“Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck

In 1960, John Steinbeck was feeling out of touch with America.  So he bought a pickup truck camper, named it Rocinante, and set out incognito on a journey from New York to Washington, down to California, across to Texas and the South and then back north to home.  He took his French poodle, Charley.  I thought that during a somewhat smaller recent car trip, it would be good listening.

Steinbeck just kind of rambles on about whatever he’s encountered in his travels or what memories or opinions they made him recall.  If he hadn’t already been a famous author, then I doubt he could have gotten it published.  In general, he seems to feel like America is moving on to “progress” but without some key values important to Steinbeck: “manliness,” community, restraint, neighborliness.

Pretty much the last vignette Steinbeck records is his witness of the “Cheerleaders” protesting the integration of schools in New Orleans.  Perhaps this disgusted him so much that he decided to call the trip quits – he didn’t record much from that point on.

Even though there isn’t a whole lot to it, Steinbeck is a really good writer, Ron McLarty is a really good narrator, and that made “Travels with Charley” on CD a pretty good way to pass the miles.

EDIT: Someone recently retraced Steinbeck’s route.  Interesting.  Synopsis here.

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