The first stop was Salinas, a town I have passed through many times – as many others have – but never stopped in. Salinas has a struggling, quaint little “historic” downtown that takes about 20 minutes to walk around, but which has recently gotten a boost from the National Steinbeck Center, which opened a few years ago. I didn’t venture into the museum itself – let’s face it, writers’ lives are spent at typewriters and are not all that interesting. But I did wander down to the Steinbeck House, a few blocks away.
John Steinbeck and the Red Hat Ladies
This is the house where John Steinbeck came up. It’s a lovely old two-storey Queen Anne Victorian, built in 1897. It is now a restaurant with a funny little gift shop in the basement. It is, of course, an E Clampus Vitus literary landmark. Satisfactory!
Among the other bric-a-brac and books in the gift shop, I noticed a table full of ladies' hats, all red. I asked the chatty shop-keeper if Mrs. Steinbeck – that is, the author’s mother – used to wear a red hat...
Then I got an education. The red hats, she said, are for the “Red Hat Ladies…”
“The what?” I asked.
The Red Hat Society, she explained, is a club for women over the age of 50. Most of them are empty-nesters, widows, divorcees, etc. – basically women who have lived respectable lives who now just want to get out and have a little fun with the other gals. Their signature is that they all wear red hats.
Evidently, the Steinbeck House is a common stop for Red Hat Society tour busses, probably because Oprah Winfrey brought her show there back on 2003. In a sense, they’re kind of like the Clampers for women. I heartily approve. Go Red Hat Ladies! Still, it makes you wonder what ol’ Steinbeck would have thought…
On a mission from God
After buying some fresh cherries from a roadside stand, I proceeded southward to San Luis Obispo. I’ve been there before. My Pops took his journalism degree at Cal Poly and I have all kinds of pals from there. It is a lovely town with a delightful little river walk along San Luis Creek. Of course, I had to visit the historic Mission San Luis Obispo, built in 1772.
The mission is named for Saint Louis the Bishop, or Saint Louis of Toulouse, a French nobleman of the 13th century. I am hard pressed to understand exactly why he was canonized, but there it is. “Bishop’s Peak,” a lovely hill that was once an ancient volcano, is one of the town’s anchoring landmarks.
Detail from inside the Mission at San Luis Obispo
San Luis Creek River Walk, San Luis Obispo, California
The flower garden at the Madonna Inn
The Gold Rush Steak House at the Madonna Inn
One of the local crazy ladies and her parakeet in downtown SLO
Hearst Castle front porch
Hearst Castle north belltower. Get your damned head out of my shot.
Guest house at Hearst Castle, with a copy of Donatello's David on top of the fountain
Diving platform in the indoor pool
The ceiling of the "refectory" at Hearst Castle. The panels came from a 14th century church wall, which is why their heads are all leaning to the right.
My first ever pic of a California quail. They're usually too quick to capture on pixels. Also at the Botanical Gardens in SLO.