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travels with charley

The summer before eighth grade, in 1992, I read John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley as an assignment for fall English. If I'm remembering correctly, that same English teacher -- fresh out of college and new to the school that year -- passed out an untitled/uncredited novel chapter on the first day of class. After a few days, maybe, he explained it was from a book called On the Road. Later, he assigned us Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. It is probably not a coincidence that, the same autumn, I discovered hippie music.

But when I read Travels With Charley, I was bored by all Steinbeck's sightseeing (at least, that's what I remember the novel being about). What completely enchanted me was the preparation for the journey.

Equipping Rocinante was a long and pleasant process. I took far too many things, but I didn't know what I would find. Tools for emergency, tow lines, a small block and tackle, a trenching tool and crowbar, tools for making and fixing and improvising. Then there were emergency foods. I would be late in the northwest and caught by snow. I prepared for at least a week of emergency. Water was easy; Rocinante carried a thirty-gallon tank.

I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, pencils, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaries, a compact encyclopedia, and a dozen other reference books, heavy ones. I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.

I suppose I was in preparation myself, which is perhaps what appealed to me about it. It was a good summer, though, reading-wise. I also acquired my first Bloom County collection, Penguin Dreams and Stranger Tales, and, on a trip to visit family friends in Maine, a copy of Hunter S. Thompson's Great Shark Hunt.

POSTSCRIPT: After posting last night, I got into bed & finished off Jonathan Ames' What's Not To Love?. In the epilogue, Ames spends a paragraph talking about what he's bringing with him to Europe, concluding, "well, enough of that, but packing isn't talked about sufficiently in travel writing." Pleasant convergence.


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I didn't know you had a blog, its so cool and you link to all your writing, that's great! I don't remember reading On the Road for class, were we in the same class? Hope you're doing well, and we should hang out some time

Hey Jesse,

Now that I'm as old as Steinbeck was when he took his trip -- and I'm on a trip of my own, I'm re-reading Travels with Charley and am finding it a lot more interesting. I guess we're always most interested in things that relate to our own lives...

Anyway, on Valentines Day I left home on a 12-month tour of the U.S. and Canada.

I'm maintaining a web site with a blog, column, forum, map room, photo gallery and both audio and video podcasts.

Input is welcome. Ride along with me at WanderingDave.com

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