-Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
This line from the Jack Kerouac novel was sent to me yesterday by my friend Miescha who had thought of my paintings when she had come across it. I really liked the association she found in those words and my work and especially the connection she found with it in Kerouac. When I read the line I was immediately transported back in time to a trip I made with my brother when I was fourteen years old to the Adirondacks to hike around Mt. Marcy. Kerouac’s On the Road was in my backpack.
It was in the midst of a very hot summer and we hitchhiked, first from the horse track in Canandaigua to Syracuse then from there up through the mountains. It was a different time, obviously, to see a fourteen year old to be hitching with his older brother and not think it completely out of the ordinary. Probably not something many parents would even consider letting their kids today but for me it fostered a real sense of independence.
I remember distinctly so much of that trip, especially the people who gave us rides. The older guy who was commuting northward, drinking canned beer which he shared with my brother. I politely turned him down when he offered me one. Whenever we passed a female of any sort he would stick his arm out the window and pound the side of this car as he let out a wolf-like howl. Then there were a couple of young gypsy housepainters from Lubbock, Texas who played an eight-track of the Doobie Brothers and offered us beer and pot, both of which I again declined. After they let us out, my brother told me to take the beer and pot and simply hold it for him for later.
Then there was a couple of Italian tourists with their son who was only a couple of years younger than me. They didn’t offer any beer or drugs which was fine with me. I remember the awe of the father as we climbed through a pass in the mountains where the highway had been carved through the stone, leaving shere walls of stone on either side of the wide road. He spoke in Italian to his son as he pointed at the stone in admiration. I had the feeling he was some sort of engineer.
I also remember a long day coming out of the mountains and being at the Thruway entrance near Albany, trying to get a ride through to Syracuse on a Sunday evening, a tough get for a young man and a boy together. We sat there for about six hours and I finally fell asleep in exhaustion, laying on the road shoulder against the guardrail until a kind soul gave us a ride all the way home, smoking pot with my brother as I slumbered in the back seat. We walked the last few blocks in the early morning heat through the streets and I remember a feeling of great contentedness.
The trip and the Kerouac novel’s depiction of the frantic pace of that early Beat generation made the idea of the open road seem irresistible in the mind of a young teenager, a feeling that haunted me for years until it finally faded into the past as my aspirations of being Dean Moriarty turned to the quieter. stabler reality of my current life. I was never cut out to be that nomadic figure. I know that now. But the inspiration it provided those many years ago has remained with me and I still carry that memory of that feeling of being young and alive and on the road.
Funny how a few simple lines can bring back so much memory. Thanks, Miescha.