November 12, 2009

Travels with Charley

Seattle, 1961 (photograph by Hans Namuth)

I'm trying to get reinspired to do some sort of photographically oriented road trip by among other things, rereading a favorite of mine, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Basically, Steinbeck set out in the fall of 1960 to "rediscover America." He had spent the better portion of the previous decade living and travelling in England and France, and he felt he'd lost touch with the Joads, the "Docs," the Trasks, the George Miltons of America. Presumably, he felt this would hinder his ability to write authentically about them.

Rocinante, National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California

So he loaded up supplies, as well as the book's namesake, an "old gentlemen French poodle known as Charley" (p. 7), into a customized, modified camper truck he christened Rocinante.

As far as doing any traveling of my own (mainly day tripping), I'm currently stuck in this mode, for the most part:

In long-range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won't happen. As the day approached, my warm bed and comfortable house grew increasingly give these up for three months for the terrors of the uncomfortable and unknown seemed crazy. I didn't want to go. (p. 17)

Now, if I could drive through America circa 1960 armed with a 21st century digital camera (or really any camera for that matter), I wouldn't be sitting here typing this right now! The chance to photograph neon signs alone boggles the mind, not to mention the motor courts and gas stations. But alas, that America has vanished.

Okay, I'm not a drinker, at all (the most alcohol consumption I was ever involved with was done, ironically, before I was of the legal drinking age), but I'm tickled by this passage:

Because I was self-contained, I thought it might be nice if I could invite people I met along the way to my home for a drink, but I had neglected to lay in liquor. But there are pretty little bottle stores on the back roads of this state. I knew there were some dry states but had forgotten which they were, and it was just as well to stock up...You never know what people will want to drink. I ordered bourbon, scotch, gin, vermouth, vodka, a medium good brandy, aged applejack, and a case of beer. It seemed to me that those might take care of most situations. It was a big order for a little store. The owner was impressed.

"Must be quite a party."
"No--it's just traveling supplies." (p. 21)

Now, let's visualize that, shall we:


Retro Hound said...

I'm really intrigued with his whole section on mobile homes and how they are the wave of the future. Did quite work out that way.

Retro Hound said...

I meant to say "Didn't quite work out..."