On The Page: Travels With Charlie

Being one for travel books, I recently consumed Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. Published in 1962, the book recounts Steinbeck’s  cross-country journey with his poodle Charlie. While Travels with Charley in Search of America did not supplant Blue Highways as my favorite travel book, I was enamored by some of his thoughts on travel and how it becomes a part of your soul.

The very first paragraph of the book drew me in (and was read aloud to Forrest):

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.

The desire to go and see new things doesn’t dissipate for me. Narratives of others travels used to be sort of satiating to me but since my, admittedly small, glimpse of “seeing it all” these tales serve only to spark my imagination for when and where we will go next. As Steinbeck put it: “In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum.” Or perhaps in my case, I’m not so much as failing to improve as having wholesale reevaluated what I need to be happy.

Steinbeck’s Rocinante

I also identified strongly with the conversations Steinbeck had with people he met during his travels. This is something I feel like we tend to miss out on a bit traveling as a couple. I fear we appear to be a unit that does not need, or perhaps does not want, interruption. Very rarely is this the case. Both Forrest and I relish the opportunity to meet people and learn their stories. People are open with travelers even today. They will happily share lunch with you or even buy you a beer or two to while away the hours.

Despite my worries, we do meet people. In the course of events, we share with them what we are doing. More often than not, we hear how they wish they could travel but their job, wife, kids, dog, money, debt, laziness, bad habits, ex-wives, mother-in-law, kids sports, etc. just won’t let them.  We wee the same unfulfilled wanderlust ust as Steinbeck saw over fifty years ago:

“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 unachored, not toward something but away from something.  I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited.  Nearly every American hungers to move”

Sprocket makes friends at the Wedge in Asheville, NC

And when confronted with the travel hungry companion, F and I glance at each other, feeling like we really aren’t doing so much. Thinking about how we’re stuck in a static state, at least for while. Meanwhile, I’ve got some of the most travel hungry eyes you’ve ever seen (but cannot stop consuming travel literature and fantastic travel blogs) and just trying to eek out some fun and some travel as I can with work. For F and I, we plot for the ability to do more, thinking to ourselves as Steinbeck did that we have “seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism” and we wish to avoid that fate. Instead wish to live as we dream:

For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence not a punishment.

What shape my dream takes these days is in the form of a two-lane blacktop snaking through the landscape. Some days it passes through the desert. Others it parallels the shore. Just as I finished Travels with Charley, I read an article by Brandon Leonard on road trips.

“In a society where you can have almost anything, it’s nice to know what you need sometimes. Like really need. The piece that fits in the space that’s empty. And a lot of times for me lately, that has been some time rolling down the road at 60 mph or so, watching open country roll by outside the windows.” -Brandon, Leonard, Semi-Rad, Why Road Trips Are Still Important

 This sums up perfectly what I very much need. The opportunity to clear my head and body of the stresses of 9-5 life. Road trips are an excellent reminder of what you need to live well. You are able to travel with some creature comforts but they must remain selective. I need my boys and some adventure; adventure makes me a better person. Toss in varied landscapes, some extra company and a good glass of wine or pint of beer and I might as well be in heaven.

5 Replies to “On The Page: Travels With Charlie”

  1. “In a society where you can have almost anything, it’s nice to know what you need sometimes. Like really need. The piece that fits in the space that’s empty.” I’m going to be mulling over this all day now. Mmmm.

  2. I’d like to say a big YES to all of this. Yes to Travels with Charley, which I found to be such eloquent travel inspiration; Yes to treasuring the experience of meeting new people on the road; Yes to an insatiable hunger for seeing what lies around the next bend. Beautifully written!

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