After recounting to you what I learned during my epic journey across America in the first part of this blog, I figured I would recount to you my smaller, still epic, journey across California. My wife and I just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary with a trip to San Francisco. As a courtesy to me, she allowed me to put the National Steinbeck Center on the itinerary, since we were driving through the area.
As I have mentioned, Travels with Charley is a must read for me almost every time I take a road trip. What made this road trip extra special was being able to visit a museum dedicated to one of the most influential American authors, and seeing the house where he was born and raised.
The National Steinbeck Center is located in Salinas, California, which is roughly two hours away from San Francisco and the bay area. Nestled close to the Monterey Bay, Salinas is a small community with a very significant national treasure. The Steinbeck Center houses an interactive museum where guest can read and see items related to Steinbeck’s life. Personal journals, notes, manuscripts are all on display and set in interesting formats. For example, there is great room that appears to be Steinbeck’s childhood bedroom with a dresser with drawers that open. When opened guests can see books that belonged to Steinbeck, notes he jotted down and even some short writing samples. All of it is encased in thick glass, of course.
Other interactive exhibits include sections dedicated to all of Steinbeck’s major works. My son particularly enjoyed The Red Pony exhibit.
As a cool little tribute to the novel, the Of Mice and Men display had a setting that appeared to be the bunkhouse where the workers slept and where much of the dialogue takes place in the novel. Hanging on some hooks along the wall were some coats and hats, which belonged to the main characters. Curley’s glove was even there. When you lifted the hats, as the signs directed you to, you found a short quote from the character. My favorite part was the little mouse inside Lennie’s very large coat.
A few blocks from the museum there is a very large well-kept Victorian style home. This is where Steinbeck was born and raised. It is beautiful to see, although my wife and I got the impression that the locals didn’t appreciate the history they were surrounded by. Several people, shady in appearance and in action, walked by seeming not to notice the people taking photos in front of the house or reading the small plaque in front. Maybe they are just used to the tourists.
Hemingway has always been my favorite American author, but the older I get, the more I appreciate what Steinbeck did in chronicling the America of his time. Visiting the Steinbeck Center gave me a unique perspective as to what this man’s work truly mean to this country. And I bought a cool magnet.