In high school, books by John Steinbeck were assigned reading: The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl and The Red Pony. I loved those books. Now that I’m getting ready to retire, it’s time to read Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Steinbeck wrote that book while traveling across the country in a pickup with a camper accompanied by his dog Charley.
Next month, I intend to do what Steinbeck did, except I’ll call my trip, “Travels with Guapo,” my faithful dog whose name, in Spanish, means “good-looking”.
Guapo has been my constant companion ever since I rescued him from a grocery store parking lot where he had been abandoned for over a week. He has been forever grateful and is looking forward to this roadtrip as much as I am.
Steinbeck wrote Travels with Charley late in his career. Though published in 1962, he was troubled by issues similar to those that weigh on us today. Technological advances were rapidly changing the American way of life, the populace was politically divided and racial tensions ran high.
Like Steinbeck, I, too, will find myself pensive on my drive across America. When I stop to eat, I’ll wonder how many of the kids at the McDonald’s have a dad who lives at home with them. And, as always, my heart will break each time I pass a family farm no longer in operation.
One issue that Steinbeck did not address—but which troubles me—is the declining role of religion in society. On my trip, I’ll be swinging by a shuttered seminary that I once attended and offering Mass in some half-empty convents.
I suppose such rumination is part of growing old. Fortunately, I’ll have a good friend at my side who likes to smile and wag his tail.
Guapo will remind me to look for the good things in life, things like kindness, sunshine and roadside creeks in which to take a dip. Not to mention the satisfaction of a scratch behind the ear.
In the Bible, when Tobiah and the archangel, Raphael, set off down the road, God sent a dog to join them on their journey.
Now I know why.