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Quotes from Travels With Charley In Search of America

Quotes from Travels with Charlie

Quotes from Travels with Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck.


A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has a personality a temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

Memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir.

A projected journey spawns advisors in schools.

I was told that a stranger’s purpose in moving about the country might cause inquiry or even suspicion. For this reason I racked a shotgun, two rifles, and a couple of fishing rods in my truck, for it is my experience that if a man is going hunting or fishing his purpose is understood or even applauded.

A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers.

The best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost.

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation — a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited.

I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.

Labor Day approached, the day of truth when millions of kids would be back in school and tens of millions of parents would be off the highways. I was prepared to set out as soon after that as possible.

I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly slow reluctance to leave the stage.

And now submarines are armed with mass murder, our silly only way of deterring mass murder.

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. The gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.

Lord! I wish I could go.
Don’t you like it here?
Sure. It’s all right, but I wish I could go.
You don’t even know where I’m going.
I don’t care. I’d like to go anywhere.

American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash.

The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index.

There’s a gentility on the road. A direct or personal question is out of bounds. But this is simple good manners anywhere in the world.

People aren’t talking. I think this might be the secretest election we ever had. People just won’t put out an opinion.

I soon discovered that if a wayfaring stranger wishes to eavesdrop on a local population the places for him to slip in and hold his peace are bars and churches… A good alternative is the roadside restaurant where men gather for breakfast before going to work or going hunting.

The customers were folded over their coffee like ferns.

The best learning came on the morning radio, which I learned to love. Every town of a few thousand people has its station, and I take the place of the old local newspaper. Bargains and trades announced, social doings, prices of commodities, messages.

I think today if we forbade our illiterate children to touch the wonderful things of our literature, perhaps they might steal them and find secret joy.

A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.

I wonder if future heroes will be carved in marble jeeps or patrol cars?

Don’t ever ask directions of a Maine native. I was told
Why ever not?
Somehow we think it’s funny to misdirect people and we don’t smile when we do it, but we laugh inwardly. It is our nature.

Oh, we can populate the dark with secret horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh.

There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.

Let us say we wanted to walk the streets of Mexico City but not at random. We would choose some article most certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.

Everything in the world must have design or the human mind rejects it. But in addition it must have purpose or the human conscience shies away from it.

And I am sure that, as all pendulums reverse their swing, so eventually will the swollen cities rupture like dehiscent wombs and disperse their children back to the countryside. This prophecy is underwritten by the tendency of the rich to do this already. Where the rich lead, the poor will follow, or try to.

So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes report only a weary evening world.

I am an avid reader of all signs, and I find that in the historical markers the prose of statehood reaches its glorious best, and most lyric. I have further established, at least to my own satisfaction, that those states with the shortest histories and the least world-shaking events have the most historical markers.

How the myth wipes out the fact.

I admire all nations and hate all governments.

I guess this is why I hate governments, all governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by the fine-print men. There’s nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.

Truckers cruise over the surface of the nation without being apart of it.

The great get-together symbol is the cup of coffee. I found I often stopped for coffee, not because I wanted it but for a rest and a change from the unrolling highway.

Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient the is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else.

Communication must destroy localness by a slow, inevitable process.

Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days.

It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bride in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better.

Years ago when I used to work in the woods, it was said of lumber men that they did their logging in the whorehouse and their sex in the woods.

There seemed to be no cure for loneliness except being alone.

Having a companion fixes you in time and that the present, but when the quality of aloneness settles down, past, present, and future all flows together. A memory, a present event, and a forecast all equally present.

A man with nothing to say has no words. Can its reverse be true—a man who has no one to say anything to has no words as he has no need for words?

Only through imitation do we develop toward originality.

Good Lord, the trails we leave!

At the roadsides I never had a really good dinner or a really bad breakfast.

Can I then say that America has put cleanliness first, at the expense of taste?

If this people has so atrophied its taste buds as to find tasteless food not only acceptable but desirable, what of the emotional life of the nation?

To my certain knowledge, many people conceal experiences for fear of ridicule. How many people have seen or heard or felt something which so outraged their sense of what should be that the whole thing was brushed quickly away like dirt under a rug?

It is my opinion that we enclose and celebrate the freaks of our nation and of our civilization. Yellowstone National Park is not more representative of America than is Disneyland.

The American tendency in travel. One goes, not so much to see but to tell afterward.

When one has been long at sea, the smell of land reaches far out to greet one. And the same is true when one has been long inland.

I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.

When a city begins to grow and spread outward, from the edges, the center of which was once its glory is in a sense abandoned to time. Then the buildings grow dark and a kind of decay sets in; poorer people move in as the rents fall, and small fringe businesses take the place of once flowering establishments. The district is still too good to tear down and too outmoded to be desirable. Besides, all the energy has flowed out to the new developments, to the semi-rural supermarkets, the outdoor movies, new houses with wide lawns and stucco schools where children are confirmed in their illiteracy. The old port with narrow streets and cobbled surfaces, smoke-grimed, goes into a period of desolation inhabited at night by the vague ruins of men, the lotus eaters who struggle daily toward unconsciousness by way of raw alcohol. Nearly every city I know has such a dying mother of violence and despair where at night the brightness of the street lamps is sucked away and policemen walk in pairs. And then one day perhaps the city returns and rips out the sores and builds a monument to the past.

We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.

I have never resisted change, even when it has been called progress, and yet I felt resentment toward the strangers swamping what I thought of as my country with noise and clutter and the inevitable rings of junk. And of course these new people will resent the newer people.

Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous.

It is strange and perhaps fortunate that when one’s time grows nearer one’s interest in it flags as death becomes a fact rather than a pageantry.

I discovered long ago in collecting and classifying marine animals that what I found was closely intermeshed with how I felt at the moment. External reality has a way of being no so external after all.

From start to finish I found no strangers.

If I were to prepare one immaculately inspected generality it would be this: For all our enormous geographic range, for all our sectionalism, for all interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation.

This journey had been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning.

And always there are mysteries in the desert, stories told and retold of secret places in the desert mountains where surviving clans from an older era wait to reemerge.

There is nourishment in the desert for myth, but myth must somewhere have its roots in reality.

In all ages, rich, energetic, and successful nations, when they have carved out their place in the world, have felt the hunger for art, for culture, even for learning and beauty.

In the world’s history, artists have always been drawn where they are welcome and well treated.

There is absolutely nothing to take the place of a good man.

Coffee has a special taste of a frosty morning, and the third cup is as good as the first.

When people are engaged in something they are not proud of, they do not welcome witnesses.

Sometimes fatigue can be a stimulant and compulsion.


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