I read this due to my Steinbeck kick. I was a little worried about reading it immediately after The Grapes of Wrath but it was the perfect antidote to my melancholy mood. This is a travel journey by one of America’s preeminent authors who decided that that he no longer felt in touch with America and her people and wanted to find her again. Discontented seems to best describe the way he felt with his life when he set off on his journey in 1960 at the age of 58. I think he may have also been trying to recapture some of the magic of his youth and his life before fame. He had a truck with a camper built for him and named it Rocinante, a better name does not exist. Then he set off from his house in New York and headed to Maine before driving through the Great Lakes states. He feel in love with Wisconsin and loves Montana the best. Along the way he muses and recollects the trip in a way that feels as though he is just telling you a story over a fire with a drink in hand. It is relaxed, interesting, hilarious, depressing, and most of all honest. He possesses a preternatural prescience for things to come that I think is the result of his ability to see people for who and what they are. I think the trait is also what makes him such a phenomenal writer.
On the personal side, I completely understand the desire to drive across the country. I did it two years ago while moving for work but it was something I’d long dreamed of doing. I chose a route that was not the fastest path because it included more of what I wanted to see and experience. I relate completely to Steinbeck.
My favorite line from the book caused me to stop what I was doing and write it down. Steinbeck was traveling through NOLA and wanted to see the “Cheerleaders”, a hateful collection of bigots who would gather to yell and protest school integration. Steinbeck watched them yell at a young black girl who he said was so young that she’d never walked more than ten steps in a row without skipping. I loved that line too. On his way out of town, Steinbeck picked up black and white hitchhikers and just talked to them, trying to learn from them. One particular rider was a man so racist that Steinbeck kicked him out of his truck in the middle of nowhere. Of said racism, he wrote:
Beyond my failings as a racist, I knew I was not wanted in the south.
I just love that line. Pick this up and see America as Steinbeck did in 1960. Don’t worry, Charley makes it!