What Steinbeck Saw in 1960

[on urban growth]

People who once held family fortresses against wind and weather, against scourges and frost and drought and insect enemies, now cluster against the busy breast of the big town.  p. 72

[on interstate highways]

When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.  p.90

[on food from vending machines found at rest areas]

The food is oven-fresh, spotless and tasteless; untouched by human hands.  I remembered with an ache certain dishes in France and Italy touched by innumerable hands.  p.91

[on mobile homes]

The first impression forced on me was that permanence is neither achieved nor desired by mobile people.  They do not buy for the generations, but only until a new model they can afford comes out.  p.99

[on uniformity of speech throughout the nation]

Just as our bread, mixed and baked, packaged and sold without benefit of accident or human frailty, is uniformly good and uniformly tasteless, so will our speech become one speech.  I who love words  and the endless possibility of words am saddened by this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo.  The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of the poetry of place and time must go.  And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless.

Travels with Charley, In Search of America


7 thoughts on “What Steinbeck Saw in 1960

  1. Somewhat off topic, I want to mention a travel related quote by someone new to me, but whom I think you might like
    *The time to enjoy a European tour is about three weeks after you unpack*
    George Ade
    My point  is that as you plan your trip, consider the aftermath as part of the trip….that is, relishing the memories, creating the scrapbook, and telling us about it 🙂
    Here’s the link….. I know you dont really have time now, but this is a good place to store the information.

  2. Ohh, I love those quotes, especially the one about Interstates.  For years, we have chosen the back roads (“blue highways”) on our travels.  It takes much longer, but we see so much more.  I’m thinking of our trip to New York in August.  It was grueling and relentless and we didn’t see much of anything at all.  Ugh.I’m going to put this book on my list.Blessings,Sandy

  3. You know, these quotes remind me a bit of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, which I just finished reading minutes ago (and blogged a tiny about–couldn’t do it justice yet, until I gather my thoughts).  So true!  One thing that just about breaks my heart, is the National Highway Bill–it passed the year I was born.  Since I grew up in southern California, I have never known a time of much “backcountry” driving, though when I was young, my homes were always surrounded by orange groves, bean and strawberry fields, avocado trees galore, and much more–right smack dab in so. Cal!
    By the way, speaking about Steinbeck, because of your post on him a few weeks back, upon which I commented that I didn’t like The Grapes of Wrath, I decided to try another of his books, so I requested (and received a few days ago), East of Eden from PaperBackSwap.  Since I will probably finish all of my autumn reading list before I run out of time, I may add that to my list.

  4. Well, I’m afraid he was wrong about the different types of voices, at least here in the Bay Area – I hear everything here!  Just today in Romance Literature, a student spoke up and was telling us there was no word in Russian for our English word, “parking.”  I’m not just talking about all different nationalities, but differences within the way English is spoken around here.  Steinbeck would be pleased!  

  5. It occurs to me that we may swim intentionally against the tide. We could choose to bake our own bread, eat at places where mulitiple hands do the preparation, and like Sandy above, choose to drive the pretty way. I can remember seeing orange groves and even hilllsides of poinsettias along the coast line in CA as a kid. Those are long gone, mores the pity. I guess l love living here in the south now because it feels less big city and much more rural. I love seeing horses and cows on the way home from work, and  old old houses with a little signs at the front telling what historical person lived there before the Revolution. There is a respect for the past. Blessings and love, M in SC

  6. Where we live in the foothills of the California gold country, there are a couple of different kinds of folks: those who sleep here but do everything down the hill in the city (an hour’s drive), and those who make this place their life and don’t like to leave often for shopping and other activities. We are trying more to be the latter and more involved in our community, though we do have to go to the city for some of our shopping with our large family. When Steve and I went shopping for a sofa, he noted that the box stores and strip malls along the highway looked just like what he saw on a recent trip to North Carolina.Have you read Kunstler’s _The Geography of Nowhere_? It’s on my reading list…it goes so well with your recent thoughts. I’m sure TV, just as much as the interstate highway system, has been a great leveler as far as language, etc.

  7. Late responses, sorry!, but here goes – Dana —  I like the Ade quote and I’m sure I’m process the trip here on the blog.  I had to laugh when I read this quote in TWC: “Again, it might have been the American tendency in travel.  One goes, not so much to see but to tell afterward.”  I know that’s not what you had in mind with the Ade quote, but I got a chuckle out of it.Sandy — I love taking the smaller highways too, especially if I don’t have to drive (I’m a timid passer).  I remember on our honeymoon we moseyed our way across the country on small roads, stopping at A & W’s to have rootbeer floats every 50 miles or so!Kathleen — oh the avocado trees of southern CA!  My SIL used to have neighbors with a large tree and we’d try to time our visits to coincide with their fruition.  I remember a weekend in Watsonville, CA in late June 1976 when the strawberries were ripe.  We gorged on the sweet, lovely berries. I can’t believe you are going to finish your Autumn challenge!  My books waiting to be read are piling and toppling and piling again.  East of Eden isn’t a book I’d say I liked, though it captivated me.  It was very raw, and difficult reading.  I couldn’t put it down, though.  Travels with Charley is hands down my favorite Steinbeck.  His social commentary is striking.  We can already see some of his predictions of 1960 come to pass.Mel — I wished I had  put up more of that quote.  He recognizes that southern speech is distinct, but sees overall a homogenization.  I still laugh about my grand jury foreman from Vietnam who couldn’t say th’s: Do you swear to tell the true, the whole true, and nothing but the true?M in SC — I surely agree with you. I love to patronize independent stores, and restaurants, especially when their product is unique.  I think that is why the agrarian lifestyle is so appealing, at least in theory, to me.Carmon — I will never forget a Dateline (or 60 minutes) show we saw at my in-laws about “bedroom communities” two hours away from downtown LA, where land prices are cheaper.  These families can buy a house here, but they have to leave those houses at 5:00 in the morning to commute to their jobs, returning at 7:30.  The most distressing part of the program was the child care centers where kids spend an obscene amount of time a day.  I haven’t read The Geography of Nowhere but it’s now on my wish list.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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