In the fall of 2010 Bill Steigerwald retraced John Steinbeck’s trip around the United States as recounted in Travels With Charley. He has set up a blog — Travels Without Charley — to tell the “story of the long trip [he’s] been taking with John Steinbeck and his ghost.” He has concluded that Steinbeck’s “book is not just full of fiction; it’s also a dishonest account of his iconic journey and what he really thought about America.”
Steigerwald summarizes his findings in the Reason article “Sorry, Charley.” I take Steigerwald’s findings regarding Steinbeck’s book to be the bad news he has to report. It would be easy to miss the good news that Steigerwald reserves for the conclusion of his article:
America is big, beautiful, empty, safe, clean, and unfairly blessed with natural and human resources. I met only a few hundred of my fellow 309 million citizens last fall, but to a person they were friendly and helpful. And despite a depressed economy, the gauntlet of beautiful homes and shiny pickup trucks, RVs, boats, and snowmobiles I passed through day after day testified to the democratization of the material riches that the wealthy Steinbeck had decried.
From cell phone towers to Hyundai dealerships and Walmarts, I saw modern things that would have amazed, shocked, or offended Steinbeck. Yet what surprised me most was what might have surprised him most too: how little change has taken place on the Steinbeck Highway in the last 50 years. From the fishing villages of Maine to the redwoods of California to the Mississippi Delta, I drove by hundreds of towns and farms and crossroads that looked almost exactly like they did when Steinbeck passed through.
I trust that Steigerwald is turning his travels into a book. They should make a good one.