"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." John Steinbeck opened his novel Cannery Row with these words. At that time, Cannery Row was just that -- a street lined with canneries grinding throughout the day as the fishing boats hauled in their daily sardine catches. The street was originally named Hovden Way after one of the more successful cannery owners. Shortly after the Second World War came along, the canneries stopped. The sardines in the Monterey Bay had been fished to their limit. When asked where they had all gone, Ed Ricketts, patron saint of the Row, replied, "In the cans, I suppose."

Cannery Row has a certain deep significance for me. Steinbeck is my favorite author and Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday are my two favorite books (Sweet Thursday being just a bit better, in my opinion). Doc Ricketts, the character based on Steinbeck's best friend, is my favorite literary character, one whom I admire and, to some extent, try to emulate.

I've been down the row dozens of times as a child, tracing the footsteps of the characters I have come to love. It may sound odd to be so involved with a book of fiction, but Steinbeck based his characters upon real people who had lived among the canneries, honkytonks, flophouses and brothels. Many of the places he wrote about still exist on the row. Ricketts' lab is still intact and is periodically opened for public tours. The old Wing Chong grocery store now houses a couple of gift shops, but has changed little otherwise.

Many of the old canneries have been converted into tacky little gift shops or outlet stores. Two notable exceptions are the Hovden Cannery, which now houses the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Edgewater Packing Company, which is now home to a small arcade and carousel. The Edgewater -- known as the "Bilgewater" by some of the local teens -- Was probably a neat little attraction in its heyday. I remember as a child riding the carousel and visiting the second floor shops, which included a toy store and novelty company. Today, the shops have been replaced by a laser tag arcade, but some of the old-fashioned games are still there.

Perhaps the most disturbing of these is the chicken tic-tac-toe game. A live rooster is kept in a glass-front cage with about two square feet of floor space. You are invited to drop 50 cents into the slot to "Match Wits with the Doctor." Now, I've never actually done it (I'm morally torn about the whole thing), but the way I think it works is there's a small booth where I believe food is dropped. As the chicken plucks at the food, the machine itself plays tic-tac-toe with you, not the rooster. It only looks like he's playing. But, like I say, I don't know for sure. Regardless, I'm surprised that, in the 20 years I've been going to the Edgewater, the Animal Liberation League hasn't come in to rescue the poor guy. I'm not passing any judgement on anyone here, mind you, it just seems like a cause they could get into.

Travel Points:

  • The Monterey Bay is located along the California coastline. You can get there via Highway 1 (which will also take you along Big Sur, another little slice of Eden) or by going through Salinas off of Highway 101 (just follow the signs). Once in Monterey, follow the signs to the downtown area. You'll go under a tunnel and pass the Presidio and the Naval Institute of Languages. Follow the signs to Cannery Row and park the car, this is a good place for a walking tour.

  • Don't forget to catch the Monterey Bay Aquarium while you're there. It's $11.95 for youths, seniors and students and $14.95 for adults. The Outer Bay exhibit is simply breathtaking and their sunfish and sea turtle are big favorites among many of the visitors, as are the playful sea otters. There's also tide pools where you can pick up star fish and pet sea cucumbers as well as a pool of bat rays where visitors are invited to pet the animals. Bring the kids on this one, they'll have a blast.

  • I tend to make friends wherever I go. The last time I was in Cannery Row I got my pictures developed at the Fox Photo in Steinbeck Plaza (near the T.G.I. Friday's) where Annette helped me a great deal with my photo technique. The only time I mention places of business in these pages is when I think folks should go out and patronize them. Annette is the kind of employee that makes a business good, so if you happen to see her, tell her I said hi. And look through the photo album while you're there. If you visited my Arizona page, you may recognize a picture of mine that Annette asked to keep. Talk about an ego stroke.

Got a good travel idea for Rob? Want more information about one of these spots? Let Him Know!

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