In the final days of outfitting my motorhome, I put the word out to friends about my Cruising Year. The most common advice I received was to get a dog and name it, Charley.
There are people who, by their journeys and writings, have empowered me.
John Steinbeck heads the list. Travels with Charley is not remembered as a serious work. Yet, it is one of the best-remembered books of the 20th century. Not the stuff of Pulitizers or Nobels. A deceptively simple travel journal, TWC is the thoughts of a man who was an important chronicler of three decades of American life.
Steinbeck set out in search of America. And I ask myself what, if anything, I am in search of. I don’t think it is America. I know where to find America, the grandeur of its geography, the markers of its history, the seats of power, the centers of culture. The America Steinbeck discovered he found quite randomly in the collected anecdotes of people extraordinary in their ordinariness.
I am bent on finding such people. I think they are everywhere if you believe, as I do, everyone has a story worth a 15-minute listen. Many times in the first 15 minutes you sniff a whiff of more. I pray my prompting skills are up to the task.
I read TWC shortly after it was published. And again in 1983 when my wife and I took a 28-week motorhome trip around he country. I read it aloud to her, a few pages every night. That reading, the simple prose, the sharing of experience and thought, allowed us to join him in his personal journey. It is what prompted me to pick up a pencil and legal pad and begin to dribble my own thoughts onto the yellow. I wrote for the sake of writing for the first time in over twenty years.
A hundred hand-written pages and 18000 miles later, we returned home and I did that rare thing—re-read those 100 pages–and re-live the voyage. The voyage changed me: it re-kindled the pleasure of writing down the meanderings of my mind. A pleasure that never left me in the years since even though I ignored my creative muse for long periods and otherwise treated badly until only a few years ago when I realized writing needed to be a more important part of my life.
From those hundred pages I distilled to 5700 words, printed 100 copies and mailed them to friends and family in February 1984. Yes, I have been spamming before the concept had its own name and as you can see, I am still at it.
Steinbeck and Charley added to the sum of my life’s experience and helped to dial down apprehensions that lurked and readied me to venture toward the corners of navigation charts marked, “Here be Dragons”.
I have much to learn about traveling and even more to learn about writing. But, I am far enough along that the next lessons ought to be on the job.
And, OBTW. I have for years had a little stuffed animal, a dog, named Lightin’. He sits atop my bed pillows on the days I make my bed. Lightnin’ (because he is so quick) may understand he and Charley are shirttail cousins. Tune in from time to time to hear more about Travels with Lightnin’