Arts, Entertainment, Living

Working on Cannery Row

Sunday, 31 October 2010 12:33 PM Written by

CANNERY ROW -- Lilly Mae's Cinnamon Rolls

Deborah Hannas of Monterey knows from experience what John Steinbeck was talking about when he said Cannery Row at dawn was magical.

She sees it every morning when she drives down the hill above Cannery Row and opens up her business, Lilly Mae’s Cinnamon Rolls.DSC_0072_copy_copy

It might be misty or sunny, rainy or cloudy. The bay can be rough or calm. Sometimes the fog sits gently on the water, sometimes it flows ashore like thick soft surf. But she agrees with Mr. Steinbeck that it’s always pretty magical.

Hannas is a shop owner now, but she’s been working on Cannery Row since she was 17 – since 1977.

As usual, just before 7 a.m. yesterday, Deborah was prepping her bright and colorful little tourist-catcher for a sunny day.

Business was going to be nothing like the mob scene of mid-summer. Her bright-red double doors were opened wide to an empty sidewalk, but the street itself was busy. Before 9 is the official feeding and primping time for the thriving commerce on Cannery Row. 

I first met Hannas early one morning in March, when I was checking out the magic of Cannery Row as part of a research mission for my "Travels Without Charley" trip.

While I was talking to her in March, her old friend Harry Traylor popped into Lilly Mae’s with his order pad to see if she needed anything. Traylor sold his wholesale drive-in dairy years ago but still supplies fresh milk from Salinas to a few old friends like Hannas.ca_161

Traylor was 85 and had migrated to Monterey from Arkansas in 1957. Cannery Row was a hollowed out wreck then. No longer “The Sardine Capital of the World,” all but one of its 19 sardine canneries had closed.

Harry the Milkman remembered what it was like in 1960: A piano bar and a movie theater by the water. A big fire. “There was lots of arson,” he said.

Deborah has watched Cannery Row’s steady resurrection. She knows some of the history of the former "Sardine Capital of the World." Before it was officially renamed Cannery Row by the city in 1958, it was Ocean View Avenue.

In the 1930s, when Steinbeck was hanging out, each cannery on the street had its own coded whistle that blew at 3 or 4 in the morning to alert its workers that fishing boats were coming in with bellies full of the sardines that thrived by the billions on Monterey Bay’s plankton.DSC_0128_2

The cannery packers – mostly wives of Portuguese and Italian fishermen – would come walking down off the same hill Deborah lives on now to go to work like extras in a scene from one of George Romero’s zombie movies.

“Every morning at 5 a.m. my whistle blows,” said Deborah, who is happy to go home smelling of coffee and cinnamon, not fish guts.

Cannery Row is now a place for families to eat and shop after they go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There's virtually no trace of what made it famous.

A few old wooden storefronts from the 1930s and a remodeled cannery are preserved. 

The holiest remnant is the surf-side lab where marine biologist Ed Ricketts -- Doc in “Cannery Row” – worked and lived. He hosted a combination party house and bohemian intellectual salon for local artists, musicians and writers like Steinbeck.ca_139_2_copy_copy_copy

Ricketts and Steinbeck became great pals. According to Steinbeck scholars like Susan Shillinglaw of San Jose State, Ricketts’ holistic and then-innovative ideas about ecology and the interdependence and cooperation of all organisms within a specific habitat were strong influences on Steinbeck’s writing and thinking.

Otherwise, other than some workers' shacks and the black-and-white photos incorporated into dozens of historical markers spotted around the street and its seaside, little else is left of Steinbeck’s real or imaginary Cannery Row.

In “Travels With Charley” Steinbeck acknowledged the progress that had occurred across the entire Monterey Peninsula in the 20 years he hadn’t been watching it. He was no blind romantic or limousine preservationist. He knew restaurants and antique shops on Cannery Row are a big improvement over smelly sardine canneries and whorehouses.

As Harry the Milkman recalled, in 1960 Cannery Row was a seaside slum, an economic derelict wondering what to remake of itself.

It took a collective of entrepreneurs, developers, enlightened government, Packard Foundation money, armies of tourists – plus the ruthless exploitation of the Steinbeck brand -- to eventually resuscitate it.DSC_0123

Steinbeck saw the Cannery Row theme park in its infancy, knew where it was going, and didn’t like it much. What would he think of its nearly perfected state? Not much, probably.

He didn't particularly like change, but he was smart enough to know he couldn't stop it. As a good amateur ecologist, he’d probably understand that Cannery Row 2010 is the result of an  evolving, natural process of creative destruction brought about by the complex interplay of nature and man.

Without billions of sardines in Monterey Bay to catch, process and sell to the rest of the globe, there would have been no Cannery Row.

Without 20 canneries and decades of overfishing combined with the natural cycles of sardine and plankton populations, there would have been no economic collapse on Cannery Row to allow the tourist industry a chance to take hold 50 years ago.

Steinbeck most likely would not dig Cannery Row 2010’s tourist economy, upscale gentrification or exploitation of his name.DSC_0145

But I bet he’d agree that it  -- like the rest of America he saw in 1960 -- is a lot better, safer, cleaner and more prosperous today.

As Deborah Hannas can tell you, Cannery Row is also a much nicer place to make your living when your whistle blows at dawn.

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John Steinbeck's Cannery Row?

Sunday, 31 October 2010 09:25 AM Written by

MONTEREY, CA. -- Cannery Row

My apologies, Mr. Steinbeck.

Saturday morning, as I set off for Cannery Row at dawn to start what would become a daylong tour of Steinbeck Country, I intimated that John Steinbeck was fictionalizing again when he said that a Cannery Row sunrise was a time of great magic.

That was a cheap shot -- first one of my career.

Cannery Row at dawn is still everything Steinbeck said it was -- and nothing like it was when he knew it or described it his 1945 book "Cannery Row."DSC_0165

The sun still comes up in the east every morning from behind the same low mountains across Monterey Bay. The fat seagulls and the fresh wind and the cold choppy dark ocean are the same.

But time, progress and decades of -- for lack of a real word – “touristification” have taken a devastating toll on the "romance" of what in the 1930s was called Ocean View Avenue.

The street Steinbeck knew firsthand stunk of dead fish 24/7 and teemed with the workers of nearly 20 canneries and hundreds of Portuguese and Italian fishermen.

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Now it's called Cannery Row in his honor and it's been spiffed up with shopping plazas, spas, wine-tasting rooms and snazzy seaside hotels with names like “Intercontinental: The Clement Monterey.”

This development -- this lengthy and very successful private/public redevelopment -- is nothing to complain about and it's nothing new.

The sardine canneries, rough-and-tumble bars and tender cathouses Steinbeck knew as a young man and barely fictionalized in his books were already long gone in 1960 when he visited Cannery Row while on his "Travels With Charley" trip.

 Cannery Road was a seaside slum in 1960, an economic basketcase wondering what to remake of itself. Entreprenuerial private developers and tourism saved it. Cannery Row 2010 is as different from Cannery Row 1930 or Cannery Row 1960 as the rest of America is.DSC_0116

It's become a PG-rated theme park of its former self.

It's a charming tourist trap for nice families heading for the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the candy stores and souvenir shops of Steinbeck Plaza, where Steinbeck’s global brand name and mug shots are used to sell refrigerator magnets and wax museum tickets to 4 million visitors a year.

Yesterday morning, while I watched Cannery Row wake up and ready itself for a busy Saturday, I saw Steinbeck and his ghost looking at me. Dozens of times.DSC_0106 

I finally confronted Steinbeck on the sidewalk. I stared deeply into the frozen eyes of his bust on Steinbeck Plaza. Why so serious, John?DSC_0157

Are you just thinking about how ironic it was that you no longer recognize the street you made world famous?  

Are you mad that your name is being used to sell everything from jewelry to the entire Monterey Peninsula?

Are you pissed at me for fact-checking your "Travels With Charley" trip/book?

He didn't say.

I was hoping for a message from Steinbeck, or at least his ghost.

All I heard was the squeaky chatter of seagulls and the idling engines of trucks bringing supplies to Cannery Row and carting off its trash.

 

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Blues for Halloween

Sunday, 31 October 2010 12:00 AM Written by

Everybody knows that the blues can be kind of scarifying all by itself, and together with a day like today -- Halloween -- can offer a witch's brew of devilish music that's just right for the occasion. (By the way, there's no truth to the rumor that BlueNotes hands out shots of bourbon on Halloween.)

Here are a few songs that are a real treat. Happy Halloween:

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Trouble on the Steinbeck Highway

Saturday, 30 October 2010 10:25 AM Written by

MONTEREY, CA. -- McDonald's

It looked like a bad start for what's going to be a long day in Steinbeck Country.

It was 6:40 a.m. Despite my troubling discovery at dinner last night that I had lost my debit card,  I had had a restful 7.3 hours of sleep in the parking lot of the Salinas Walmart.

Yesterday afternoon, when I stopped in San Jose to say hello to some people at San Jose State's Steinbeck Center, I did the dumb thing I  had been so careful never to do -- I left my debit card in an ATM.

No one's been using it and I'll probably just switch to my other bank account. It's the one with even less money in it.

I was still mourning the loss of my debit card when I let a guy step in front of me in line at McDonald's. I was quickly sorry I did. He ordered 55 Egg McMuffins and 55 coffees.DSC_0314_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy

Turned out he was the driver or tour director or guide or whatever for the herd of Japanese tourists that was being disgorged from the bus in the parking lot as I pulled in.

I had hustled to the counter to beat the stream of tourists, most of whom headed for the bathrooms. But the driver/guide fooled me with his disguise -- I thought he was just a local early bird. A Japanese guy around here is as commonplace as a Polish guy in Pittsburgh.

Everything turned out OK. I got my medium coffee in seconds and McDonald's' staff somehow fed everyone. Handling busloads of tourists is something they're used to. About 4 million tourists come to Monterey every year.

Meanwhile, I don't know if the Neil Diamond channel being piped into this restaurant is for the tourists' benefit or not. The Japanese like a lot of good American things -- jazz, baseball and John Steinbeck are three.

But if I hear another version of "A Song Sung Blue" I may boycott McDonald's for a week. That would be as dumb as leaving your debit card in an ATM machine, however, because McDonald's and its reliable wi-fi is the official road office of my "Travels Without Charley" trip.

Got to go. Dawn is breaking over Monterey Bay. ca_128

In "Cannery Row" John Steinbeck said it was a special, magical time. I'm going to find out if he was fictionalizing about that too.

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Weekly Menu for the week of Nov. 1

Friday, 29 October 2010 09:10 PM Written by
Happy Halloween and welcome to my weekly menu!!! happy_halloween

I hope everyone is going to enjoy this Spooktacular Weekend! The Bride of Frankenstein, a vampire and a sweet ladybug girl have been keeping me busy these last few days. Halloween is no longer just a day – it has been spread over 4 in this house between dance parades, school parades, municipal parades and then the big night itself. And I will admit that I am loving every minute of it! These days where our kids dress up and run around screaming for candy are so short. Savor every moment.

This week we have another fantastic menu based on a few of the specials at Giant Eagle. BUT be sure to check your freezer. A few weeks ago we took advantage of a BOGO free chuck roast. We have a recipe that calls for London Broil but a chuck roast is a perfect substitute. And I am certain if you took advantage of the entire center cut pork loin a few weeks back you will still have enough chops for the recipe this week. We are also featuring Buffalo Chicken Sliders. The recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken thighs but chicken breasts would be a perfect substitute. You will need to cut them to a "slider" size. I purchase boneless, skinless chicken thighs at Costco. All of the work is done for me and there are 5 thighs per individually sealed package. Great prices too!

If you would like to receive an email notification when the menu has been published please follow the link below and sign-up!

http://pages.exacttarget.com/page.aspx?QS=2e4c31a3756cb940c8b847348e1c2c73ff6c7f36e3c6f7f827d595a306624694

You can also follow the menu on Facebook and Twitter!!! Go to Kristen Kill Reisinger's Menus That Save on Facebook and click like!!! You will receive updates and pics throughout the week. Also follow the menu on Twitter - @menusthatsave.

ALWAYS check your coupons!!! Not only the ones we receive in our newspapers and mid-week mailers but also online! Check out www.coupons.com

Follow the plan so you can save time, money, and a few calories! Remember – cooking our own food is healthier than ordering in and eating out any day!!! Your family, wallet and waistline will thank you!

I hope you all enjoy your week, the recipes and the savings!


Monday

Toasted Ravioli
Sautéed Spinach
Salad

Ravioli with Sautéed Spinach

1 pkg. frozen cheese filled ravioli
1 bag of fresh baby spinach or 1 box of frozen leaf spinach
½ of a medium red onion, sliced thin
1 t. of minced garlic
2 T. of olive oil
¼ cup butter
½ cup of parmesan cheese

Cook ravioli according to the directions on the package. While the ravioli is cooking, heat the oil in a skillet. Add garlic and the sliced onion; cook until the onion begins to caramelize. Then add the spinach until it wilts. (If using frozen, please thaw and squeeze out all of the water before adding to the garlic and onion.) Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm until the ravioli is finished.

Once the ravioli has been drained, drizzle a little olive oil on top of the ravioli so that they do not stick to one another. Melt the butter in a skillet. Toss a few ravioli in the skillet until golden and slightly crisped. The idea is that the ravioli crisp a little so that they are "toasted." Continue until all of the ravioli have been toasted in the butter.

To serve, place spinach on each plate and top with 5-6 ravioli. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

TIP FOR KIDS – if you are one of the lucky ones and your children like to do their best impression of Popeye and gobble up spinach, double the amount listed in the recipe. Sautéed spinach never goes that far. And if there are leftovers warm it in the morning and wrap it up with eggs and feta in a whole wheat tortilla for a great breakfast!

Tuesday

Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples
Wild Rice
Broccoli

Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples (adapted from Southern Living)

1 t. dried sage
½ t. salt
¼ t. pepper
4 boneless pork chops – about ½ inch thick
2 t. canola oil
1 T. butter
4 small apples – Granny Smith – peeled and sliced
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. lemon juice
½ t. of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Heat oil in a skillet; meanwhile sprinkle sage, salt and pepper over pork chops. Cook pork chops until done and browned on both sides. Remove pork from the skillet, cover and keep warm.

Melt butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add apples and remaining ingredients. Stir frequently and cook for about 5 minutes until tender. To serve, spoon sautéed apples over the pork chops. These apples are amazing!!! They are fantastic on top of pancakes or waffles too!

 

Wednesday

Beef and Bean Burritos
Mexican/Spanish rice

Beef and Bean Burritos (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 (2-pound) London broil
1 (1.25-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
Cooking spray
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 small can chopped green chilies
1 can refried beans, any style
12 flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups chopped plum tomato
3/4 cup sour cream

Trim fat from meat; rub seasoning mix over both sides of meat. Place meat in an electric slow cooker coated with cooking spray; add onion, vinegar, and green chiles. Cover with lid; cook on low-heat setting for 9 hours. Remove meat from slow cooker, reserving cooking liquid; shred meat with two forks. Combine meat and reserved cooking liquid; stir well.

Warm beans and tortillas according to package directions. Spread 2 tablespoons beans down the center of each tortilla. Spoon a heaping 1/3 cup meat mixture on top of beans. Top each with 2 tablespoons cheese, 2 tablespoons tomato, and 1 tablespoon sour cream; roll up.
Leftovers will be used on Friday night but they will also freeze really well for a quick and easy last minute meal!

Mexican or Spanish Rice

When preparing regular rice, add 1/3 – 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa after you add the rice to the boiling water. Super easy and very good!!!

Thursday

Buffalo Chicken Sliders
Carrot and Celery Sticks
Grapes

Buffalo Chicken Sliders – adapted from Rachel Ray

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Onion powder
Garlic powder
3 T. butter
¼ cup of hot sauce – we like Frank's Red Hot
Blue cheese dressing or Ranch dressing – whatever your preference
Shredded cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce
Slider rolls

Preheat your grill or your grill pan. Sprinkle the chicken thighs with the garlic and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning once, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan with the hot sauce. Once the chicken comes off of the grill toss the pieces with the hot sauce and butter.

Top each slider roll with a piece of chicken, a little bit of shredded cheese and lettuce and a dollop of either blue cheese dressing or ranch – whatever your preference.

If your kids don't like the hot stuff you don't have to combine their chicken with the hot sauce.

Friday

Happy Hour Nacho Party

Nacho Bar

Tortilla Chips
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Leftover Beef from Wednesday Night
Leftover Beans from Wednesday Night
Shredded Lettuce from Thursday Night
Salsa
Sour Cream
Sliced Olives
Sliced Jalapenos
Chopped Tomatoes
Sliced Green Onions

Pile a bunch of tortilla chips onto a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top and pop under the broiler until the cheese has melted.

Set up the nacho bar by setting out bowls of the remaining ingredients so that everyone can top their nachos however they want!

Have leftover buffalo chicken from Thursday night? How about a twist on regular nachos and create buffalo nachos with chicken, sliced celery, and the dressing of your choice! Whatever you do make sure it is fun and easy! This is a great way to begin the weekend – and use up all of your leftovers!

Don't forget to set up a drink bar as well. How about margaritas and cold beer for the adults and lemonade and root beer for the kids! It is Happy Hour after all!!!

And now for the shopping list. As always, double check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see if you already have any of the items listed below. This will reduce your spending and create less waste! And NEVER shop without a plan!

Shopping/Checklist

Produce
Salad - GE special
Spinach – 1 or 2 bags - GE special
Medium red onion
Onion
Garlic
Broccoli
4 small apples – Granny Smith - in season
Lemon
Plum tomato - stem tomato would work and they are on special
Lettuce to shred for sliders and nachos
Carrot and celery sticks
Grapes - GE special
Green onions

Deli
Parmesan cheese
Slider Rolls

Spices/Oils/Vinegars/Condiments
Olive oil
Sage
Canola oil
Brown sugar
Cinnamon
Taco seasoning
Cooking spray
White vinegar
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Hot sauce – We like Frank's best
Blue cheese or Ranch dressing – whatever you prefer - GE special on Hidden Valley

Canned Goods/Ethnic Foods/Dry Goods
Wild rice
Small can of green chilies - GE special on Old El Paso - check for coupons at www.gianteagle.com for extra savings
Refried beans – any style - GE special on Old El Paso - check for coupons at www.gianteagle.com
Salsa
Rice - GE speical $1 long grain white rice
Sliced olives
Sliced jalapenos

Seafood/Meat Case/Butcher
4 boneless pork chops – about ½" thick - GE special BUT check your freezer
London broil – about 2 lb. - GE special BUT check your freezer - any roast will do
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs - Costco sells them in sealed packages with 5 in each - no work with the bone or skin!

Frozen Foods
Cheese Filled Ravioli - GE special

Dairy
Butter
12 flour tortillas – taco size
Shredded cheddar cheese - GE special on GE brand
Sour cream - GE special on Heluva Good - look for coupon!!! double savings!!!

Bread

Misc.
Tortilla chips - GE special on Tostitos
Beer
Root beer
Lemonade
Margaritas

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Steinbeck Country, USA

Friday, 29 October 2010 02:13 PM Written by

U.S. HIGHWAY 101 -- Palo Alto, Ca.

The Traveling Steinbecks -- John, Elaine and Charley -- are still back in downtown San Francisco eating and drinking with their friends at Enrico's and Trader Vic's.

They won't be tooling down to the Monterey Peninsula in Rocinante for a few days yet (plus 50 years), but I'm heading there now.scmap

Steinbeck left San Francisco on or about Sunday, Oct. 30, 1960, and drove about 90 miles south to the peninsula where Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach and Carmel are merely the most famous of the many fabulous natural and manmade places that make it one of the most beautiful areas in the USA.

Steinbeck briefly visited his sister in Watsonville, where strawberries come from. Then he and the gang stayed for about two weeks with another sister at the modest Steinbeck family cottage on 11th Street in Pacific Grove, half a block from the rugged shore of Monterey Bay.ca_199

By dinnertime, I'll get to the city of Monterey, where tomorrow I'll visit Cannery Row and the downtown street that once held Steinbeck's favorite local bars.

This weekend I'll also visit Pacific Grove and Steinbeck's birth-house and grave in Salinas. Then I'll go to the top of Fremont Peak to gaze over the fertile Salinas Valley, as he did to such powerful literary effect in "Charley."

Then, as he did, I'll get in my ride and head east for Amarillo, Texas, on the historic part of the Steinbeck Highway, Route 66.


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Steinbeck Sees His Future Country

Friday, 29 October 2010 01:37 PM Written by

MILL VALLEY, CA. -- Daughter Michelle's house

During John Steinbeck's rest-stop in San Francisco exactly 50 years ago he hung around a lot with his friend Barnaby Conrad.

Conrad, who now lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., is an author of 30-plus books, an artist, a musician, an ex-bullfighter, an ex-diplomat and the founder of the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference.67591-004-2C0F20BD

In 1960 Conrad (not pictured at right) owned the popular El Matador, a celebrity hangout in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood.  

The bar and jazz nightclub on Broadway Ave. was decorated with bullfighting gear, bullfighting photos, bullfighting art and two stuffed bull heads.

El Matador is long gone now, but it was just a few doors down from Enrico's, where Conrad ate lunch with Steinbeck almost every day on his "Travels With Charley" layover.

Last spring Conrad, 88, told me Steinbeck was "riding high and in wonderful spirits" when they saw each other 50 years ago. "He visited me a couple of times in my saloon and took me to see the inside of Rocinante," Conrad remembered.

Steinbeck had agreed to film a brief "standup" introduction for a low-budget movie based on his short-story "Flight," which Conrad was producing and needed help in selling to distributors. So one day Conrad, Steinbeck and Elaine drove south along the coastline to Monterey and Carmel to scout a suitably scenic seaside location.

Steinbeck hadn't been in Monterey for 20 years. When he saw what the city had done to try to revive Ocean View Avenue -- the blighted street of closed sardine factories that had recently been officially renamed "Cannery Row" in Steinbeck's honor -- he was "terribly depressed," Conrad said.ca_181

"He hated it," said Conrad, who told the same story to Steinbeck biographer Jackson Benson nearly 30 years ago. Benson's 1,100-page opus, "John Steinbeck, Writer" (1984), also describes Steinbeck's reaction to seeing the street whose mid-1930s people and places he fictionalized in "Cannery Row."

When Elaine excitedly pointed out that the movie theater on Cannery Row had been christened "The Steinbeck" and said she wanted to go inside, Steinbeck could barely look at it, wrote Benson.

It wasn't because a naughty Bridget Bardot movie titled "Come Dance With Me" was playing at the theater. It was because it was branded with Steinbeck's name -- one of the early signs that "Steinbeck Country" was being born.

Though he gave permission for his name to be put on the theater, Steinbeck didn't like seeing it on the marquee.  Steinbeck knew by 1960 that after he was dead his name was going to be used to boost his hometown of Salinas and the city of Monterey the same way Sauk Centre, Minn., was using Sinclair Lewis' name as a tourist draw.ca_164

Steinbeck, like the author of "Main Street" and "Babbitt," became world famous by writing unflattering things about his home turf and the people who ran things in it.

Sauk Centre's city fathers forgave their hometown detractor's sins after he was dead. As Steinbeck wrote in "Charley" as he sped through mainstreet Sauk Centre, "the only good writer is a dead writer."

Steinbeck's old friend "Red" Lewis was safely dead, he wrote sarcastically, and could no longer hurt or surprise anyone: "And now he's good for the town. Brings in some tourists. He's a good writer now."

Everything Steinbeck said about what happened to Lewis in his hometown after his death came true for him, too -- by a factor of 1,000. Forty two years after his death in 1968, Steinbeck has a whole country named after him.

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Steinbeck's Walk in the Woods

Friday, 29 October 2010 12:05 AM Written by

MARIN COUNTY, CA. -- Muir Woods

 While John Steinbeck was in San Francisco exactly 50 years ago, he took Charley across the Golden Gate Bridge on US Highway 101 to Muir Woods.

As it is now, it was a beautiful place -- 240 dark and damp acres of old growth Coast Redwoods only 12 miles north of downtown.

Why he wanted to see more giant trees after having seen so many on his slow drive through Oregon and California redwood country is a mystery.

Maybe he just wanted to get away for a few hours to a cool, quiet place that was neither a church nor a bar.ca_558

When Steinbeck visited  Muir Woods in 1960 a lot of things were different. It may or may not have been officially called Muir Woods National Monument then. But the same 500-year-old trees he saw are still standing tall.

No visitor center was there in 1960 to sell him nature books, organic local salads, coffee and gluten-free pastries. And instead of two miles of boardwalks and paved walkways, he'd have had only dirt paths to walk on with Charley.

 Muir Woods was purchased by a private individual more than 100 years ago and given to the federal government for safekeeping -- exactly the opposite ownership arrangement I and my free-market brethren would prefer.

ca_564_copySo far, Muir Woods appears to be well maintained and carefully protected. But it's no place for silently communing with nature.

It's a place for weddings and tour groups. On a Monday morning at 10, five sightseeing buses and 30 cars had already delivered more than a 100 people through the front gate.

 And, sorry, Charley, today it's no place for dogs. Not even on a leash.

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