On The Road – Jack Kerouak

On The Road, “Yass, Yass, egad, whoopee!” as Dean would have said.  The book that shot Kerouak into notoriety also catapulted the ‘beat’ generation.  What is beat? Beat is not knowing but seeking, not just living but experiencing, not just observation but immersion, it is IT!  Kerouak’s characters felt like getting out and living to the fullest.  Driving or hitching across the US in a couple of days just to say hi to a friend, endless drunken parties, going just to go.  While they seemed to have wonderful lives, they also had periphery lives that included aunts, parents, grandparents, and multiple wives and kids they had to neglect to fulfill their longing of seeking.  When he had enough of one wife, Dean would leave her with child and head to the other coast to live with his other wife and kids, spending every dime to get there.  A constant life of spinning wheels.

“What’s your road, man?- holy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”

The main character, Sal Paradise, started the series of journeys in 1947, leaving from New Jersey to visit friends in San Francisco with the intentions of meeting a friend and finishing his novel.  He hitched to Denver, stayed a few days, and went to the West coast.  He stayed with a friend, Remi, and guarded a camp for shipmen.  He carried a gun and was supposed to keep the sailors quiet and sober instead of joining the fun.  Not his cup of tea.  Eventually he moved on to Los Angeles where he met a nice Mexican woman and joined her village to pick cotton.  Her family was not accepting of Sal so he moved on and went back to New Jersey.

“I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.” 

The next year, Sal had finished his book and his friend, Dean, came from Denver to New Jersey to pick him up and drive West.  They went south to New Orleans, across Texas and up to Denver.  In New Orleans they stayed with an old friend, ‘Old Bull Lee’ (said to be a character based on William S. Burroughs).  Lee was wise but a heavy experimenter of drugs, spending most of the day in a haze of heroine.  When he was alert in the mornings, Lee kept the crew entertained and tried to convince Sal to stay with him and forget his friends who lacked much in ambition. When the time came, Sal joined his friends and continued on to Denver.  Upon arriving, Dean left Sal and his ex-wife, Mary Lou, to meet up with his wife Camille.  For nearly a week Dean was gone and in the meantime, Mary Lou left with some other guy.  After Dean’s return he was solemn and careless of Sal, so Sal decided to buy a bus ticket back to New York.

“I realized these were all the snapshots, which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking that their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, or actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road.”

The following spring in 1949, Sal loaded up from New York and went to meet Dean in San Francisco.  Dean had had part of his thumb amputated after an infection caused by hitting Camille.  He was starting to show his age, he went from a bright beacon for Sal to a load of  childish nonsense, but Sal stuck with him.  Together they left for Denver. Few friends were left there and they spent a few days digging the jazz joints.  One night, Dean stole car after car for drunk kicks and the next morning they found out the last car they drove back to the where they were staying was a detective’s car.  They quickly left Denver and headed to New York.

“As the cabby drove us up the infinitely dark Alameda Boulevard along which I had walked many and many a lost night the previous months of the summer, singing and moaning and eating the stars and dropping the juices of my heart drop by drop on the hot tar, Dean suddenly drove up behind us in the stolen convertible and began tooting and tooting and crowding us over and screaming.”

The final trip in the story saw Sal planning to go to Mexico City, via Denver.  While in Denver, Dean came from NYC to drive them, with plans to get a Mexican divorce from Camille so he could join his new love, Inez, in New York.  After the long journey, Sal stayed in the hospital with dysentery for several days and Dean left them to go home as he accomplished his own goal of the divorce.  At that point Sal realized how unsympathetic and shallow Dean’s life and friendship was.

Decided to try to sketch my image of the book:



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