Monday, March 16, 2009
The Origin of Charley
Where from came Charley? From John Steinbeck and his non-fiction book Travels with Charley. Charley is the black standard poodle in the above illustration from the book jacket in one of its many publication runs.
I chanced upon Charley and Steinbeck in the train station in Los Angeles on my first ill fated trip to the west coast. It was semester break of my sophomore year and five of us coeds had piled in Penny's Buick convertible and set off on the 17 hour drive to the coast. Well, it should be about 22 hours but this was before radar and at night. But the poor stressed Buick blew a con-rod and cracked the block in Kingman, Arizona. Heart of Goldwater country during the presidential campaign.
We all accessed our available funds. We were college kids! And decided to hitch hike from there. It was the middle of a General Motors strike so months before the Buick, towed to the dealership there, would be fixed. And it is probably why, Charley, my particular Charley was out driving west in his brand new Buick convertible. He was an interior designer for General Motors with time on his hands. And away from his mother.
He was a perfect gentleman and much thrilled with the company. He escorted us to dinner in Vegas and a little gambling, and a tour of Hoover Dam as we made our way west depositing some of us in towns along the way. Penny and I he dropped at Union Station where we called her mother to tell her we had come in on the train.
I was perusing the gift shop as we waited for her to make it from Laguna Beach and there it was - the book that altered my life: John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. My parents raised poodles so I just had to have the book. It would launch me on a mission to read everyone of his books, do my spring term English paper on his work, and eventually name every one of my computers Charley. I am typing this on Charley V.
That was probably one of my first major sidetracks. And one I will never forget.