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it's about eight days before I'm to head out on my great Steinbeck trip, in which I'll be tracing the route that John Steinbeck took for Travels with Charley almost exactly a half a century ago. Wish…

it's about eight days before I'm to head out on my great Steinbeck trip, in which I'll be tracing the route that John Steinbeck took for Travels with Charley almost exactly a half a century ago. Wish me luck.

There will be three fundamental differences between Steinbeck's journey and mine:

  1. I'll have no dog with me. However, I'll be carrying an Opus doll -- you know, the penguin from Bloom County and Outland -- with me. Opus has traveled with me before, most notably while tucked in the parachute container of my hang gliding harness while I was soaring Marina Beach in California. (I'd dispensed with the parachute since my entire flight never topped one hundred feet above the level of the seashore there, and a parachute would have been useless. One hundred feet is about normal at Marina Beach, by the way.)
  2. My route will be a little different, in two respects. First, I'll be starting and ending at the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, rather than at John Steinbeck's home in New York. Second, I'll be traveling clockwise around the country instead of counter-clockwise. I'm taking the northern leg first, just as Steinbeck did, and for the same reason: to travel that route in the early fall, when the weather is likely to be more clement.
  3. John Steinbeck traveled in a brand new truck with a camper package, which was rare enough in those days to attract attention and serve as an ice-breaker for conversations with people he'd met en route. I will be traveling in a thirty-nine-year-old Volkswagen Westfalia Camper, which is (I hope) now rare enough to attract attention and serve as an ice-breaker for conversations with people I'll meet en route. VW buses are almost the perfect vehicle for this; nearly everybody I've met has had fond reminiscences about these, and delights in telling the stories.
Steinbeck's truck was named "Rocinante" after Don Quixote's donkey. My bus is named, simply: George. It wasn't a name I gave it. The previous owner started calling it George over thirty years ago, though, and a certain respect for tradition mandates that I not rename it. So George it is, and George it will be. Besides, "Rocinante" had already been taken.

Views: 75

Comment by John LaTorre on September 21, 2010 at 8:58am
Late-breaking news. I may have to postpone the trip for a few months. Yesterday, we found out that one of our cats has what the vets suspect is cancer. I would hate to leave my wife in the lurch until we have a handle on Sable's prognosis. I'll keep you informed.
Comment by Greg Jannacone on September 21, 2010 at 1:50pm
So sorry to hear about your cat John. :(
Comment by John LaTorre on September 21, 2010 at 6:32pm
Thanks, Greg. I talked to the vet today, and it's definitely cancer. Treatment involves removing part of his jaw, along with the lymph glands. That, and radiation therapy might buy him a year. Untreated, we have maybe a month. So we're wrestling with the quality-of-life issue ... whether it's fair to put him through the trauma of treatment, or let nature take its course. Either way, it will be rough on my wife, and I'd sure hate to leave her alone with this.
Comment by Shari G-E on September 21, 2010 at 10:00pm
That is so hard, John. As a friend, I could help you and your wife with any home care that might make him comfortable, as prescribed by your veterinarian. I don't want to impose on your family's privacy, but, seriously, if you need some home help, I'm not that far away from you; e-mail me, OK?
Comment by John LaTorre on September 27, 2010 at 9:47am
Thanks to all for your support. I've definitely decided to postpone the trip until January. That means I'll be doing the southern leg first, so that by the time I traverse the northern part of the country, it will be spring instead of fall. I'll keep you all posted on my plans.
Comment by Carole & the 'YesWeCanCamperVan' on November 20, 2010 at 7:47am
Hello John, Brilliant!
I heard about 'Travels with Charley' after I had started on my road trip from Oregon to Massachusetts, and in searching for a copy at a used bookstore I made friends with a lovely lady in Carpinteria, CA, who offered her yard as a place for me to park my 1971 Westy. The name of my camper, the YesWeCan CamperVan, amused her and she told me of the time when she was younger that her and a friend took her VW bus on a 19,000 mile trip around America.
I can vouch for the fact that an old VW van is a friend maker indeed. If you look at my road trip blog, on the THANKS page (which I've still not completed) you will see a list of magical people, who made my journey one of the best experiences of my life.
Please let me know when you're coming into Massachusetts and me and my van will give you a warm welcome - if we're still here that is! Next year we're hoping to embark on a cross country fund raiser for less well know charity.
Best wishes,
Carole Brown
Comment by John LaTorre on October 26, 2014 at 1:12pm

Well, the cat passed away  at the end of 2010. He was replaced with another FIV-positive rescue cat, giving our house its usual complement of two cats.

After that, I found that at least six other writers were either planning the same trip or had completed it. One of them had a Pulitzer prize. Two of them had dogs with them. I decided that the book wouldn't be very salable with that much competition.

As it turned out, another writer named Bill Steigerwald traced Steinbeck's journey and came to the conclusion that the book was largely fiction. His own book "Dogging Steinbeck" tells the story of his trip:


When I read the book, the fire sort of blew out on my own plans. But I'm still at work on my book on VW buses, and there's a project/road trip I'm toying with, which concerns tracing El Camino Real as it was a hundred years ago, to see how much of the original road is still there and in use. So I might be in your neighborhood after all.


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