Steinbeck pilgrimage Part II
Rare is the occasion when, after spending 30 minutes or so reading part of a John Steinbeck novel, I don't set the book down and say to myself, "Wow!" or "Brilliant!" as I reflect on some wonderfully written passage. Whether it's the alternating "big picture - small picture" views presented in Grapes of Wrath, the utter viciousness of the young Cathy Ames in East of Eden or Steinbeck's delightful descriptions of both sea life and humanity in Cannery Row, his works certainly rank among the top tier of 20th century American literature.
When I began planning my vacation, I initially conceived a trip that would allow me to photograph the shortline railroads around Modesto and Stockton, and then embark on my Steinbeck pilgrimage by checking out Cannery Row in Monterey and the National Steinbeck Center in Steinbeck's home town of Salinas. I later added Tehachapi and Cajon, both worthwhile destinations on their own, to the itinerary almost as afterthoughts; it was the Steinbeck stuff that really motivated me to begin planning the trip.
If you've read a few of Steinbeck's books and you're a fan of his writing, I'd highly recommend a visit to the Steinbeck Center. As I recall, admission cost me about $10. I was first directed to a small theater which showed two short films -- one about Steinbeck's life and writing, and another one describing California's Central Valley and its impact on Steinbeck's work.
A walk through the main exhibit hall is kind of like a virtual tour of Steinbeck's library. Some basic biographical information is included, but most of the exhibits focus on his books. The center has allocated small sections of the hall for each of his books, and the displays are both imaginative and interactive. Grapes of Wrath exhibits included pages from migrant worker diaries and a full-size mockup of a farm workers' bunk house. The East of Eden section included a Model-T Ford with instructions on how to start it, and a full-size representation of a railcar loaded with lettuce. The Cannery Row displays included jars of sea animal specimens that might have been found in Doc's lab. For Steinbeck's books that had been made into movies, film clips played on continuous loops. It was an interesting experience, getting the chance to enjoy Steinbeck's stories from a completely new perspective.
the Model T
The Steinbeck Center also had two smaller exhibit halls... one featured a collection of photographs of immigrant children; the other presented hands-on exhibits of past and present agricultural and farming techniques.