’s Perkins Park footpath where my well-meaning daughter and her bread crumbs were accosted by some very intimidating sea gulls.

(Perkins Park, polaroid)

 This path leads to a tidepool where the real and fictional Doc collected specimens.  (I know how dorky I sound.  Let me just push my thick glasses up the bridge of my nose now and clear my throat.  There, that’s better.)

It’s so foreign to us- this foggy, rocky coast.  My son loves to climb on rocks and could’ve played there, climbing and looking for groundhogs in the wildflowers, until dark.

I am so glad my husband bought me the gas station kiddie map.

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  1. Ah, John Steinbeck! Finally read him when I got my first Kindle last year. Fell in love with Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. How cool that you got to see the Steinbeck home and Salinas area.

  2. Thank you, Justin! You would love it.
    And Gail, my husband and I started reading his books when we first married and besides being so good and so important to our culture, they are extra sentimental to me for that. Now, I have to re-read Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.

  3. That is so interesting that you did this! Back in June, I told one of my friends, "I think this is going to be my Summer of Steinbeck." And I started re-reading all his novels. I even found an awesome used copy of The Long Valley, a book of his short stories including The Red Pony. I keep it by my bedside because I've found once I start reading him, I can't stop, and this often leads me to stay awake entirely too late! And I'm taking East of Eden with me on Monday when I head into the hills to stay in a cabin all by myself. 🙂

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