On Cannery Row, Steinbeck’s words bounce off synthetic signs screaming “The Best Seafood in Monterey” and barely avoid mirror-mazed kids, high on salt-water taffy. Through Fly McFly’s sports bar the words tiptoe along big screens showing Giant games. They ride the sniff of fries past swollen bellies through the open door to the shore. On beaches, waves conduct a background symphony. The words ride bareback on dusty crests and assume a vantage point over the town that Steinbeck once made immortal when he wrote “Cannery Row”.
The town may now inspire a different kind of poetry, but the words Steinbeck first wrote in 1954 still resound through the town, or at least they did for me. I think Cannery Row has one of the best openings to any book; it’s these words in particular that I found ricocheting around my brain as I wandered around.
“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. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen” and he would have meant the same thing.” – Steinbeck.