>Off to Steinbeck Country

>Tomorrow I’m heading south for the East of Eden conference hosted by California Writers Club. I’ll be teaching classes on freelancing for newspapers and magazine article writing. The conference has a John Steinbeck theme, with visits to the Steinbeck home, a banquet at the Steinbeck Center, and a field trip to Monterey to see the sites featured in Cannery Row.

I’ll be leaving the misty coastal forest of Oregon for the golden hills where I started my career oh so long ago. Although I interned and worked part-time at the Milpitas Post during college, my first full-time newspaper job was at the Gilroy Dispatch. I was the feature writer covering the small nearby town of Morgan Hill. It was the kind of place where you bellied up to the lunch counter and everyone knew who you were, where ranchers welcomed you in for long talks over apple pie or artists invited you into their studios for rambling interviews fueled by red wine. Sometimes dogs surrounded my old VW bug, barking so fiercely I was afraid to get out. Cows and horses dotted the landscape, along with ancient oaks.

In those days, we worked on manual typewriters, and I developed my photos in the darkroom. I had just started learning how to do it and often had to go back out with a Polaroid camera at the last minute when my photos came out too light, too dark, or too blurry. The Dispatch was a Monday-Wednesday-Friday paper then. Now it’s a daily, all computerized. The editor, who seemed old to me then but was probably younger than I am now, was a cranky British woman who didn’t seem too pleased that the publisher had hired this young semi-competent 23-year-old with long hair, mini skirts and a hippie car. I made a big $400 a month. Imagine.

I didn’t stay very long. I was spending all my money keeping my car alive for the long commute from San Jose down the two-lane highway known as “Blood Alley.” But I remember fondly the people and the small towns that are now suburban extensions of Silicon Valley. And I look forward to heading back to the golden hills where it all began.

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