The National Steinbeck Center

On Dec 16th I visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Ca.


In September 1960 John Steinbeck left his Long Island home intending a 10,000-mile counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the country, an odyssey connecting the dots of the haunts of his life.

The Route

The lobby has some thoughts to ponder for the traveler. Steinbeck, who had been writing about America for nearly 40 years, believed he had lost touch with what was on the mind of Americans.  There were fewer than 180 million people residing in the United States in 1960. Steinbeck named his pickup truck with custom mounted camper shell Rocinante.



Don Juan Steinbeck, identifying his adventure with the whimsical quest of Don Quixote, and named his steed after Quixote’s.  In 10,000 miles not a single person asked about the name painted on the side of the camper.

For me, for any writer, to be close to Steinbeck’s chariot is to be bathed in inspirational writers’ unblock.

    The many wonderful displays will be as nostalgic as the number of his books you’ve read or viewed on the big screen.

And you will learn the word that inspired East of Eden.

Thou Mayest


Fifty years and a month after JS set out with Charley, I set out with Lightnin’.  I started from the San Francisco Bay Area, my home for the two best decades of my life.

Lightnin’ at the helm of the Jolly Swag

As I plunge into a country whose people-count has grown by 70%, I will indulge my appetite for grand natural vistas and the pampering of friends and family,  And, I, too, want to know what Americans think.

I want to know who we are.  I want to know the how and why that our national politics have changed so much.

I want to know the how and why the role of religion has changed so much.


I want to know our national political structure shifted from two political parties, each with a consensus around economic theory and little else to distinguish them, to single issue, political identity politics.

I want to know how the people who are really affected by our three-year-old economic stress are coping.  I expect some poorly and others cleverly.


BTW, I know I am not nearly academic enough to frame the questions or tabulate the answers, nor scholarly enough to interpret them.  But, my gregarious, inquisitive nature compels me will to ask anyway.  And I will ask them of broader collection of people than I would have had I stayed parked in Alameda.

Fifty years ago Steinbeck was appalled at the environmental rape he witnessed and feared for what was to come.  I am afraid I will find his worst fears realized.

I bought a baseball cap with the initials JS on it, remarkable the museum store would have a stack of caps with the initials of my motorcoach, Jolly Swag.


9 Responses to The National Steinbeck Center

  1. karen wittgraf says:

    With all of your travels, with all of the people you meet and all of the questions that you will ask- there is one answer to the political identities we are experiencing- and that is education, rather, the lack of. I think, in certain humility, I am right on this.

    Let me know…and happy travels!
    Jerry read this also, thinks what you’re doing is commendable, and wants to see more of the interior of Jolly Swag. He admires your writing and your independence.

  2. john miller says:

    I just finished teaching the bookand showing the film GRAPES of Wrath here in Turkey. The forced economic immigrations of 1930s are still with us while the bankers and Wall Street spend their annual bonuses as they have done ubceasingly/ Europe limited and taxed those bonuses. The banking interest contro Washington. No more Mr Smiths. look at the cabinet economic officials. Bitterly contemplating an American tax/estate bill from outside its borders John

  3. AL, I look forward to reading about what you find. You may be surprised. Remember, you don’t control it!

    Drive safe!


  4. Carol & Dick Volckmann says:

    Dick and I wish you a new year filled with all you seek and… Joy, Laughter & Love,

  5. With such a large population increase there has to have been change for the worse in our natural resources on land, air and sea. Not only in North America. Most of the time I try to think of something else but inside my throbbing skull I mourn. I like your home. After that, every other living space is going to look unnecessarily large.

  6. Pingback: Welcome | A Year on the Road

  7. Colleen Rae says:

    Al – I envy your travels. Have fun with the journey. It’s the journey that counts, not the destination.

  8. Pat Bean says:

    I loved seeing Steinbeck’s home on wheels. Thanks. Meanwhile your blog is still not getting to me. I have to remember to come look for it. Wish I could figure out what’s wrong. Your site and my site both say I’m subscribed.

  9. Al, I love your questions. Yes, we have to remember the times that Steinbeck lived in so as to understand his viewpoints. I am all about teaching what the world today is about and ways to make it better. I plan to pursue my work in educating myself in educating the young to better prepare them to be better leaders of tomorrow. I too have an inquisitive nature. Best wishes to you. Thanks for stopping by my world.

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