PACIFIC GROVE, CA. -- Steinbeck Family Cottage
Saturday was a big day for my self-guided tour of Steinbeck Country.
After I went to Cannery Row, I buzzed next door to Pacific Grove, America's prime candidate for most perfect community ever. I went to see if anyone was staying at the Steinbeck family's modest three-bedroom cottage on 11th Street, about 200 yards up the street from the heavy surf of the Pacific.
In 1960, after the Traveling Steinbecks left their digs at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco -- probably around Oct. 31 -- they drove about 120 miles south to Pacific Grove. They stayed with Steinbeck's sister in the cottage for almost two weeks.
The local paper, the Monterey Peninsula Herald, got wind of their famous son being in town and sent a reporter and photographer to the cottage. The resulting feature story -- which ran in the Nov. 4, 1960 paper -- was nicely written by Mike Thomas.
It included a photo of a wizened Steinbeck standing in the garden where Thomas found him fixing the old wooden front gate he had probably built 30 years earlier when he and his first wife Carol lived there.
Steinbeck quoted Thomas Wolfe’s line “You can’t go home again” to the reporter. He talked about the slow road trip he was making to “renew his acquaintance with the country” and, wrote Thomas, he smoked cigarettes with nicotine-stained fingers.
His wife Elaine was mentioned as being there. So was “an aging poodle sitting in a car at the curbside.”
The Steinbecks would stay at the Pacific Grove cottage for almost two weeks.
On Nov. 8, John cast an absentee vote for John Kennedy. According to Steinbeck's original handwritten draft of his "You can't go home again" scene in "Travels With Charley," Elaine accompanied him to Johnny Garcia's bar in downtown Monterey. (Garcia's bar and the building it was in on Alvarado Street were demolished in the late 1960s, victims of a misguided urban renewal project.)
Elaine's presence was cut from the final version of the book, just as she had been cut from all the scenes Steinbeck wrote about their leisurely trip from Seattle down the Pacific Coast.
Elaine flew ahead to Amarrillo, Texas. Steinbeck stayed on in Pacific Grove a few days. Then, before he and Charley set out in Rocinante to catch up with Elaine, Steinbeck paid a visit to Fremont Peak.
Visible from everywhere in Salinas, including Steinbeck's gravesite, the spiky, toothlike peak is the highest point in Steinbeck Country. The trip to Fremont Peak inspired some of Steinbeck's best writing in "Charley."
Fremont Peak was one of his favorite places. Anyone who goes there -- as I have done twice now -- will immediately understand why.