Last week at this time I was exploring the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif. This was my goal in taking the trip to California, which I first proposed to my wife as a journey for me and my dog Bubba. It soon became a family vacation, though I was the only one to go to the museum. Yeah, that’s kind of sad and lonely, but it’s better than paying for a second person who spends all the time inside the museum pondering the location of the exit or complaining about being bored. They know who I’m talking about. The museum itself was very nice, featuring original typed manuscript pages by Carol Steinbeck (John’s first wife) as well as a handwritten page from The Pearl and a facsimile of a handwritten page from East of Eden beneath a reproduction lid of the wooden box Steinbeck carved for his editor while writing that massive novel.
There were many video stations that I didn’t get to fully enjoy because of the parking situation. You have to pay for time in a lot, but you can only pay for about 2 hours at a time. I learned there are a lot of film adaptations I haven’t seen.
One of the best pieces in the museum is Rocinante. Unfortunately, it was completely behind Plexiglass so there was no touching, and certainly no getting inside the camper Steinbeck had made for his journey. (And yes, I know about the idea that he barely stayed in the camper and was not alone for most of the journey and did not meet the people he described. Not the point here.)
Although it was Monday and I knew it was closed for the day, I went down the street to the Steinbeck House Restaurant, which is the house he grew up in, converted to a foo-foo eatery that does not serve side meat and fried dough. I wasn’t interested in the menu, but I would have liked to see the items that remain in the house, and to visit The Best Cellar gift shop. Oh well, maybe next time.
I expected Salinas and Monterey to celebrate Steinbeck more than they seemed to, I guess. Cannery Row now is almost exclusively a strip of tourist boutique gift shops and, while you could buy any of Steinbeck’s books at most shops, there were no Steinbeck T-shirts or other such things for sale. Who wouldn’t want a shirt depicting Granma Joad bellowing, “Pah-raise Gawd for vittory!”?
After my day in Salinas, we started home by driving south along California’s coast highway, where it took us four hours to travel a pretty short distance, but the view was spectacular. Unlike Oregon, where the entire coastline is owned by the state and open to the public, California allows people to own the beaches and most were private property. There were many places to pull off the highway and look over rocky crags like the one pictured here. I’m an Okie through and through, but I could watch those breakers roll in every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. And the forests! I didn’t get pictures of those, but they were magnificent.
Then we turned east and came home. We stopped in Needles, Calif., on our way there and back because the state of California is so huge. It’s a full day’s drive just to cross it. From home to Needles, and Needles to home, however, we drove without stopping for rest. The little kids were amazingly well behaved, the cars didn’t give us any trouble, and we never really got lost (other than every time I went out by myself in Monterey; I am horrible with directions!).
All in all, it was a great vacation. And I came home with an idea for a new novel that I hope to turn my attention to in the next few weeks.
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