Clay's Steinbeck Journal • March 4th, 2017
Nothing quite like the dawn flight. I never sleep well before a dawn flight, because I am pretty sure that I am going to sleep through it. This has never happened, and though I am not in the very highest echelon of frequent flyers, I have more than a million miles (and a trophy) on United, and I’m up there on several others. When you fly all the time you learn some flying etiquette.
When I first moved back to Bismarck, ND, I refused to stand in the premier access lines, because North Dakota is (has been) one of the most egalitarian places in America, and I felt self-conscious, as if I were getting “too big for my britches” (also true). Now after a decade and much longer airport lines, I move carefully into the premier lines, as if to say, “I know, I’m just in compliance here, please don’t judge me.” But today not one but three economy line couples militantly shouldered past me to the airline desk, even though the clerk motioned me over with her eyes. I did not have the mojo to do the challenge: “Excuse me, but I think I was first.” This can be done meekly. This can be done roaring like a lion, or dripping with righteous sarcasm. I just took it, and they glowered at me as they surged forward. I wanted to say, “Hey, do you know how much #@$#@ flying you have to do to earn this puny little perk?” But I just looked straight ahead and made no fuss. There is a certain liberation when the testosterone levels diminish.
Off to California. What took the Joads many weeks, during which two of their family died and two others drifted off to seek private destinies, I will do in five or six hours. But if I blow a cylinder, it’s the Big Sleep, not a quasi-comic scene in a greasy roadside garage.
I wish I could say like Grandpa that when I get to fabled California I’m gonna get me a big barrel of grapes and just squoosh them all over my face and let the juice run down my chin and chest, but I am more likely to order a sauvignon blanc at the lodge bar, and sip it as it were kryptonite. On the first leg of this flight, I’ll try to read Travels with Charley (I’m just reaching Chicago with Rocinante), but given the short night I will probably doze off in that bobble head way, which is so annoying to everyone involved.
I haven’t been to Steinbeck country for about ten years. The last time I went it was the vile Halls, my friends from Reno, and on that journey I had the opportunity to interview the novelist Jane Smiley, who did everything but smile. We were paying her a fortune to talk about the creative process. She was haughty, ungenerous, tight. Why? I loved her 1000 Acres. We were there to honor her literary insights. But authors—you know what Steinbeck says about authors.
They are calling my flight. We’ll see if I get to board in the first group!