2. My Traveling Companions

Steinbeck had Charlie and I had Georgia, two very different animals. Georgia was a cat, a domestic short hair with tabby markings. As cats go she was rather attractive. Her markings were very distinct and well placed with the exception of her nose which was intended to be black on a white face but the great printer in the sky misregistered it slightly off to her left.

Georgia was small, female, and tended to be rather timid. She was given to me by a neighbor who got her from a farm near Chico, California. Apparently she was born into a wild state and really wasn’t exposed to domestic surroundings until she was about three months old, and that was about her age when she came to me. Georgia’s full name was Georgia O’Kitty which is appropriate for an art league cat, but she didn’t know that. She did, however, know “Georgia” quite well. Her first three months must have set a pattern for her personality as she was generally not comfortable around people, except for me to whom she was devoted. She followed me around so much that a number of my associates referred to her as “Rob’s Shadow.” A few others she would tolerate, but I was the only one who could touch her at length, and even then she tended to wince when- ever I reached out for her. When this trip started she was about six years old. In a way, Georgia’s personality characteristics were unfortunate because she was a working cat. She worked at the Pacific Art League of Palo Alto monitoring classes and reviewing shows in the galleries. About a thousand members frequented these premises and large numbers of the general public passed through. It would have been nice to have a friendly cat under such circumstances. The members were generally frustrated by her total lack of receptiveness to being touched. She had become known variously as “that snotty cat” or “that anti-social cat.”

Georgia O'Kitty

Georgia O

One saving grace she did possess was her playfulness. She liked to play tag and would chase and fetch something if it was thrown, especially the wire off a champagne bottle, her favorite toy.

Georgia was not a total stranger to travel. From the time she was quite small she had occasionally accompanied my friend, Evie Wilson and me to Aptos where Evie had a beach house perched high on a cliff overlooking Monterey Bay. She had made that particular trip enough times that car travel was not a particularly unnerving experience for her as it is for most cats. However, she only knew two places in the world, the Art League or “here” and the Aptos beach house . . .  “there.” Life was fairly simple. When the car came to a stop and the engine was shut off, you were either “here” or “there.”

Georgia was particularly fond of going to the beach house where she was allowed to roam around freely. It was a much more varied and interesting environment, from a cat’s point of view, than the sterile old Art League building where she didn’t even get fleas. Whenever I took her out to the alley and put her in my van, I could tell she was excited and pleased because she knew where she was headed.

Consequently, the first stop on my trip north was something of a shock for Georgia. The van came to a halt in the dunes near Bodega Bay. The engine was shut off just as it always was. The side door slid open and Georgia jumped down confidently on to the . . . sand! “Wait a minute!” I could almost hear her gasp as her eyes darted about. “This is neither ‘here’ nor ‘there!’” She whirled around, leaped back into the van, scurried to the front and crouched underneath the brake and clutch pedals. After about an hour her curiosity got the better of her and she worked her way to the open door where she sat studying this “third” place with nervous excitement. It wasn’t until the following day, however, that she ventured out about six feet from the door.

As the trip progressed and a fourth and fifth place were added to Georgia’s world, she became bolder and more confident. By the end of a week, she was anticipating each new stop and ranging farther and farther afield. If there were two people in the car, Georgia always rode on my lap. If she and I were the only occupants, she would spend about half the time on my lap and half in the passenger’s seat. When she was on my lap she typically sat or stood with her front paws on my left thigh and her back paws on my right thigh. On a winding road, Georgia did a little dance. If I went around a curve to the right, she would shift one hind paw to my left thigh and then shift it back again when the road curved in the other direction. In addition, when I needed to work the clutch and brake pedals at the same time, her front and hind quarters would move up and down with my knees. Visualize that if you can: one two, up down, three four, up down, etc. Care to dance?

Transportation and living accommodations for this trip were provided courtesy of my van, a 1985 VW camper with a pop top. The Germans had been building this type of vehicle for some time and what had evolved kept getting better. I previously owned a 1972 model of this line and my 1985 version was superior in every way. It was large enough to serve as a small living unit, but small enough to be practical as an everyday car. It included a small refrigerator that ran on AC, DC, or propane. Also included was a small sink with an electric pump, a two-burner propane stove, and lots of cleverly designed storage space. The fiberglass top could be raised and was hinged on one end with canvas sides. This provided full head room inside as well as an upper berth for two. The relatively small size of this camper allowed me to take it places you wouldn’t dare take a large Winnebago. The engine was water-cooled, making it quieter than the old air-cooled models. The lines were pleasing and went well with the overall impression of studied German efficiency. All in all, I was quite pleased with this traveling companion.

The fourth member of our party was none other than the Sun itself. It was traveling north as it usually does at that time of year and we fell right in step with the rhythm of its march. The Sun didn’t always show its face, but we were increasingly conscious of its vital presence. To a large degree it set the tone for the whole journey.

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Sunday, September 6th, 2009 Chapters 1 — 10

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