Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck: Hardcover Book (Hardcover)
Travels with Charley: In Search of America is a 1962 travelogue written by American author John Steinbeck. It depicts a 1960 road trip around the United States made by Steinbeck, in the company of his standard poodle Charley. Steinbeck wrote that he was moved by a desire to see his country on a personal level because he made his living writing about it. He wrote of having many questions going into his journey, the main one being "What are Americans like today?" However, he found that he had concerns about much of the "new America" he witnessed.
Steinbeck tells of traveling throughout the United States in a specially made camper he named Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse. His travels start in Long Island, New York, and roughly follow the outer border of the United States, from Maine to the Pacific Northwest, down into his native Salinas Valley in California across to Texas, through the Deep South, and then back to New York. Such a trip encompassed nearly 10,000 miles.
According to Thom Steinbeck, the author's oldest son, the reason for the trip was that Steinbeck knew he was dying and wanted to see his country one last time. The younger Steinbeck has said he was surprised that his stepmother allowed his father to make the trip; his heart condition meant he could have died at any time.
Steinbeck opened the book by describing his lifelong wanderlust and his preparations to rediscover the country he felt he had lost touch with after living in New York City and traveling in Europe for 20 years. He was 58 years old in 1960 and nearing the end of his career, but he felt that when he was writing about America and its people he "was writing of something he] did not know about, and it seemed to him] that in a so-called writer this is criminal" (p. 6). He bought a new GMC pickup truck, which he named Rocinante, and had it fitted with a custom camper-shell for his journey. At the last minute, he decided to take his wife's 10-year-old French Poodle Charley, with whom he has many mental conversations as a device for exploring his thoughts. He planned on leaving after Labor Day from his summer home in Sag Harbor on the eastern end of Long Island, but his trip was delayed about two weeks due to Hurricane Donna, which made a direct hit on Long Island. Steinbeck's exploits in saving his boat during the middle of the hurricane, which he details, foreshadow his fearless, or even reckless, state of mind and his courage in undertaking a long, arduous and ambitious cross-country road trip by himself.
Steinbeck began his trip by traveling by ferry from Long Island to Connecticut, passing the U.S. Navy submarine base at New London where many of the new nuclear submarines were stationed. He talked to a sailor stationed on a sub who enjoyed being on them because "they offer all kinds of - future". Steinbeck credited uncertainty about the future to rapid technological and political changes. He mentioned the wastefulness of American cities and society and lamented the large amount of waste that resulted from everything being "packaged."
Later he had a conversation with a New England farmer. The two concluded that a combination of fear and uncertainty about the future limited their discussion of the coming election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Steinbeck enjoyed learning about people by eating breakfast in roadside restaurants and listening to morning radio programs, though he noted that, "If 'Teen-Age Angel' sic] is top of the list in Maine, it is the top of the list in Montana" (35), showing the ubiquity of pop culture brought on by Top 40 radio and mass media technologies.