John Barleycorn HTML version
So I left Benicia, where John Barleycorn had nearly got me, and ranged wider afield in
pursuit of the whisper from the back of life to come and find. And wherever I ranged, the
way lay along alcohol-drenched roads. Men still congregated in saloons. They were the
poor-man's clubs, and they were the only clubs to which I had access. I could get
acquainted in saloons. I could go into a saloon and talk with any man. In the strange
towns and cities I wandered through, the only place for me to go was the saloon. I was no
longer a stranger in any town the moment I had entered a saloon.
And right here let me break in with experiences no later than last year. I harnessed four
horses to a light trap, took Charmian along, and drove for three months and a half over
the wildest mountain parts of California and Oregon. Each morning I did my regular
day's work of writing fiction. That completed, I drove on through the middle of the day
and the afternoon to the next stop. But the irregularity of occurrence of stopping-places,
coupled with widely varying road conditions, made it necessary to plan, the day before,
each day's drive and my work. I must know when I was to start driving in order to start
writing in time to finish my day's output. Thus, on occasion, when the drive was to be
long, I would be up and at my writing by five in the morning. On easier driving days I
might not start writing till nine o'clock.
But how to plan? As soon as I arrived in a town, and put the horses up, on the way from
the stable to the hotel I dropped into the saloons. First thing, a drink--oh, I wanted the
drink, but also it must not be forgotten that, because of wanting to know things, it was in
this very way I had learned to want a drink. Well, the first thing, a drink. "Have
something yourself," to the barkeeper. And then, as we drink, my opening query about
roads and stopping-places on ahead.
"Let me see," the barkeeper will say, "there's the road across Tarwater Divide. That used
to be good. I was over it three years ago. But it was blocked this spring. Say, I'll tell you
what. I'll ask Jerry----" And the barkeeper turns and addresses some man sitting at a table
or leaning against the bar farther along, and who may be Jerry, or Tom, or Bill. "Say,
Jerry, how about the Tarwater road? You was down to Wilkins last week."
And while Bill or Jerry or Tom is beginning to unlimber his thinking and speaking
apparatus, I suggest that he join us in the drink. Then discussions arise about the
advisability of this road or that, what the best stopping-places may be, what running time
I may expect to make, where the best trout streams are, and so forth, in which other men
join, and which are punctuated with more drinks.
Two or three more saloons, and I accumulate a warm jingle and come pretty close to
knowing everybody in town, all about the town, and a fair deal about the surrounding
country. I know the lawyers, editors, business men, local politicians, and the visiting
ranchers, hunters, and miners, so that by evening, when Charmian and I stroll down the