lost, for a little while


best of: travels with charley
February 10, 2011, 3:52 pm
Filed under: ideas, inspiration, sources

I’m kinda maybe sort of procrastinating regarding my next goal for 2011 — figuring out what’s under the hood of my car. I got as far as consulting Daddy-o and then purchasing a hilariously outdated Reader’s Digest car manual. Said manual is sitting on my coffee table under a pile of unwanted flyers and some CDs, pretty much untouched since it arrived in the mail last week.

I can’t help it that there was still one season of Dogtown left for me to watch on Netflix. I’ll get started soon, promise. In the meantime, some (just some) of John Steinbeck’s greatest hits, circa Travels with Charley.

On growing out of the restless travel itch: “In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum, always a bum.”

On the steps to taking a trip: “I set it down so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it.”

On the hazards of solo travel: “There was some genuine worry about my traveling alone, open to attack, robbery, assault…There is no reality in the danger. It’s just a very lonely, helpless feeling at first–a kind of desolate feeling.”

On making conversation with strangers: “The techniques of opening conversation are universal. I knew long ago and rediscovererd that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost. A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost.”

On the universal urge to roam: “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation–a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something, but away from something.”

On packing: “I judge now that I carried about four times too much of everything.”

On preparation: “In long-range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won’t happen.”

On the talents of dogs: “It is my experience that in some areas Charley is more intelligent than I am, but in others he is abysmally ignorant. He can’t read, can’t drive a car, and has no grasp of mathematics. But in his own field of endeavor, which he was now practicing, the slow imperial smelling over and anointing of an area, he has no peer.”

On entering a new state: “I wish any two states could get together on a speed limit. Just about the time you used to fifty miles an hour you cross a state line and it’s sixty-five. I wonder why they can’t settle down and agree. However, in one matter all states agree–each one admits it is the finest of all and announces that fact in huge letters as you cross the state line.”

On cats: “He didn’t welcome me and he didn’t welcome Charley. I never did rightly see George, but his sulking presence was everywhere. For George is an old gray cat who has accumulated a hatred of people and things so intense that even hidden upstairs he communicates his prayer that you will go away…In a more enlightened day when witches and familiars were better understood, George would have found his, or rather her, end in a bonfire, because if ever there was a familiar, an envoy of the devil, a consorter with evil spirits, George is it.”

On hunters: “I know there are any number of good and efficient hunters who know what they are doing; but many more are overweight gentlemen, primed with whisky and armed with high-powered rifles.”

On the hypnotizing power of good food: “These people might have been murderers, sadists, brutes, ugly apish subhumans for all I knew, but I found myself thinking, ‘What charming people, what flair, how beautiful they are. How I wish I knew them.’ And all based on the delicious smell of soup.”

On the importance of visiting national landmarks: “I’m very glad I saw it, because from now on if I am asked whether I have ever seen Niagara Falls I can say yes, and be telling the truth for once.”

On my favorite part of road trips: “But there is left, particularly on very long trips, a large area for daydreaming or even, God help us, for thought.”

Finally, on being lost: “…but have you ever noticed that instructions from one who knows the country get you more lost than you are, even when they are accurate? I also got lost in Ellsworth, which I am told is impossible.”

“I could never test it, because through my own efforts I am lost most of the time without any help from anyone.”

“Another kind of traveler requires to know in terms of maps exactly where he is pin-pointed every moment, as though there were some kind of safety in black and red lines, in dotted indications and squirming blue of lakes and the shadings that indicate mountains. It is not so with me. I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”

“But to find where you are going, you must know where you are, and I didn’t.”

“As usual I panicked and got lost.”


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