Cannery Row: The Back story
This article is the first in a series of entertaining posts about one loafer’s trip to Monterey California.
There was a bit of a problem. I had just checked into a hotel and, for the first time since flying into California the day before to attend a business meeting, had opened my suitcase. I expected to see an assortment of sport shirts, khakis, a swim suit—the usual loafing attire. Instead, I was staring at a pile of what I’ll choose to call “lingerie”—frilly brassieres, lacy panties, sheer negligees, fishnet stockings—all with “Victoria’s Secret” tags and a receipt dated earlier in the week. This would have been perfect if I had come to Monterey to dance at a strip club, work at an escort service or if I was, at least, a female. However, none of those three applied. I poked through the suitcase. Underneath the provocative undies were a handful of, shall we say, “toys.” Apparently, judging by the rest of the contents, my wife had planned to show me just how appreciative she was about my taking her to Monterey.
Monterey is a small city on California’s Pacific coast. Beautiful place. Bright, blue, Pacific waves crashing into sheer, rocky cliffs. Beautiful people, successful people, convertible-driving people, jewelry-wearing people.
Monterey has a rich history. It was home to, among other things, California’s first theatre, first public library and first newspaper. More importantly to my wife and I, though, it is also the site of the famous Monterey Jazz Festival—the longest running jazz festival in existence. The Monterey festival was first held in 1958 with a lineup that included—among other household names—Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday. For years we had dreamed of attending and finally, this year, things fell into place. It had taken no small amount of wrangling, but I had managed to secure two tickets to the festival and a room at the nearby, romantic “Old Monterey Inn.”
The Old Monterey Inn is a a beautiful English-Tudor mansion that is now being run as a bed and breakfast. It was built in 1929 by Carmel Martin, Sr.—Monterey’s first mayor. The inn has nine bedrooms and, for those who want their privacy, a standalone cottage separate from the main building. Best of all, it is walking distance to Fisherman’s Wharf and just a couple of miles from the fairgrounds where the jazz festival would be held that weekend.
At the moment, though, I was not at the inn, but in a cheap hotel. Our reservation didn’t start until Friday and today was only Thursday morning. My wife, along with the suitcase she had packed for me two days earlier, were still at home and not scheduled to join me in Monterey until tonight. I had all day to do whatever I wanted.
There’s a lot to do in Monterey. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the first marine facility to ever successfully keep a great white shark in captivity. The centerpiece of the aquarium is the Kelp Forest exhibit. They also host the “Open Sea Galleries”—a group of enormous tanks (the largest holds 1.2 million gallons) which mimics the open ocean environment.
Monterey is also a prime location for whale watching, ocean kayaking and sport fishing. Several golf courses are scattered throughout the area, along with numerous locations for day hikes and the Monterey Museum of Art.
Fun though all this might sound, I had a specific destination in mind. I’ve always been an avid reader and have a huge list of “favorite” books. Near the top of that list is John Steinbeck’s classic, fatalistic, character study Cannery Row.
Steinbeck was born in Salinas, CA (about 20 miles from Monterey) and lived much of his life near the real Cannery Row. The novel focuses on a number of down-and-out characters living among the sardine canning factories which were once plentiful in the area. Nowadays, Cannery Row is part of Fisherman’s Wharf—a tourist attraction hosting bars, restaurants, gift shops, etc. Not exactly “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream” as Steinbeck described it in the novel’s opening line. Still, I wasn’t about to spend the whole weekend in Monterey without going to the site of the novel to commune with the literary ghosts of Doc, Mack and Lee Chong. I was confident I’d find some spark of Cannery Row’s original personality hidden beneath all the glitz and tourism.
The only problem was that I was reasonably sure that I would look just a tad out of place if I showed up in a corset, garter belt and spiked heels—even if they did match. Outside it was already in the nineties and humid. There was no way I could wear the business suit while strolling through town. I poked through the suitcase a bit more and found some of my wife’s more conventional tops and shorts. One of her t-shirts was a little larger than the rest. A “medium.” It was still too small for me and my gut, but it was better than all her “smalls” or “extra smalls.” It was a pastel-blue in color and had a picture of a cute kitty across the front. “What the hell,” I thought, “it’ll do.” I put it on. It stretched pretty tight across my manly (i.e. fat) torso but at least it didn’t rip.
I found a pair of her old, faded, red, spandex, workout shorts. They were no larger than the rest of her stuff, but the spandex was stretchy. It took a minute, but I finally managed to squeeze into them. Unfortunately, her flip-flops and sandals wouldn’t go on past my instep and I wasn’t about to attempt the bright red, spikey high-heels, which left me with the black wingtips I usually wore only with the business suit.
The bathroom mirror only showed me from the mid-torso up, but it didn’t seem all that bad. “It works,” I thought. “Hell, this is California after all. They’re used to this sort of thing out here.” Besides, my real suitcase would be along in just a few hours