A geezer road trip from Cayucos

April 1, 2022

Dell Franklin

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 

Franklin’s memoir, “Life On The Mississippi, 1969,” is currently on Amazon.

By DELL FRANKLIN

I was alarmed that two of my old wizened retired wall gang members, both extremely well-read and acutely discriminating of literature, had not been to the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, a garden spot among many garden spots in the golden state. All of us have read just about everything Steinbeck has written and we talk about the great author and his influence on American thinking from time to time, though these days I’m sure there are those among us in America who’d consider Steinbeck a communist or Marxist or traitor, which some did consider him back in the 1930s and 40s.

Mike, in his mid 70s, decided to treat the professor and myself by taking his sleek Jaguar, and, since I am the oldest, when Mike pulled up in front of my place the prof decided to give me the shotgun seat, a sacrifice I clearly deserved and was thankful for, since back seats have always made me car sick and I fretted over having to sit back there.

It was a semi overcast day. The hills were still green and glorious. The prof and I were both profoundly impressed by the smooth ride in the super deluxe Jag, and especially myself, a Luddite not used to any measure of luxury in my 78 years and proud of it.

The conversation is always easy among this crew, and we gabbled and yakked and continually lost trains of thought and names of places and people and events. We are all to the point where we have accepted our semi feeble-mindedness and memory loss in stride.

One thing we all agreed on as the vastness of grape vines lingered on and on and on–to our rights and lefts along Highway 101–was that these vineyards were stealing water when there wasn’t enough water. Who the hell could afford these vineyards and why were they allowed to grow in the first place? And who was drinking all this wine?

“People with enough money to lose money on a hobby they can brag about among fellow multimillionaires and billionaires,” I was told. In other words, a status symbol. Or a passion?

Mike had mentioned a Mexican cafe in King City, another garden spot, and so we were all prepared to indulge in one of the few exciting highlights remaining in our lives—good eats! Entering the splendid outskirts of King City, where small tracts of homes remind one of an army base full of barracks, we discussed Mexican restaurants in Soledad and Salinas and were disappointed the one Mike had researched in KC as exceptional was closed.

But there were many Mexican cafes along the main drag in KC and we found one that seemed to be the seafood capitol of the Salinas Valley, and were more than pleased that our shrimp dishes were absolutely delicious!

Afterwards, Mike stopped at a little coffee/pastry headquarters and it was here that I realized, as I slowly creaked and groaned removing myself from the front seat, that the prof, though a few years younger than me, took a split second longer to extract his decrepit being from the back seat–TAKE THAT!

There was some confusion in Salinas, where traffic is thick with too many veggie-toting trucks slowing things down, but after some bungling around we found a parking lot and entered the Steinbeck museum, and after that we were different people.

My worship of Steinbeck humbles me to the core. He, more than anybody, influenced my thinking. While an anti-intellectual jock in high school, my mother began force feeding me Steinbeck’s books, and everything changed. She started me out with “Tortilla Flat” and “Cannery Row” and “Of Mice and Men” because she realized I wasn’t quite ready for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden,” but after I read these three I was hungry for everything the man wrote, and it set forth in me a passionate and uninterrupted reading binge of over 60 years.

And I wanted to be a writer instead of a professional baseball player, which I could have been. And I wanted to be a writer who found humanity in those who seemingly don’t count, or are compromised by our system, which is demanding and for some people overwhelming.

I had been to the museum before. It is much larger and improved since I was last in it back in the mid 2000s. But it was wonderful to be reunited with Steinbeck’s roots and causes as well as his beautiful, simple writing, with quotes from his books on walls throughout.

I remembered two, from “Cannery Row,” that, among others, still stood out— from the main character Doc, who was really Steinbeck’s best friend, Ed Ricketts, observing the so-called bums who had nearly destroyed his biology lab upon returning with bags of frogs while he was down south collecting specimens. They were disconsolate men who just could not quite get over the hump in our capitalistic society and characterized (especially in today’s America) as “homeless losers.” And now they had “screwed up” again, betraying Doc, whom they adored and wanted to help.

Doc said, “Look at them. They are your true philosophers. I think,” he went on, “that Mac and the boys know everything that has happened in the world and possibly everything that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls, but Mac and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them something else.”

Later on: “It has always seemed strange to me,” said Doc, “the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

And then: “Who wants to be good if he has to be hungry too?” asks Richard Frost.

On the way back, bellies filled and minds renewed, the professor said, “It’s time to reread Steinbeck.”

Amen to that.


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fred athey

from a geezer in atascadero THANK YOU – amazing how so much of your story

relates to my personal central coast ( and Mississippi ) life experiences…..

my father introduced me to Steinbeck – we were part of the Grapes of Wrath

generation…..he was a southern Iowa coal miner – proud to be called a laborer.

on my visits to the Steinbeck museum I sensed that extra deference was bestowed on

the Farm/Ranch owners generally beyond how Steinbeck portrayed them……

by the way the Mexican cafe in KC was – great. ( circa 2010…..)


Adam Trask

“It’s time to reread Steinbeck.” Amen!