Between the desert and the whispers of California English
Reading Travels with Charley
for this week, I focused on the section of him revisiting his home town, since I consider places of former residence both homey and eerie. Driving around through my hometown of Montville, New Jersey, I have this sensation of belonging. I know the streets. I know how to get to Lisa's house without a GPS, and my sense of direction came more from trial and error than a system of logic, like that of New York's, and so my exploration of my town spans more time and more streets.
As Steinbeck travels about his "place of [his] origin," or Salinas, he describes that the town and its people have changed with him away. He says the opposite of what most of us assume in leaving a home town. The town has changed without him, not the other way around. I used to think that, after coming back home from New York, my perspective of Montville had changed from my moving to the city and my friends leaving to other college towns, letting the underclassmen fight for the decaying spoils of Montville Township High. Nowadays, though, I definitely think that town's outgrow people as well--the thoughts circulated, ideas surmised, generally reach me in New York because of the proximity from the city to "back home," but usually the stance varies. For instance, for only being a 30-minute car ride, my town basks in red republican glory. However, its fire has been burning in directions different than it had when I lived there.
Being from New Jersey, I always sensed a place of assurance among those from the northeast. However, I loved Steinbeck's passage as he goes, "Americans are much more American than they are Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners. And descendants of English, Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, Polish are essentially American. This is not patriotic whoop-de-do; it is carefully observed fact. California Chinese, Boston Irish, Wisconsin German, yes, and Alabama Negroes, have more in common than they have apart. And this is the more remarkable because it happened so quickly" (210). Between other regionalities--Spain to Catalan, Germany to Bavaria, the Welsh to the Scotts, Steinbeck exclaims that us Americans have rushed difference, understanding, and assimilation. We have survived the segregation that left nations crumbling to the hands of war, as it still does today in some parts of the world.
In some ways, partially inspired by Steinbeck's travel through the Mojave, we have allied against a sociological non-life on the path towards survival.