Me and Jack Kerouac

Two years ago, I didn’t know who Jack Kerouac was. Well, I guess I had heard of him, but I had never read a word of his. Sometime last year, when watching the PBS documentary on William S. Burroughs, A Man Within, I heard the name Jack Kerouac. I probably googled him and read his Wikipedia entry and then forgot about him. Last year I also made a commitment to read all the novels on The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, at least the ones on “The Readers’ List”. This list introduced, or reintroduced me to some of my new favorites like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Fountainhead, and Catch 22. Some of these I was SUPPOSED to read in high school but never actually touched them. Somewhere along the line I came to On the Road. There was that name “Jack Kerouac” again. This time I picked up a copy, and finished the book in a week, which at the time was unheard of.

There is nothing quite spectacular about On the Road, really. No beautiful sentence composition, no big words, no suspense, not much of the stuff that makes a great novel like The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye (two more I rediscovered and finally read through, loving both). But something in it captivates me. The idea of traveling all the way across the country on fifty bucks from veteran’s benefits, meeting all sorts of folks along the way and having a good time with everyone you meet. The idea of being a nomad, with no real plan other than where your destination is, and who knows what will happen when we get there. Careening across America in a jalopy with 4 friends and a bottle of booze. Even Kerouac’s peculiar, somewhat Hemingwayan short, concise sentences and straight-to-the-point language. It all draws me in. So much so that On the Road is the first book that I will have read twice. I dug it out of the box I have all my previously-read books in, for lack of storage in my 450 sq. ft. cottage (that, with any luck, I will be moved out of in the next 8 weeks), and began reading it again on Saturday.

There is part of me that wishes I could live this story, if only for a couple years. I lived a pretty crazy life for my seven years in the Army, but I was stuck in one places. This country is so big. So many places to see, so many types of people to meet, so much great country to drive. I wish I could see it all. But alas, I am 28 years old, broke is not for my veteran’s benefits (I guess Jack and I aren’t all that different), and about to graduate college. I have nothing tying me down here, no kids, no significant other, and my only family, my father, already lives 2,500 miles away. But the responsible adult in me thinks it’s time to find a steady job, buy a house, stock up the garage with tools, and meet a woman. I’m a lonely guy by nature, and by my own poor decisions, and something tells me that nowadays, life on the road is one hell of a lonely way to live. You can’t travel cross-country for $50 anymore. You’d be lucky to do it for $500. If you show up in some random town in Montana and start asking around for jobs with a 3-day beard and dirty clothes, you’re likely to get arrested. On the Road is the one method I have of living out an imaginary life with the generation I feel I’d be most natural with, the Beat generation.


Listening to: Wilco (live) – I’ll Fight


7 thoughts on “Me and Jack Kerouac

  1. Great post. I’ve only read one of Kerouac’s books (Dharma Bums, amazing read), but I have done some travelling his way. I traveled Europe on the extreme cheap from 2009-2011. Hitchiking is an amazing way to see the world – you get to meet locals, who then recommend what to see and do, and often offer to take you into their home! Even if it was the most expensive way to do it, I’d still travel this way. The freedom to go anywhere, anytime, the mystery of where you’ll be next, its incredible.

    Technology has progressed somewhat since Mr Kerouac’s days however. Incorporate the couhcsurfing website – free accommodation with people wanting to meet travellers – and various hitch a ride websites exist about the place too. Random jobs are harder to find these days, but especially in hospitality not impossible at all. Go for it, while you still can!

    • Thanks! I haven’t gotten to read Dharma Bums yet, as I haven’t seen a copy anywhere, but it is high on my list and perhaps next time I put in an order on Alibris I’ll get one.

      I have wanted to do a roaming trip in Europe for a few years, but I went straight from high school to the military to college, so I haven’t really had a chance. Come to think of it, that would have been a good use for my year and a half worth of unemployment. I may try and pick up a contract for work in Afghanistan for a year, which will give me plenty of cash to live off of for a year without working, while budget travelling around Europe. I didn’t know about the sites you mentioned before so I’ll have to take a look. I do have a few penpals scattered across northern Europe, so I’m sure that opens up a few possibilities. Thanks a lot for the tips and thanks for reading!

  2. What a crisis. I want to say you should do it. Why not? It’s not like you’re going to spend all your savings. However, now that I have a family and responsibilities it is so hard for me to say that. Two years ago? I couldn’t have imagined saying anything other than “Do it” to you. *Sigh* The complications of adulthood.

    Regardless, I saw a post you made on ‘Stuff Worth Talking About’ blog and liked it so much I wanted to check out your blog. This is the only post of yours I have read and I am following immediately. I usually check out a few posts before I decide because I don’t like committing to reading someone else’s stuff before making sure I like it enough. We have way too much in common in this one post to let it go however. Don’t let me down.

    • Thanks a lot for the compliments! I would like to do it, and I think I still have plenty of time to do it since I’m single and childless, but next year will be the first time in my life (hopefully) where I’ll actually have enough money to do what I want with it, within reason. My industry, if you know how to take advantage of it, allows one to work with 1-year or less contracts, and make enough money within that year or less to be able to take a break between contracts. I’m starting to become a little homesick for New England so I’m thinking of taking advantage of this in order to live there for a few months out of the year, work down here for a year, back to Rhode Island, and so on. I think this can also allow me to do at least one spontaneous roadtrip, either here or abroad. We’ll see how it goes.

      I’ll try not to let you down. I mostly post photos but once a week or so I get something on my mind that needs to come out, or I want to talk about a movie I saw, some new music I heard, or a book that touches me like this. Thanks for reading.

      • Sounds like you’ll be traveling a lot, even if it’s not the type of traveling Kerouac would do. The United States may seem mundane to some, but I’ve seen most of it and know there are too many secret surprises you just run into for it to be boring. If you drive between all these places you want to be, you’ll see. Plus, if you’re okay living in Texas, you’ll be surprised how absolutely so much better the rest of the country is once you drive a week to get out of that state! 😉 (I don’t like Texas). Good luck. Just ETS’ing from the Army, I know the kind of contract jobs you’re talking about and you can make REALLY good money doing that kind of thing.

      • I’ve been around a little bit and I usually travel by car. Plus, besides RI, I’ve lived in Mass, Wisconsin and Georgia before coming here. I actually like certain parts of Texas, just not so much where I am now A few years ago I took a trip by plane to Oregon to pick up a truck and drove back the scenic way, but I was on R&R from Iraq so I was in a hurry. I wish I would have taken time to do some exploring but I wanted to get home and relax. Congrats on ETSing. The day I got out of the Army was probably one of the best days of my life.

  3. I agree that you should take up the opportunity to travel a bit more if you can, it’s always fun getting to know new places. I hope to be able to travel some time soon also, though first in the states to get to know the U.S. more, maybe I will after I graduate, though I’m not so sure yet. I hope to visit New Mexico or New Orleans, both places have been on my list for a while now. Best of luck with your work, and I’m sorry that you feel lonely sometimes. As a writer I’ve practically resigned myself to living a more solitary life than others, however, I do try to make an effort and join in on events my friends and roommates invite me to or else I know that I will gradually distance myself from everyone. It’s working little by little, I no longer see the world in the distanced manner that I did (at least most of the time, now and then I do become very introspective and somewhat detached).

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