The setting is most likely meant to be read as contemporary with John Steinbeck’s lifetime.
The story mentions John F. Kennedy’s assassination (l. 134), which means that the story takes place after 1963.
John is “an elderly gentleman” (l. 33), “over sixty, wearing a wedding ring” (ll. 38-39), and the story mentions John Steinbeck’s work as a journalist during the Vietnam War (l. 98). Considering that John Steinbeck worked in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, and then died in December 1968, the events in the story are probably meant to take place in late 1967 or in 1968.
Kelley's and John's car trip is, most probably, an hour long, as suggested by the title “A Wasted Hour”.
The events take place in California – several places are mentioned in the story, such as the train station in Salinas (l.3) and the freeway connecting Salinas to Palo Alto (l. 5). Kelley studies at Stanford (l. 6), and as she approaches Stanford, she notices the university’s Hoover Tower (l. 136).
The main physical setting in the story is John’s car, a pre-war Studebaker (l. 29) (a vintage American car) with leather seats (ll. 39-40). John and Kelley take a trip from Salinas to Palo Alto (l. 13), California.
Note that John’s character also mentions places such as his father’s farm in Monterey (l. 75), Lake Tahoe (l. 76), the California coast (l. 79), an unnamed place where he worked as a World War II correspondent (ll. 82-83), Vietnam (l. 98), and the Southern United States (l. 127).
The social setting approaches topics such as sexual harassment and the objectification of women. This is subtly hinted at through John’s words, as he tells Kelley that the good part about his Lake Tahoe job was the presence of “Lots of dames” (l. 78) and speaks about his ex-wife Carol as if she was an object: “ ‘She lasted thirteen years before she was replaced” (l. 90). This also suggests the social inequality between men and women in the 1960s.
Also, Kelley has strict rules about who she accepts rides from. She avoids truck drivers and vehicles with groups of men, as well as me...