There is no stink, no grating noise anymore, but the sea lions still lounge on the rocks of the breakwater near the Coast Guard station, weaving their fat brown necks from side to side and croaking hoarsely at the incoming tide, and there is still a strange quality to the morning light reflected from the gray-white walls of the empty canneries. The wires from weathered old telephone poles are crisscrossed against the pale sky, the air smells of salt and the seagulls perched on the ridgepoles screech, awaiting the day's first refuse from the restaurant kitchens.
The best way to dispel ghosts in Monterey County is to drive inland. Stop in Castroville (The Artichoke Center of the World) and have a fine, dollar breakfast at Bing's Diner, which until 1948 was a trolley car on Arlington Avenue in Berkeley and now has pink tieback curtains in its windows. Or dry the fog-chill from your bones in the sunbaked Salinas Valley. A hundred miles long and 10 miles across, the Salinas is the topographic and economic backbone of Monterey County. Its history can be read in its crops—first, grazing for cattle, then, with irrigation, alfalfa, barley and sugar beets, and, finally, with refrigerated transportation, lettuce, "the green gold of the Salinas," three crops of it a year. You remember the valley. It is where James Dean and Julie Harris cavorted in the ice house. The town of Salinas at the northern end of the valley was 4,000 souls in the days of East of Eden. Now it is a light industrial, subdivided and mobile-housed city of 60,000, and still growing.
When Steinbeck reached the Salinas, his birthplace, during his Travels with Charley, he found that "what it is is warped with memory of what it was," and so he did one last sentimental thing before fleeing eastward. He climbed to the top of Fr�mont Peak, the highest point in the gold-brown Gabilans. From there, looking south, he could see the length of his long valley and, looking north, the blue of Monterey Bay. From that height nothing had changed, or ever would.
As he remarked to his companion: "In the spring, Charley, when the valley is carpeted with blue lupines like a flowery sea, there's the smell of heaven up here, the smell of heaven."