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