When Scott and I were clearing out our house in preparation for this big move, I spent a good deal of time going through the books in our bookcases. It was a hard decision to say goodbye to all but a few of the books that had been healers, teachers and treasured friends at different points in my life and had found their place of honor on my shelves. There were also some books I’d sworn I would read – some day. A few made it along for the ride, others I packed away, many I blessed and let go, maybe writing down the title or taking a screenshot of the cover for future consideration. It was akin to wanting to invite the whole class to your birthday party and mom saying, “Pick five friends.”
One that did make the cut was John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. I had read it in high school, I think, and remember loving it. And while there were so many more books I could use for my yoga teaching, or that would be brand new, this memoir of Steinbeck’s solo journey with his poodle, Charley, driving around the country in 1960 seemed like a good one to revisit on this trip. I was right. It was!
First, I loved reading about someone else exactly my age (58) making the choice to venture out to see more of what America is/was. The preparations, the hopes, the fears all ring true for my experience as well. I also appreciated someone like me, and sexist as it sounds, a man, who admits to getting hopelessly lost and sallying forth despite a poor sense of direction. He named his vehicle Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, and after playing Aldonza in my high school’s senior year production of “Man of La Mancha”, any reference to Quixote and quixotic adventures also builds an instant fondness in my heart.
Second, he took a very similar route to the one Scott and I took last year from New York to Montana, diverting first up to Deer Isle, ME, the place we had stayed three summers ago on our first and only trip up to the Pine Tree State. It was so interesting to hear his impressions of the now familiar locations and to see how they compared with my own experience some 60 years later. How interesting to read about his concerns about progress and overdevelopment and loss of accents and local culture, and to see what remains and what has been further lost all these decades later.
It would seem John and I have a lot in common in our assessment and appreciation of many locations. Interestingly, he did comment that this doesn’t make it true, only that we probably share some sensibilities. Others can and do have distinctly different, equally valid opinions. He mentions that how we feel about a place is very often colored by how we are feeling while at that place. For me, the weather is a similar factor. Sunny Savannah has topped rainy Charleston in my memory. While Weaverville, NC was beautiful, it, too was colder and grayer. Today, Tennessee was bright and cheery and suddenly, it holds great promise.
I also love the humor woven through Steinbeck’s conversations with the dog, other travelers, and an array of locals he happens upon. For Scott and me, half the fun of this adventure has been seeing Bradley’s reactions and people’s reactions to him. Reconnecting with friends and talking to strangers has been so wonderful, whether a neighbor at the RV park, a server at a restaurant or someone else out on a walk or hike. People have enriched the trip as much as places for me.
Finally, eerily, he shares conversations with lots of folks across the socio-economic and political spectrum on topics that are still with us today. He references troubles with Russia and how it was a safe place to project our anger and frustration somewhere; the value of a common enemy, uniting the country. He also ventured to New Orleans to witness the treatment of little Ruby Bridges and his observations of the situation there – the divisions, the cruelty, the difficulties of discussing race, and the deep need for change – are incredibly, and sadly, still resonant to our America in 2022.
I am looking forward to our continuing travels with Bradley and will be on the lookout for what Steinbeck calls “the end of the journey”. Sometimes, according to the great writer, it’s that point where there is no room to take in any more. You can go, go, go and see, see, see but not take any more of it in, because there’s no room left to store it. That is when a journey can end before it is through. My hope is this trip will be for us more like one a fella described in the book had, who, rocking on his porch each night, was still on his trip to Hawaii, 30 years later, because the sweet memories were still alive in his soul.