A Read 27 Years in the Making

At City Lights bookstore in SF.
At City Lights bookstore in SF.

I first became aware of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, oh, maybe when I was 17 or 18 years old. My brother from another mother Jean-Paul and I had discussed the Beatniks. I’m fairly certain he read Kerouac in college. Or, I could be misremembering again.

When Jean-Paul came to visit almost a year ago to the day, we visited City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. We posed for selfies and snapshots with Kerouac’s name emblazoned on a street sign. I bought a copy of On the Road, I got the original scroll version. It promised to be racier than the original. Since I never read the original, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Of course it took about a year to actually, you know, read the damned thing.

Why the hell did I wait 27 years to read this book?

I was regaled with tales of wanderlust, and road trips and cavorting with and dropping in on friends across the North American continent. I too have known this wanderlust. I too have known the joys of the road trip. I too have dropped in on friends and family, sometimes unannounced. I too have cavorted.

Reading On the Road on the road.
Reading On the Road on the road.

I have always identified with the myth and legend that is/was Jack Kerouac. I didn’t know why until I read this book. The vernacular is similar to my conversational verbiage. That propensity to just pick up and go. I have felt that draw. Or was it a push? Or was it a pull? I’m not sure which.

I knew at a fairly young age that my hometown of Rochester, New York, would not be able to keep me. And I escaped it, twice. I never knew what it was that told me my future lie elsewhere, I just knew that it did.

I have been on a jaunt the last five days. It’s not lost on me that as I flew over the state of Texas and into Dallas a few days ago that the principal characters in the book were in Texas at that point of the story. I purposely listened to three songs on the flight back to San Francisco with Kerouac references as I finished the book – Beatnik Beach by the Go Go’s, Hey Jack Kerouac by 10,000 Maniacs and 3-minute Rule by the Beastie Boys.

Call it providence, serendipity, coincidence, whatever. A lot of factors led me to read this book at this time of my life. It probably wouldn’t mean as much or have resonated the way it is right now. I read for entertainment. I read to expand my mind. I read because I can’t not read. I usually read things that scare the piss out of me. But this was almost a “bucket list” item. I wanted to read this book, I needed to read this book.

I was surprised to read that so many of Kerouac’s adventures took place in Denver. I get to Denver once a year and I really don’t care for the place. Oh sure, if you like majestic mountains, big sky, scenery, skiing, clean air, clean water, and Coors beer, I guess it’s okay. I think I’ll be looking at Denver through new eyes the next time I’m there. I’ll have to see if there is some sort of Kerouac/Beatnik tour or somesuch.

Late 1940s, Beatniks, Denver, happening – who knew?

My wanderlust subsided long ago, but I do still travel quite a bit. Being on the road will forever have new meaning. Kerouac died at age 47. I just turned 46 and I have no intention of blinking out just yet. I am not the drinker Kerouac was so I’m not worried about my liver blowing up. I do like to sample the local fare as much as possible when I do travel. I was just in Tampa, and Cappy’s Pizza has become a tradition. Northeast style pizzeria with New York and Chicago style on the menu, Fat Tire on tap – my kind of joint. I suppose my Beatnik wanderlust has evolved into discovering more of what I consider “my kind of joint” and digging scenes than some of the more reckless things I did in my youth.

I only recently tried to figure out what a Beatnik was and what the Beat Generation was all about. I’ve been too successful the past 15 years to feel “beat down.” I suppose I feel some weight bearing down on me as an American taxpayer. I have yet to write my novel. Kerouac’s original scroll is missing the end. The end, as it might have been, was pieced together from other writings and letters.

I don’t write on wax paper, but this is a blog roll – pages upon pages stitched together. I recently found out who owns the original scroll – Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. He even has a case where he can roll the whole thing out and display it. Pretty freaking cool if you ask me.

So, I consider myself a nouveau beatnik of some variety. I don’t know why I have to put a label on it. I think my writing style is similar to Kerouac’s – spontaneous prose. This blog is pretty much stream of consciousness when I am so inclined to write. I am under no grand delusion that anything I have written or will write will ever come close.

I shall endeavor to read more of Kerouac’s work. Allen Ginsberg is another character of the Beat Generation who fascinates me. Maybe I’ll discover him next. I didn’t go to college so I didn’t get a lot of reading of this type done in my younger years. Better late than never I suppose.

I never knew why I identified with the legend of Jack Kerouac. Now I know that I identify with the man and the writer. I have gone too far and done too much and I am not disaffected enough to be a true Beatnik, but the shoe kinda fits and that’s good enough for me.

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