John Steinbeck’s Gathering Places and This Year’s Presidential Campaign

Image of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Iowa

If you follow presidential campaigns, as John Steinbeck did after writing Cannery Row, you’ve probably noticed that candidates like being photographed with regular folks in places where locals gather to meet, talk, and exchange ideas. Coffee shops are a prime example of the phenomenon. In my work with communities facing disruptive change, I seek out these “gathering places,” which exist everywhere—a habit resulting from my long reading of John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s life and writing are full of local gathering places, beginning with his Cannery Row fiction, set in California. They include the coffee shop on Long Island where he met with old timers when he lived in Sag Harbor, the setting for The Winter of Our Discontent, his last novel. As the recent photo of Hillary Clinton in Iowa shows, this year’s presidential campaign is being played out in informal gathering places where “winter” and “discontent” often seem synonymous.

Cover image of Ed Larsh's book about Doc's lab

My personal gathering-place journey began 25 years ago with the writing of Doc’s Lab: Myths and Legends of Cannery Row by the late Monterey resident and Cannery Row expert Ed Larsh, a member of the second-owner group that bought Doc’s lab after Steinbeck died. During the phase of research in which I was involved, I discovered a vibrant gathering place in Carmel, California, the town south of Monterey where John Steinbeck spent time at various stages in his California career. What I learned there helped me understand the social ecology of Steinbeck’s gathering places, knowledge that I have applied in my continuing work as a consultant to government and business clients seeking public support (like political candidates) for their plans and aspirations.

Image of Gus Arriola and Eldon Dedini

Gus Arriola and Eldon Dedini

The Pine: Gathering Place for Carmel, California’s Artists

Carmel, California has always had its share of artists, writers, and characters. Two of the most colorful—the syndicated cartoonist Gus Arriola (“Gordo”) and the New Yorker-Playboy cartoonist Eldon Dedini—were part of the Cannery Row circle that Ed Larsh and I needed to interview for Ed’s book about Cannery Row. In those days, if you wanted to meet Gus or Eldon you didn’t make arrangements by phone. Instead, you ventured to the Carmel post office, a gathering place with a storied past, and to The Pine, a coffee shop located a short walk away.

If you wanted to meet Gus or Eldon, you didn’t make arrangements by phone. Instead, you ventured to the Carmel post office, a gathering place with a storied past, and to The Pine, a coffee shop located a short walk away.

Early in the history of Carmel—a bohemian community almost from the beginning—residents decided that houses wouldn’t have street numbers and that mail would be picked up rather than delivered. The Carmel post office became the village center, and a famous gathering place was born. Eldon and Gus would walk to the post office to get their mail at noon, then head for the coffee shop attached to Il Fornaio Restaurant, not far from the nearby Pine Inn. I would show up at the post office at noon, catch Eldon and Gus, and go have coffee where they and their friends gathered—an efficient system that saved the time and trouble of trying to make an appointment, with the added benefit of introducing me to other locals who became part of my network in Carmel.

Early in the history of Carmel, residents decided that houses wouldn’t have street numbers and that mail would be picked up rather than delivered.

Except for a smattering of Carmelites who weren’t artists and tourists staying at the Pine Inn, the coffee shop was sparsely occupied before noon. Starting at 12:00 the pace accelerated, as artists and writers arrived and the tables filled.  An outsider, I wondered why people gathered for morning coffee so late in the day; like candidates in presidential campaigns, I usually I go for coffee early in the morning to catch locals I need to meet in new places during the course of my work. Eldon’s answer to my question about Carmel, California’s unusual noontime coffee habit made sense. “It’s foggy and cool here in the mornings,” he explained, “so we artists work in our studios first thing. Once the sun burns off the fog, it’s time to go and get the mail and catch up on the news.”  If I wanted to see writers and artists, the best time to go for coffee was 1:00 p.m.

Except for a smattering of Carmelites who weren’t artists and tourists from the Pine Inn, the coffee shop was sparsely occupied before noon. Starting at 12:00 the pace accelerated, as artists and writers arrived and the tables filled.

There is a family-like routine in such places, and Carmel was no exception. Special people had special seats at The Pine, which can be entered from the bar area of Il Fornaio or through a side door from one of Carmel’s charming hidden walkways. R. Wright Campbell, author of the book Where Pigeons Go to Die (made into a movie by Michael Landon), occupied a position along the wall right next to the main entrance. It was his seat at The Pines until he passed away in 2000. Today, an autographed photo of Campbell hangs on the wall above his table, with a plaque bearing his name. Like families, gathering places often honor members with such signs of affection after they’re gone.

There is a family-like routine in such places, and Carmel was no exception. Special people had special seats at The Pine, which can be entered from the bar or through a side door from one of Carmel’s charming hidden walkways.

Most days, Wright would hold court for a couple of hours starting at 1:00. Other writers would join in, too, talking about their projects, offering words of encouragement, and reflecting sympathetically on the problems of publication in a way familiar to John Steinbeck. The advice given and received in this informal gathering of writers would have cost money if provided in a more formal setting, and it came with a valuable support system. Like similar places in Steinbeck’s fiction—notably Doc’s lab in Cannery Row—there was no agenda, no schedule, and no pecking order beyond the respect shown to longevity on the scene. People dropped in, hung out, and interacted, plotting and strategizing together. It was democratic, organic, and free.

Like similar places in Steinbeck’s fiction—notably Doc’s lab in Cannery Row—there was no agenda, no schedule, and no pecking order beyond the respect shown to longevity on the scene.

But there’s a process for accepting new arrivals into the informal networks of most gathering places, and one was observed at The Pine, where newcomers sat at a large round table in the middle of the room—a neutral area—rather than running the risk of taking a regular’s seat at one of the booths. From the chair I occupied at the middle table I could watch and hear the group gathered around Wright Campbell. From time to time I would offer a respectful comment from the edge of the action; after several visits, they made room for me at one of the tables assigned by custom to regulars. Eldon and Gus had vouched for me, and I was in. As Eldon put it, I had become “part of the myth.”

Image of Judith Deim's portrait of John Steinbeck

Presidential Campaigns Miss the Point of Gathering Places

The gathering places described in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row fiction—like the coffee shop he frequented in Sag Harbor, New York, and the one I discovered in Carmel, California— represent epicenters of an informal culture around which people learn from, care for, and communicate with one another spontaneously. They do so without rehearsal, regimentation, or self-consciousness, developing mutual trust over time. Candidates dropping in along the presidential campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire may be tolerated at coffee shops, but they never really belong because their presence violates this principle. John Steinbeck understood the inviolable nature of gathering places from experience. I learned much from reading his Cannery Row fiction, and from my own experience in Carmel, California. Today, I have Steinbeck to thank for the core concept that continues to inform my work in communities throughout America: the enduring social ecology of gathering places like Doc’s lab on Cannery Row, the Carmel, California post office, and the coffee shop known as The Pine.

(To learn more about how gathering places can be used to solve major community issues, read about an example in Colorado.)

James Kent About James Kent

James A. Kent is a consultant and writer about social ecology and John Steinbeck who was featured in the book Doc’s Lab: Myth & Legends of Cannery Row by the late Ed B. Larsh. His pioneering application of Steinbeck’s insights into social ecology includes work with the International Right of Way Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University.


  1. Place matters! What a joy to see a piece that connects the thinking that goes into literature with the thinking that should go into great community building.

  2. Steve Hauk says:

    Great piece. I remember Gus and Eldon holding court behind the little bar in Ricketts’ Lab on Cannery Row. Coffee was not the beverage being served there, but then it was usually evening. They mixed drinks for guests and chatted happily. They were very confortable with each other. I mentiond this once to Jim: The happiest I ever saw either was when their art had been accepted by major archives: Eldon’s by Ohio State, Gus’s – a few years later – by Cal’s Bancroft Library. Eldon was telling friends on a Carmel street, Dolores if I remember correctly. Maybe he was on his way to coffee at the Pine. Gus announced his work going to the Bancroft at the Lab; he and his lovely wife Frances were elated. Both Eldon and Gus were near the end of their lives; knowing their art was going to be preserved had to be a great relief and joy to them.

    • Steve Hauk is a writer and art expert in Pacific Grove, California.

    • “…..and a great relief and joy for all of us.” Thanks Steve. When we were writing Docs Lab we were in the lab for updates with the folks who were in the book. I have some great pictures of Eldon doing just that, serving those present with the spirits of their choosing. He was the first to point out a photo at the end to the bar, ocean side, of the second lab group. There were “Xs” over the members who had passed on. At that time over two-thirds were gone. The picture was another way of honoring the members and to bring back stories about them as Eldon served and stories flowed. There were ghosts in that lab and we all knew it and appreciated it. For all of us it is important to have our work recognized and honored. Eldon and Gus, two of the best, their work now in perpetuity. Does not get any better than that.

      • Steve Hauk says:

        Ghosts, no doubt. There was something heady about the place, as if you’d had a glass of the finest wine before you had one. It was in the air. I know of one other place that had that feeling, the Gottardo Piazzoni Ranch in Carmel Valley, where people such as Armin Hansen and Diego Rivera and Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange had gathered in the 1920s and `30s, so maybe it’s that – these amazing people leave an aura. I remember hearing a story that a high school English teacher took her students on a tour to the Lab and, she proclaimed, “The next day they all wrote brilliant papers, the best they’d ever done.”

        • I can tell you that writing Docs Lab in the Lab was phenomenal. I could not wait to get there each day and just absorb. I never knew of Gottardo Piazzoni Ranch in Carmel Valley, Sounds like the same energy field from the participants. Is the Ranch still there? Would love to visit it or just drive by. Leon Penetta lives out that way. There is something else about the Lab. Its dimensions seem to have some sort of magic as to gatherings there. The Lab had more people per inch at their parties than any other place of that size, but everyone seemed to fit and be able to participate. Amazing.

          • Steve Hauk says:

            The Piazzoni ranch is still there, but way off the beaten path. Gottardo Piazzoni was a great artist, numbering people such as Chaplin and the great deaf-mute artist Granville Redmond among his friends. The ranch was originally a goat dairy ranch. Piazzoni was also a good friend of Armin Hansen, the giant (6-5 or so) and great Monterey artist Armin Hansen. Hansen was also a friend of Steinbeck’s so I assume Steinbeck and Piazzoni knew each other, or at least of each other. I got into this because I wrote a play on the relationship of Chaplin, Redmond and Piazzoni, “The Floating Hat.’. Many of the skits Chaplin did on screen, such as the Dance of the Oceanic Rolls, were inspired by Redmond. Piazzoni introduced them.

  3. Wes Stillwagon says:

    Jim Kent contacted me after reading my C. G. Jungpage ( article about Jung, Steinbeck, and Steinbeck’s concept of phalanx. After correspondence and phone calls, we agreed to meet in Monterey a few decades ago much to my delight. I was a Steinbeck fan and well read in the works of Swiss Psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. About ten years previous, I realized the connection between the Swiss psychiatrist and the American writer.
    On our walk back to our motel rooms in Monterey, I was literally blown away with Jim Kent’s quite casual description of predictable gathering place roles. I never heard of such a thing previous and my mind clamped on the concept. I thought about my training team simulation exercises and recalled how the small group s formed into bodies with individuals taking on roles as Jim described. I thought what a great advantage it would have been if I had known Jim and his ideas prior to developing such courseware.
    In this article, Jim emphasizes how informality is at the heart of his concept, “…Like similar places in Steinbeck’s fiction—notably Doc’s lab in Cannery Row—there was no agenda, no schedule, and no pecking order beyond the respect shown to longevity on the scene. People dropped in, hung out, and interacted, plotting and strategizing together. It was democratic, organic, and free.” Being a Jungian, I know that the gathering places Jim describes were, by observation, apparently free of guided structure or guiding force, they were not free of an unconscious social influence. And understanding this gives considerable advantage to the observer.
    “There was little visible connection between La Ida’s, the Bear Flag, the grocery (still known as Lee Chong’s Heavenly Flower Grocery), the Palace Flop house, and Western Biological Laboratories. The fact is that each was bound by gossamer threads of steel to all the others— hurt one, and you aroused vengeance in all. Let sadness come to one, and all wept.”

    In spite of appearances otherwise, as Steinbeck/Ricketts pointed out, we are all connected and the connection exists long before our apparently informal or accidental meeting. The f.act is patently true even in the seemingly accidental social occurrences. There is plenty of scientific evidence to back up what I am preaching. Just think of the advantages if one could utilize this knowledge during the observation of casual gatherings.
    In reflecting on my team building instructional experiences, I know now that particular types tend to gravitate to certain gathering place roles. It is no accident that Jim’s description of Ed Ricketts (an Introverted Sensation/Feeling type with perception dominating) in the “Caretaker” role is identical to that of Joe Rochefort, (also an Introverted Sensation/Feeling Type with perception dominating) US Navy cryptologist whose team, cracked JN-25 Navy code during World War II. Knowing how to predict such role taking or style and then using the knowledge to plan what inspires or turns off such an individual would speed up process over one built upon an assumption of complete chance, wouldn’t it?
    I am suggesting a shift in perspective here – a back off from viewing a gathering having no-predetermined structure or guiding force to one that takes advantage of Jung’s Collective Unconscious and Steinbeck’s phalanx concepts.
    Wes Stillwagon
    Lillington, NC.

    • As usual Wes you have captured a total meaning of Steinbeck’s writings and humanistic underpinnings. What you have written here would be a good presentation at the Center for Steinbeck Studies conference in May. We could do that.

      • Wes Stillwagon says:

        We could indeed and will introduce the very interesting and useful conceptual tools at the conference. Thanks for your kind words.

  4. As a boy, I remember going to gathering places with my Dad. He was a bread man and would travel to all these rural cafes and bars. He knew everybody and they knew him. He always stopped to greet others and chat for a few minutes. Dad was a quiet guy at home so this part of his personality fascinated me. Some of these folks would give him amazing Christmas gifts like a box of oranges etc. He told me once that in his work he couldn’t just make a delivery and go, he had to stop and talk. Dad gave me early instruction on going slow in gathering places so conversation could build.
    As a community organizer, I came to see the importance of gathering places. In one downtrodden neighborhood, every time we helped somebody improve their situation, they’d leave the neighborhood–get out. We could never get traction in getting to thresholds that would change the underlying situation. I finally realized that the neighborhood had no gathering places. One barbershop used by suburbanites and a grocery store. People had limited ways of getting to know each other and they had few enduring ties in that area.
    I thank Jim Kent (and John Steinbeck) for his excellent insights that give a structure to very subtle human situations. He is right on the mark.

    • Thanks Kevin. Your story brought back memories of the general store called Merdink and Willits in Watts Flats, New York. This was the gathering place for the farmers after the morning chores. There was a big old furnace in one end of the store where everyone sat around and talked stories. As a youngster I was fascinated with the stories and learned about farming from all of their wisdom. One of the stories that made an impression was about Farmer Dean who had just bought that new fandangled John Deere tractor with “V” wheel in front. The old timers had nothing good to say about the John Deere and how it as built. The consenscious was that it was dangerous, not fit to use, etc.
      Just about the time the old timers were adjusting to Farmer Deans stories about how great the John Deere was-it tipped over!! Well that did it for John Deeres in Watts Flats for a long time. Thinking back after discovering gathering places from John Steinbeck it was the essential place for survival information to be exchanged, assistance given with not hooks attached, and compassion built for the indivdual whatever the u

      • what ever the quirks. Each individual was equal as I later learned. Much stuck with me from those early days that have become a part of our social ecology theory.

  5. Gary Severson says:

    I have been involved in community issues management all of my career. From public school desegregation to industrial facilities siting and permitting, and from impacts of vacation homes on rural mountain communities to public lands management, knowledge of community gathering places proved to be invaluable. Community gathering places prove that there is no such thing as a communications vacuum. As trusted friends gather day after day, whether in a coffee shop or the back of a hardware store, many topics are discussed and opinions formed, usually injected with lots of humor. There is no shortage of opinion. If a person is fortunate enough to be accepted into these informal networks in their gathering places, and if you carefully listen, you can hear the concerns and issues of the community pulsing through the conversations. Not everything that is discussed is factual or correct, but it is trusted to a high degree because the ones who are sharing information are trusted. I learned the importance of community gathering places from Jim Kent nearly 45 years ago, and I have applied that knowledge to all of my work in communities. It is truly grassroots democracy at its finest.

    • Thanks Gary. Gary was in the US Forest Service when I first met him and was an early adapter of the methods that I had extracted from John Steinbeck’s writings from informal networks to gathering places to informal community archetypes to understanding the phalanx. What emerged from our work together was a nationally recognized concept called: Socially Responsive Management (SRM). JKA taught SRM to 100s of District Rangers and regional and national staff changing the face of the US Forest Service from a top down bureaucracy to a bottom up democracy with fully engaged citizens in decision making.

      • Gary Severson says:

        I was working in a town in the panhandle of Nebraska and learned the rhythms and patterns of that community. There were several informal networks in that town and each had their own gathering place and time of gathering. The first group met in the back of Patterson’s Hardware store on Main Street at 7:00 AM before the store opened. The second group met at the Longhorn Cafe at 10:00 in the morning, and yet a third met in the afternoon at a diner on the highway. You didn’t need to wear a watch, you knew what time it was by which pickup trucks were parked where. Coffee was the fuel of those groups that met at the same times and locations Monday through Friday. Old Milwaukee beer was the drink of choice for the groups that met in the evenings at the bowling alley or the golf course restaurant. Each informal network was made up of different people, yet they were all connected. People tended to sit in the same chairs from one day to the next, there was an air of equality and the the groups were democratic, without ever mentioning that word. However, if you really listened, it was easy to identify who the respected people were who helped the group form their opinions about various topics. There was never a vote taken regarding differing opinions, but when certain individuals spoke, the others seemed to to accept that position and the opinion was solidified. It was a fascinating process to watch.

        • “Each informal network was made up of different people, yet they were all connected” Gary Severson. As Steinbeck pointed out about informal networks in Sweet Thursday: “Everyone here is bound by gossamer threads of steel!” That is the connection that you were seeing Gary. Informal networks are like webs that operate horizontally “threads of steel” tie them together, unnoticed by the untrained eye. Furthermore as you state, “There was never a vote taken regarding differing opinions, but when certain people spoke, the others seemed to accept that position and the opinion was solidified.” Ed Ricketts was a caretaker and a communicator within the informal networks and he was one that when he did speak his opinion had weight beyond other individuals. It did not take away from the others but it was recognized as different.

  6. Tom Baker says:

    Jim’s article about gathering places brought to mind a situation that Jim helped me with…It was the early 1990’s in Aspen, CO. I was recently hired as the Director of Housing for the city and county. The organization, which build affordable housing, was under heavy criticism in many parts of the community for creating projects that undermine community. Jim and I talked about how to approach this new job and he explained that the criticism being express in political meeting and the media were themes and not actionable. He said that I needed to understand what the were the issues around affordable housing and that issues were something one could address. Jim suggested that I listen and talk directly to community members and the best way to accomplish that was by hanging out in gathering places – find out what people think about affordable housing and the housing office. Jim suggested that I take the first three weeks of my new job and dedicate myself to going to gathering places and listening. I did what Jim suggested…I hung out in gathering places, listened, ask clarifying questions, became acquainted with some of the informal leaders in the community and eventually sought their advice by bringing ideas back to the gathering place for vetting. Jim taught me how to see and understand the value of informal networks; how to access and honor those networks and how to make the informal networks part of the development of public policy.

    This is one story about Jim teaching me about community. I have dozens of stories like this over the past 30 years. Thank you Jim, you changed my life.

    • Thank you Tom it has been a wonderful trip of discovery and growth for both of us. I remember that event well. And I also remember the folks that hired you had no idea why you were not spending your first three weeks on the job in the office sifting through those important papers that nobody reads anyways. So you went to the gathering places, learned how the informal networks worked, how they communicated and made decisions and built your Aspen Housing career on insuring that the people were taken care of instead of the bureaucracy. To this day people still talk about your horizontal management system. For the readers to learn a bit more I have attached a hot link to an article you wrote that explains what you learned and how it was applied in this incident.

      • Tom Baker says:

        Yes, Heart and Soul. Those were good times. As you know, I continue to use the principles you taught me over the years and am a better public servant for it. I know you, Rick and Leroy have things moving in a very positive direction in Basalt and wish you continued success.

  7. As a senior associate of James Kent Associates over the past four decades, I have participated in many of its projects, and from time to time, as the project manager. Some additions and many refinements have been added to the repertoire of JKA’s tools and skills over the years, but the importance of the Gathering Place has been there since the beginning. One of the Gathering Places in the following project discussed was somewhat unusual—something like a “Time-Share” or a “Sequential Gathering Place.” Everyone went there, but … just not at the same time.
    Colorado’s Pitkin County contains both the Town of Aspen and the nearby Town of Snowmass—both offering world-class skiing and a mix of entertaining, summer programs. There had been steady growth in annual visitations and in the local, year-round population for decades. The growth in residential and commercial buildings had reached a stage where the ability to supply electricity during peak periods was threatened. By 2002, it was becoming increasingly possible that an electrical outage could occur during the peak season—the Christmas holiday period. The entire skiing region in Pitkin County was serviced by a single substation located in Aspen. If a transformer in that substation failed, it might take months to replace it. A second substation was needed in the Town of Snowmass, as well as a high-voltage transmission line that would connect it to the substation in Aspen.

    Holy Cross Energy is the local provider of electricity. It is a member-owned co-op with (then) 48,000 customer/owners in the western Colorado counties of Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield. It had been stymied for years in attempting to convince the Town of Snowmass to make two decisions: where to locate a new substation and what route would be chosen to construct the near-7-mile, 115 kV transmission line to the new substation.

    The Town of Snowmass, unlike Aspen, is not located on the valley floor; it is at the end of a road that twists and turns uphill along Brush Creek for about 7 miles. It is not surprising that it had been difficult for local leaders to agree on a 2-acre site for an ugly substation. Land is expensive and scarce in and around the town. Secondly, the new substation would have to be connected by an electrical transmission line on dozens of 100+ feet tall towers that most likely would be placed alongside the entry road that leads up from the valley floor. This twisting, entry road runs through a beautiful natural corridor with only a few old ranch buildings along its way up to the Town center. It is a pleasant, nearly-pristine experience to arrive in the Town of Snowmass.

    Because of its reputation for assisting clients involved in complex-approval processes, James Kent Associates was chosen by Holy Cross Energy (HCE) to guide both the formal approval process and the informal community organization work. The senior managers of Holy Cross Energy had long labored designing alternative plans—for siting the substation and for the routes of the overhead transmission lines. As a co-op, where its customers are the owners, it really tries to work with its customers and to help them select the best plan when changes need to be made. As an electrical distributor, it actually doesn’t have to be stalled by citizen opposition because under state law it has the power of eminent domain. It can acquire Right-of-Way if it offers just compensation for the land. However, it tries to maintain the goodwill of its customer/owners who elect board members every couple of years.

    One of the issues HCE managers correctly foresaw was that the Town of Snowmass customers would never approve the overhead transmission line. HCE had buried many lines in and around the Town; it correctly expected that the residents would want them to bury this line, too. However, HCE had never buried a transmission line before—only distribution lines—the ones with much lower voltage that deliver electricity from a nearby transformer on a pole or in a box to a residence or a commercial building. This type of line-burying had been made available to everyone in the HCE Service Area and was considered to be an improvement to the entire system—not just to the local users. (Note: “Transmission Lines” connect substations only. They do not connect to residences or commercial buildings because of the high voltage. “Distribution Lines” connect residences and commercial buildings to a substation.)

    However, burying a 7-mile transmission line for cosmetic reasons would cost upwards of an estimated $7.8 million dollars additional over the cost of stringing it on poles. HCE’s policies indicated that that type of a shared cost would be unfair to all of the other customers outside of the Town of Snowmass area if they were made responsible for its cost. The initial estimate was that the $7.8 million could be paid for by the residents of the Town of Snowmass service area by increasing the existing electricity rates an additional 15% for 33 years to retire the requisite bonds.

    Ski town start as small towns. Over time they grow, but in the early years, the settlers usually are people who start a business or help manage one. Because of their small size, they are often called upon to perform necessary public duties for the common good—especially in that period before local government is expanded to provide community services. Watching Colorado ski towns grow over the years has reminded me of the European Burghers of the Middle Ages. Following is a brief description of Burghers from the Medeltiden web site:
    “The citizens who lived in the towns made a living either from trade or from craft. A person who wanted to go into business as a merchant or a craftsman had to ask for permission. If there was a demand for his wares or his craft, he could set up business. He had to have a home in town and he had to have two men testify that he was a reliable man. After becoming a citizen of the town, he could set up business.
    “As a citizen, he could be elected a member of the Council, thereby gaining the right to have his say at the Council meetings. He also had to do his duty as a night-watch and fire-guard. The citizen also had an obligation to take part in the defense of the town.”
    During the early days when the Town of Snowmass was still a small town, these business owners, these precious few, this band-of-brothers-like group was the volunteer fire department, the Chamber of Commerce conducting promotional events, the elected council members after incorporation, the leaders of their churches, and the organizers for fund raising when a special charitable need arose. There still were survivors from the early days. We set out to enlist their help.
    Depending on the type of work they have chosen, and their individual personalities, JKA has found that these business owner/managers tended also to be the community prototypes that JKA seeks out as it conduct their scoping work in a community, i.e., Caretakers, Communicators, Authenticators, Historians, Story Tellers, Bridgers, Gate Keepers and Opportunists.

    We began our field work by hanging out in a few of the restaurants, bars, and Laundromats—to the extent that we found them to be gathering places. We already knew some of the residents from previous work in the area, but in large part we find out about whom to see through a nomination process when we ask for the name of someone else we could call. Often these referrals would wind up over a kitchen table.

    Another part of the effort was with groups. One group, of which there were many members, Realtors®, was especially supportive of the alternative to bury the transmission line.

    Enough background! At that time Snowmass had only one gas station. The station also had automotive repair and rescue/towing services—a very helpful resource during snow storms and blizzards. Its owner/partner ran the Conoco Station. He listened to JKA’s telling of our client’s explanation of the need, the risk of inaction, the alternatives, and the estimates of cost for choosing the best option, i.e., burying the high-voltage cable alongside the Brush Creek Road.

    Further, he agreed to help JKA by suggesting to his friends (as they visited the gas station) that they should have a quick cup of coffee with me inside and listen to the story about these major public issues. Over the course of several months, I would hang out at the station a couple of times a week for 3 or 4 hours each time. He had a small waiting room for his customers while their cars were being serviced. It was furnished with a coin-operated coffee machine, a few upholstered chairs, and a small card table with two folding chairs. All of this was helpful in that we needed to show several maps and aerial photographs while discussing the pros and cons of the alternatives and what they would cost. Sometimes he would stay after introducing me to hear the story again and join in with his comments.

    It has some parallels to Jim Kent being invited to join the “regular’s booths” at the Pine Inn. We both were being introduced to the locals by a Caretaker. It’s just that here they came in one at a time. In both cases, we were able to learn more about citizens’ attitudes toward a major public issue and report that back to our client and we were able to offer some advice on a way to address that issue.

    Indeed, by the time the town council was ready to vote on these issues, most of the citizenry were already in support of burying the cable and paying for it. Political risk of supporting higher utility costs had been lessened. A place for the new substation had been found near the Town’s cemetery. It was not the usual outdoor substation; however, rather, it was a very modern, high-tech Gas Insulated System (GIS) whose transformers could be housed in a building; it looks like a barn—a very nice one.
    The new substation and its buried transmission line were energized in December of 2005.A more comprehensive review of this project is contained in an article by Jim Kent posted at the JKA web site:

    • This was a project John Steinbeck would have been proud of. All informal networking in the face of formal opposition to the new Base Village that was being proposed which was a virtual fire storm of citizen anger. We went underneath the formal groups anger and worked with the informal networks in each of 3 villages. I remember when we started with Holy Cross Energy the Chief of Engineering made a statement to us “I had hoped to retire before we had to take on the Snowmass Project. Now that same engineer proudly represents the $10 million dollar savings and the delivery of the project withing 2 years instead of 15 if ever.

  8. Just this week my friend Jim Levitt took me to Original Joe’s in San Jose for lunch. OJ’s is a classic wood paneled steakhouse with a bar at the back, a meeting room upstairs, and a maitre d’ in a black bowtie. Jim told me it hasn’t changed in fifty years. His father, who owned a record store in downtown San Jose where John and Carol Steinbeck used to shop, ate lunch two or three times a week at OJ’s. When Jim’s dad returned from WWII, he and his Rotary Club friends decided that it was time to clean up San Jose. One of them took on the job of zoning out the brothels, another took on City Hall. Jim’s dad’s job was to clean up the police department. There were two political bosses at the time, and both of them hung out at Original Joe’s, so that’s where Jim’s dad and his friends concentrated their cleanup campaign. Is it possible that Original Joe’s helped broker the peaceful transition of power away from the bosses? I don’t know this part of the story, but I like to imagine that instead of deposing and humiliating the old bosses, Mr. Levitt and his friends just put them out to pasture in the back bar of OJ’s.

    • What a great story Nick. I like your question: “Is it possible that Original Joe’s helped broker the peaceful transition of power away from the bosses?” From my work with gathering places, Original Joe’s would have served that purpose. While action was taken in the formal systems, Jim’s dad and his friends understood that in their gathering place everyone was equal and they could have face to face conversations not based on positions, or influence or ideology as informal settings, but based on common themes, interests and issues about San Jose and the people. Discussions would have taken place around the edges and steadly moved towards a common interest. The Rotary Club operated as a safe formal group networked out of Original Joe’s to begin to implement their changes without raising conflict. It is very much like the networks Steinbeck discusses in the Moon is Down. There is just something about a gathering place like Original Joe’s that levels the playing field for common discussions on the most important topics without polarizing the conversation or the personalities. Eventually common “threads of gossamer steel” tie the networks all together and you have action, a phalanx, without conflict. You put folks out to pasture instead of having to destroy them in a formal battle or they destroy you. For Steinbeck to have gone there three times a week there was something that he saw and experienced that drew him in. You can bet he was in on the discussions.

      When I come out for our meeting at the Center for Steinbeck Studies towards the end of February I will have to go to Original Joe’s to hang out and find the ghosts of Jim’s dad and have a chat.

  9. Wes Stillwagon says:

    At the core, Steinbeck’s fictional characters were developed based upon his keen observation and his excellent scientific and systematic understanding of individual psychology. His systematic and practical understanding would lend itself to diagramming, schematizing, clear communication, and behavior prediction. It would also lend itself to predicting interpersonal dynamics and the assumption of network roles. It is the clear demonstration of a scientific psychology generally lacking in today’s academic curriculum. Steinbeck repeatedly demonstrated that an individual may be unconsciously and profoundly influenced by his or her social network and likewise he or she may unconsciously influence the network’s individuals as well as the interpersonal dynamics;

    By combining Steinbeck’s practical application of Jung’s analytical psychology Individuals may be classified by their psychological functional type, habitual or default attitude, and adult maturity. Once individual type is known, it may be used to predict roles natural to the network. A complete scientific diagramming is impossible without such a conceptual system.

    An individual’s interpersonal perspective, the peephole through which they build a perception of events and other individuals is profoundly altered or shaped based upon the individual’s style that includes their functional type attitudinal type and adult maturity.

    For instance, consider the relationship between John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. Steinbeck was an introverted sensing thinker with perception dominating, a quality that would lend itself perfectly to a non-teleological thinker, and Ed Ricketts, an introverted sensing feeler also with perception dominating, who would favor non-teleological thinking. Since they were both introverts neither would be threatened by the others more reflective style and the delay in reaction one would not experience with extraverts.

    Since Ricketts was the more congenial of the two; more willing to take interpersonal risks it served the more withdrawn Steombeck to remain within ear shot of Ricketts while acting as if he were not engaged in the interchange.

    • Great insight Wes that contributes substantially to the scientific understanding of Steinbeck. They also fit well with the gathering place characters and the informal networks that he was so astute at describing. A great describer does exactly as you pointed out : “……Steinbeck to remain within ear shot of Ricketts while acting as if he were not engaged in the interchange.” That is how I got absorbed into the Pine Coffee Shop group.

  10. Wes Stillwagon says:

    I still remember the day when you opened my eyes to your gathering place concepts and roles while we chatted on Cannery Row. It was an earth-shaking moment for me. As I reflected on the critical skills instructional design challenges I had over the years, I realize how valuable the concepts would have been during gaming and simulation challenges, peer and client review, team building, and critique. I still believe the concepts of human performance engineering, typing, attitude of the Steinbeck/Jung individual, the (Steinbeck) phalanx concept and Jung’s concepts of Shadow, Anima, Animus, and collective unconscious would add scientific method to defining the interpersonal and group dynamic. Just think of how valuable the merged ideas would be in simulation, gaming , and robotics. Thanks Jim.

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