Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!

Travels With Charley


In 1939 John Steinbeck won The National Book Award for The Grapes of Wrath, a truly American novel.  But about two decades later he felt that he had lost touch with his country.  He wrote “I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir… I had not felt the country for twenty five years…So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land.”

It was 1960, a time before the elaborate campers and motor homes we have today, but Steinbeck had an idea. He wrote to the head of a truck manufacturing company and specified his needs. He wanted a sturdy three-quarter-ton pick-up truck with a “little house” built on the back.

And in this “rig” he would take to the road, in search of America.

On the side of the camper, in sixteenth century Spanish script, Steinbeck painted the name, Rocinante.  This was the name of Don Quixote’s horse, which he rode on his great quest. And so John Steinbeck set out on his own great quest.

And just as Don Quixote took faithful Sancho Panza as his traveling companion, John Steinbeck chose his own traveling companion with care. He would travel with “an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley…He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean…If he occurs at length in this account, it is because he contributed much to the trip. A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree of a dog is that?’ ”  

And Charley was indeed the ice-breaker in many conversations with people they met over the next three months, as the exotic dog and his master traveled more than ten thousand miles through thirty-four states.

Our family read this book for the first time about 15 years ago, and it gave us the dream of taking our own Rocinante Trip some day. Steinbeck talks about this; the longing he saw on the faces of so many people he met on his journey. So many people with a desire to get up and go. Somewhere. Anywhere.  The Paladini Rocinante trip is still being planned, and still far in the future, but in the meantime it has been fun to travel again with Steinbeck and Charley, through the pages of their journey across America.

From their home in Long Island they headed north just after Labor Day, traveling through the beautiful New England fall colors. Then, avoiding major freeways, they drove across the northern states towards Oregon, and turned south to follow the coast down to Salinas, where Steinbeck grew up.  John and I listened to the audio book recently, and John said he felt sad when finally, leaving California, Steinbeck turned east and headed homeward across the southern states. My husband had been so involved with the story that he personally felt the journey was coming to a close.

It would be hard for me to say what part of the book was my favourite. The last time I read it I put at least twenty pink stickies on pages to mark passages I like. But there were even more than that.

The book is filled with really lovely stories about the people Steinbeck met along the way, and although not all of the people were lovely, every story has a point.

But not only does Steinbeck share personal experiences related to the people he met, but the book is full of thought-provoking essays about intangible things, both serious and funny.

Describing the various states, their nicknames, and their highway signs, Steinbeck writes: “We know, of course, that each of our states is an individual and proud of it. Not content with their names, they take descriptive titles also – The Empire State, the Garden State, the Granite State – titles proudly born and little given to understatement. But now for the first time I became aware that each state has also its individual prose style, made sharply evident in its highway signs. Crossing state lines one is aware of this change of language. The New England states use a terse form of instruction, a tight-lipped, laconic style sheet, wasting no words and few letters. New York State shouts at you the whole time. Do this. Do that. Squeeze left. Squeeze right. Every few feet an imperious command. In Ohio the signs are more benign. They offer friendly advice, and are more like suggestions. Some states use a turgid style which can get you lost with the greatest ease…Nearly all have abandoned the adverb for the adjective. Drive Slow. Drive Safe.”

There’s also a wonderful monologue – I guess it was actually a dialogue since he was probably having a discussion with Charley.  He took some pages wondering about what people think about when they drive?  I’ve never really thought about what I think about when I drive. But it made me think.

He talks about immigration, taxes, labor unions, politics, and law-enforcement. To name a few. In the South he meets head on, the issue of civil rights; which was red hot when this book was written.

Throughout the book he does quite a bit of lamenting about the so-called “progress” of super-highways, automation, and all the plastic-wrapped self-service that had come on the scene in the last twenty five years. I had to laugh at that. Since the book was published 50 years ago some of his commentary was, shall we say, dated.  Here in 2012 I find myself thinking, “I wonder what Steinbeck would say if he could see the way it is today?”

But whether his comments were dated or timeless, the book itself is timeless and classic. Steinbeck went “in search of America” and he captured it!



Author: paladinipotpie

Welcome! My name is Andrena Paladini and this is a blog about family and love and faith and fun. I call it Paladini Potpie because a potpie is like an adventure in a crust. You never know what might come up, but it’s always going to be good! Think of the best potpie you’ve ever eaten…hot flaky crust holding a rich savory sauce and all kinds of pieces of meat and vegetables…and who knows what? As a family, we’ve chosen to live within the parameters of God’s love and protection. This is the crust of our Paladini Potpie. The crust never changes. Within this crust, the savory sauce of family love binds it all together. That is also fairly constant. But beyond the crust and the sauce we can add just about anything! Good ideas come our way and we’ve adopted and adapted them to add to what John calls our treasure box of memories. These stories and ideas from John’s treasure box of memories are the ingredients I’m putting into our Paladini Potpie. (Okay, so this ridiculous mixing of metaphors about treasure boxes and potpies is exactly what I’m talking about. Silly and ungrammatically correct. But both illustrations work… so we’ll mix them together and it’ll be just fine!) John and I have been married for 30 years. Our children have wonderfully doubled in number since David married Amanda, Monica married Dan, and Matthew married Sarah. And the newest little treats that have been added to our potpie are six adorable grandchildren - Ethan, Angelina, Nathan, Audrey, Maleia and Caleb! I hope you’ll subscribe to my Paladini Potpie blog, and keep up with all the fun new ingredients I add. Hopefully you’ll enjoy our stories and ideas, and find something you’ll want to put into your own potpie! Bon appétit!

6 thoughts on “Travels With Charley

  1. I quess you could say Amos and I took our little family trip traveling thru 6 states and well over 3,000 miles when we reached our destination. Some parts are beautiful and some sad but all in all the trip was great. While traveling, I must say what I thought about most was to get to a hotel so I could get out of this car.

  2. Thank you, Andrena, for your book recommendations. Not being an
    avid reader but desiring to read a few good books in my later years, I look forward to comments about books from someone I know.
    Thank You again,

  3. I must read this book. We too are “in search of America” and have loved all we have found from the Chicago-to-LA Route 66 nostalgia, to the National Parks (“America’s Best Idea” as Ken Burns describes them), to the world’s largest ball of twine in Kansas. What a blessing it is to have the freedom to explore and enjoy such a beautiful and vast land.

  4. You should write a book Wayne. I’ve read some of your travelogues and you’re a good writer. And Judi’s pictures are stunning.
    Funny that you mention the National Parks though. John Steinbeck did not appreciate them. He said (something like) it was trying to put America into a box. I have a feeling that most of us, including Ken Burns, don’t agree with him

  5. I suppose in 1960 Steinbeck could not have envisioned a day when every piece of America would end up in someone’s “box”. Fortunately, visionaries like John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt had America’s “best idea” when they realized only the federal government could protect our natural wonders for all generations to enjoy. Otherwise, there might likely be a pair of golden arches atop Yosemite’s half dome right now. 🙂

  6. I think you’re right, Wayne. (Shudder)

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