I visited Monterey’s Cannery Row yesterday and was disheartened by the presence of a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a Steinbeck Jewelry Store, and more t-shirt, fudge, and novelty sock shops …there were two Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light Galleries. It was no different from any aggressively terrible tourist trap experience — Times Square or Key West come to mind — except this one was founded on the basis of a fine book by a Nobel Prize winner in literature.
John Steinbeck is one of my favorite American writers, a man who gave voice to a place (Cannery Row and Salinas) and its people with great heart and insight. While someone had the foresight to erect a bronze bust of the man on the dock near an overpriced seafood restaurant, and hang some street pole banners quoting his work, I shuffled down the sidewalks a bit ashamed of the dreck and materialism of a place made plastic from the shells of some old smelly sardine canneries. What would Doc Ricketts have made of the scene? He would have been pleased by the world renowned Aquarium (which I passed on due to the amazing crush of infants and toddlers and other ankle-biters) but little else.
It was with some irony that I read online that Steinbeck had turned his back on Monterey in disgust in 1945, a year after buying a home there:
“1944 – Bought his childhood dream house in Monterey (Lara-Soto Adobe), first son Thom was born August 2; harassed by the local people because of his success and the books he wrote.
1945 – An unhappy Steinbeck leaves Monterey to help film “The Pearl”; moved to New York, never returning to the house he bought.”
Given that The Grapes of Wrath were burned in his hometown of Salinas, and Steinbeck’s books are consistently the most banned in America, it should be a surprise that Monterey turned on him as well. Still, the t-shirt sellers and fudge makers are doing well by dropping his good name.