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A long, crooked road

There a lot of days when I feel like my life gets worse as soon as I go past my mailbox and enter the larger world.

Many, many days.

It makes me not want to go any further than our local diner, or talk to anyone I wouldn’t ordinarily meet there.

It’s not just seeing people. It’s the four-hour drive to and from the airport, it’s airport security, it’s jet lag, it’s rental car companies trying to sell me GPS for $16.95 a day when I’m holding a cell phone with Google maps.

On the other hand, I always learn so much when I travel. My feet drag on the way from the house to the garage, but once I get past the bomb detector at the airport, my steps lighten considerably.

We headed to the Monterey Peninsula last week, for no better reasons than the temperature was forty degrees warmer and we got cheap plane tickets to San Jose. It’s just a bonus that you can get good sea food and it’s where John Steinbeck lived. I wanted to eat calamari within the sound of the ocean and drive a crooked road to Big Sur. I wanted seafood that hadn’t been shipped 1,000 miles, and while it can be convenient to live in a place where you can drive fifty miles without turning the steering wheel, sometimes a little variety adds spice.

As usual, what I thought I’d learn and what I did learn were two completely different things. For instance, on this trip I learned a round of golf at Pebble Beach costs over $500, salmon fishermen use 19 strand steel fishing line, and you can actually buy squid steaks.

I also learned something I should have already known or at the least, could’ve learned from my recliner.

We were in the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas and I was reading about a book I didn’t really like very much - sorry, John - namely, “East of Eden.”

I read it a long time ago and apparently missed the main point. Once again, sorry, John.

The theme of the book revolves around the Hebrew word “timshel.” Here’s the short version. The American Standard translation of the Bible orders mankind to triumph over evil; the King James version says man shall vanquish sin. But in the original Hebrew the quote is, “Thou mayest.”

That changes everything. We have a choice. It isn’t a sure thing; it isn’t something done on command.

I’ve always liked Steinbeck. He’s one of my favorite authors, other than that whole “East of Eden” thing. He grew up working on sugar beet farms, and even though he went to a good college, he left before he got a degree. His book, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was banned in many places and particularly disliked by rich people, which makes me like it even more. He worked as a war correspondent during WWII, but he’d often forget his role and pick up a gun himself. He returned home with some significant wounds. In his book, “Travels with Charley,” Steinbeck returned to Monterey and realized that the farmhand teenager he had been wouldn’t be welcome there now. He died when he was about the age I am now. That means I’ve outlived both Hemingway and Steinbeck, not to mention Dylan Thomas and Lord Byron.

Back to my point - or Steinbeck’s. In my experience, things don’t just work out…we make them work out. Sometimes we fail or choose poorly, and that’s what makes the effort all the more important.

The road is there. Which way we turn is up to us.

Thanks, John.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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