Down the Coast and Cannery Row, Again

by solunabirds

I’m currently in Austin, the city I love the most in the world. I thought it would be difficult to say farewell to my journey, but stopping at Austin has provided me a comforting sense of closure. More on this later, but first, I’m going to attempt to catch up on some of this blogging backlog.

On the third day of my stay in Steinbeck Country, I headed to Carmel-by-the-Sea, mainly because it would have made no sense for me not to go. Since I didn’t have anything I wanted to see in Carmel, I just stopped at A. W. Shucks for lunch and walked down the street for some window shopping. I hadn’t meant to buy anything, but a store that advertised fine pens and stationery was too enticing for me to avoid. I went in, and came out a half hour later with a few letter writing sets and a pad of paper from the oldest paper mill in Europe. I did manage to resist the temptation of purchasing this ~$170 calligraphy pen that, now that I am reminded of its exquisite beauty, I almost regret not buying. After this ordeal, I hurried back to my car to protect my bank account from any more pillaging.

After Carmel, I took a trip down the 17-Mile Drive. This stretch of road lines the coast of Monterey, cutting its way through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove. One of my coworkers had told me that there is a few-years-long waiting list of really affluent people for the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and I thought it was ridiculous until I saw just how picturesque and amazing it was. I’m not into golf, but driving past that golf course made me wish that I was. On the other side of the golf course lies the Pacific Ocean, its waves lapping and kicking against the rocky shoreline. I saw sea lions, countless sea birds, and the proud Monterey Cypress trees (including the Lone Cypress). I even saw an artist who had set up her easel and colors and was painting a section of this shoreline. I only drove past, but what I saw from her canvas looked beautiful. I hope she thought the same!

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in Cannery Row. Before I visited the actual street, I walked a little bit up the hill to a bookstore I had seen the day before. The bookstore was in a tall, peach-colored building with “BOOKS” painted in bold, vertical letters down its side. I thought it was strange that the bookstore was called “Books”, but strangeness attracts me, so I went in. The moment I entered the building, I realized two things. First, I realized that I had accidentally entered through the back entrance and was therefore mistaken in my assumption that the bookstore was called “Books”; it is actually called BookBuyers Monterey. Second, I realized that this was the coolest secondhand bookstore I had ever seen in my life.

An aside: the coolest bookstore I have ever seen in my life is the BookPeople, in which I sit right now as I type this entry.

Anyway, what made this bookstore so special was that the walls were lined from end to end with books – literally. From the floor to the ceiling, books hugged each other in neat rows. Books were packed together so tightly that were was rarely any empty space in between. Every wall was filled with books. Shelves, so tall that I could not even reach the tops of them, wound through the bookstore like a labyrinth. The space between the shelves is only enough for one person to fit through at a time. I wanted to lose myself in the maze of books, to smell the aroma of old pages until I could memorize the scent. I meandered through these shelves until I reluctantly pulled myself away. I purchased two books to mark the occasion: one by Alfred Bester, the other by Fred Saberhagen.

Once I left the bookstore, I walked down to Cannery Row and found the Pacific Biological Laboratories, which was Ed Ricketts’ old science lab back in the day. He and Steinbeck had spent a great many hours here discussing science, literature, and philosophy. Ed Ricketts was Steinbeck’s best friend, and Steinbeck had based many of his fictional characters on Ed. I think it’s lovely when lifelong friendships like this can exist.

After some more time wandering the street, I squeezed between two buildings and found myself in the beach. I took off my shoes and buried my feet in the sand. The pale sand was coarse and flecked with shells and darker pebbles. I stood there for a long while, just gazing toward the coast and the rest of the bay. I wanted to capture the entire moment, but the best I could do was take out a bottle from my bag and fill it with Monterey sand.

I ate dinner at the Cannery Row Brewing Company. I sat in the corner of the outdoor patio next to the fire pit, which gave me a gorgeous view of the sunset over Cannery Row. As I sipped on my coke and ate my fish and chips, I felt content. I had a perfect seat with a perfect view, basking in the perfect sunset with the most perfectly chilled breeze dancing around me. I reread some lines from the prologue from Cannery Row, which I’ll reproduce below:

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream… How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise– the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream– be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will on to a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book– to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

Well, he did it. He captured the essence of Cannery Row in the best vessel he knew – his words. I strive to do the same. One day, I’ll be able to capture the things I love best with words of my own. Until I find the right ones, I’ll keep right on dreaming, loving, and living.