On the road with Jack Kerouac: good writer, lousy hitchhiker


“We have to go and never stop going until we get there.”

Where are we going, man? “

“I don’t know but we have to go.”

On the road is one of those books that few people actually read, but many think they know. And a large number of people believe that it is the Bible of hitchhikers.

But during the week of Jack Kerouac’s 100th birthday, the truth had to be told: the young man who set off from his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts to become a founding member of Beat Generation was a fine writer but one bad hitchhiking.

As told of Jack’s 1957 highway epic, the inspiration for his first transcontinental journey came from months of “poring over the map of the United States.”

Jack’s eyes were drawn to “a long red line called Sixth Street that leads from the tip of Cape Cod to Ely, Nevada, and there cuts down to Los Angeles”.

You can’t go wrong with his ambition: “Now I can see Denver towering before me like the Promised Land, out there, beneath the stars, across the Iowa prairies and Nebraska plains, and me could see further views of San Francisco beyond, like jewels in the night. “

When Jack actually set off, however, the mission to head west from New York City was washed away in a downpour on Bear Mountain – just 40 miles from Manhattan.

“I had to get back to New York on a bus with a caravan of teachers returning from a weekend in the mountains – blah-blah chatter, and I swear about everything and the money I wasted. fee, and telling myself, I wanted to go west and here, I’ve been here day and night going north and south, like something can’t begin. ”

The next day, he took a bus to Chicago and eventually reached California’s most magnetic city: San Francisco with its “hungry coarse fog and the throbbing crowing of the calm night, the clapping of beauties walking away high heels, white pigeons in the Chinese grocery window…”

When you have a chance to read On the roadperhaps on a long journey you’ll discover that Jack makes thumbs up sound like a chore.

“One of the biggest challenges with hitchhiking is having to talk to loads of people, make them feel like they didn’t make a mistake picking you up, and even make them almost entertaining.”

Surely that’s the ultimate hitchhiking bargain? Some drivers pick up hitchhikers because of their instinct to be kind to their fellow human beings – but many want to be entertained, to be allowed to feel the comforts of generosity, to stay sane.

Jack concludes: “All of that is a big stress,” when you are going all the way and have no intention of sleeping in a hotel. ”

Maybe that’s why he prefers to drive by himself, cruising on the “stable seventy-seventh continent”, even when he and the people around him don’t have the money to buy fuel.

While Jack is driving, the bargain of hitting another car. Especially after collecting a speeding ticket too much.

“We had fifteen dollars to go all the way,” he reported: all the way was a journey from coast to coast. Even in the cheap old days of the 1940s and ’50s, it didn’t equal the cost of fuel for a 2,500-mile trip.

Jack concludes: “We will have to pick up hitchhikers and beggars for gas.

Today, there is no one hitchhiking to or from the town of Lowell; it’s a 45-minute suburban train ride from Boston. But it became a shrine to the patron saint of young explorers.

Jack Kerouac tragically died at the age of 47, an alcoholic. But humanity is better for his word.

“I saw God in the sky in the form of huge sun-burnt golden clouds above the desert seemingly pointing in my direction and saying, ‘Get over here and keep going, you’re on your way to heaven’. “ On the road with Jack Kerouac: good writer, lousy hitchhiker

Fry Electronics Team

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