Arts, Entertainment, Living
EIGHTY FOUR, PA. -- My house
Steinbeck Watch: On this date in 1960 John Steinbeck, poodle Charley and Steinbeck's old friend and lawyer Toby Street were slowly riding east in Rocinante toward Steinbeck's 10-day Thanksgiving layover in the Texas Panhandle.
Steinbeck doesn't mention Street's presence in "Travels with Charley" but he nicely describes their backdoor route out of California, which I retraced almost three weeks ago ("Fleeing California":
"From Salinas to Los Banos, through Fresno and Bakersfield, then over the pass and into the Mojave Desert, a burned and burning desert even this late in the year, its hills like black cinders in the distance, and the rutted floor sucked dry by the hungry sun."
Eventually they would meet U.S. Highway 66 in Barstow, where it was/is main street. They would ride Route 66 through the southwest desert to Needles, Calif., and then east into Arizona, passing through towns like Kingman, Williams and Flagstaff, just as I did.
Toby Street left Steinbeck and Charley in Flagstaff. In 1975, seven years after Steinbeck died, he was interviewed by San Jose State University Steinbeck scholar Martha Heasley Cox.
Street told Cox that his ride-along in Rocinante was far from romantic:
“ . . . it wasn’t a very good experience because this trailer … made so much noise. It rumbled so as we went along …. We went to various places, but I was only with him four days. He was going to go to Texas to be with Elaine’s family. But I couldn’t spare the time, so I got a plane and came back. I went from Flagstaff to Tucson and then home.”
After Steinbeck "rushed through Gallup in the night" he said in "Charley" that he camped overnight in a canyon on the Continental Divide.
East of Gallup, on an abandoned patch of old Route 66 at Exit 47 of I-40, I stopped on my "Travels Without Charley" trip to look at the raggedy and unloved "Official Scenic Historic Marker" for the Continental Divide.
It's located near the weed-strangled ruins of what apparently was once the Continental Divide Trading Post, elevation 7,245.
One of several businesses aimed at travelers that were busy and prosperous when Steinbeck passed by, the trading post now is just a slowly decaying relic of the Early Elvis Age in a little Route 66 ghost town.
In "Charley," Steinbeck wrote about how bummed out he was when he camped that night. Rocinante's little kitchen was a mess. For the last several hundred miles he had deliberately avoided people.
Steinbeck knew his long trip in search of America and its people was not going well. He wasn't seeing enough, hearing enough, learning enough. "Why," he asked himself in "Charley," "had I thought I could learn anything about this land?"