The ‘Travels With Charley’ Timeline — Day 24

Sunday, Oct. 16, 1960 – Seattle

After leaving the Tarkio, Montana, area on Saturday morning and passing through Saltese,  Steinbeck may or may not have stayed somewhere in eastern Washington that night.  There’s no evidence of where he stopped Saturday night. But since the distance from Tarkio to Seattle on U.S. Highway 10 is only about 430 miles, he almost certainly made it to Seattle by Sunday evening, Oct. 16. Day 1 of Steinbeck’s trip was Sept. 23, 1960.

DSC_2013 7Steinbeck busts ass to Seattle

Steinbeck came the same way on old U.S. 10 to get to Seattle – and he traveled just as fast. In the first draft of his book, in a paragraph that would be deleted, he wrote, “As before reaching Chicago, I found myself packing on the mileage and for the same reason. My lady wife was to fly out to meet me in Seattle and to travel with me down the West Coast for she had never seen the great real woods. I drove farther and faster than I intended. Increasingly I chose the wider and faster roads.”

This was one of several instances where Steinbeck admits he was rushing almost blindly to meet his wife Elaine – and where he betrays how little time he actually spent studying the country or meeting its people. When he was alone on the road – whether he was on his Chicago-Seattle sprint, his California-Amarillo dash or his New Orleans-New York City final kick – he was busting ass, not searching for the heart and soul of America.

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As he approached Seattle on U.S. Highway 10, Steinbeck barely recognized the “little city of space and trees and gardens” he knew as a skirt-chasing young man. He had read about the West Coast’s post-war population explosion, but he couldn’t believe the changes. More with sadness than anger, he wrote, “Everywhere frantic growth, a carcinomatous growth. Bulldozers rolled up the green forests and heaped the resulting trash for burning. The torn white lumber from concrete forms was piled beside gray walls. I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”

That out-the-car-window observation of suburban sprawl on the march forever endeared Steinbeck to future generations of the no-growth crowd as a Nostradamus. But it only proved how out of touch he was with 1960 America and the needs of middle-class Americans. With his extra house and two acres by the sea, he didn’t need an affordable new home with a little yard in the suburbs. But millions of ordinary urban American families did – and in 1960 they were getting them.

— excerpted from “Dogging Steinbeck”