The idea that John Steinbeck wrote a travel book is both inspiring and noteworthy. Travels With Charley in Search of America is his attempt to get out and meet the people and see the sights of America is attuned to the idea that we as humans are invariably pulled towards travel. Whatever reason we give for doing it, we seem pulled to want to travel.
Early on Steinbeck writes about encountering a variety of people:
"I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get underway, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move."
Perhaps we all have this ingrained in us somewhere deep inside and Steinbeck is just putting words to it. A way to think perhaps about everything going on. Maybe we all look to travel as a form of escape or a way to collect our thoughts before going in a new direction.
Alain de Botton writes in The Art of Travel:
"Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do."
I often think back to a specific moment in Japan visiting the Meiji shrine and watching all of the people coming and going. Sitting off to the corner I noticed a wedding procession pass through, tour groups come and go at regular intervals, locals sitting quietly, and general tourists, like me, sharing awe. To think of the number of people who would pass through the shrine that day and every day was mindbending. For some reason, that image sticks in my head as one of the key memories to the trip.
So what about the book? I thoroughly enjoyed this one although I'd say the ending felt disconnected from the rest of the book as Steinbeck traveled into the South. It was an odd turn from the peacefulness of the highway to encountering racism in the South. It was Steinbeck's truth at the time but led the book to feel as though it could have been two books or perhaps stretched out longer to take in the full impact of his visit to the South. As he moved on from the demonstrations the book petered out and was perhaps a reflection of his feelings of being deflated by what he saw.
"I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction."
Steinbeck's descriptions of Charley were heartwarming; capturing that innocence and intuitiveness of his dog in beautiful little phrases. Giving Charley a prominent character in the book like many of us animal lovers do for our pets in our own life. Dog owners can attest to the companionship we find in our four-legged friends. We often give them voices, try to imagine what they must be thinking from their body language or facial expressions, and hope that we are somehow giving them everything they need.
Beer Pairing: Yellow Dog Brewing's High 5, a Hazy IPA with loads of citrus coming from every corner of the can. If Charley liked citrus he would have appreciated this one. Perhaps a bit of pine in there as well; I know Charley liked the trees.