Oh my stars it took me so long to read this book! If I count from the first time I picked it up -- during a bout of homesickness-slash-patriotism while living in Japan -- and couldn't get past that fabulous quote about Roman candles, it's been 10 years. Yikes!
Last summer I was struck again by wanting to know more about America through the eyes of out great artists, and get some insights into why they were considered such good artists.
Blame it on the LA Times Travel section, those slender six or so pages that I look forward to each week. There was a great article about the wonders of Northern California, Monterey and Carmel and Big Sur. and I was at the library and picked up a copy of Cannery Row. Then there was the exhibit at the Hammer. Which reminded me about this broadcast, which I'd heard on NPR a few years ago. And, surprisingly, my library had the CD and DVD. And that is how the universe conspired to draw me back to Kerouac.
I got past the Roman candles this time -- but still, the book wasn't a breeze for me. It took a lot of perseverance (a lot of renewals and even an overdue fine), but I can finally call this one done. I still don't really identify with much of it. But I appreciate a glimpse into that time, both in the life of America and in the life of a carefree young man.
I was actually much reminded of my younger brother as I read On the Road. I got a random call from him one summer weekend: between the last rest stop and the gas station from which he called me, he'd lost his wallet and GPS; he didn't know what to do. I told him to put on his best smile and get on the good graces of a kind person who might fill up his gas tank. He was successful, and rode back to the stop to see if someone might have found his wallet and GPS. No luck. So he headed home. So much for the impromptu road trip on his new motorcycle, right?
Wrong. I later found out that on the way home he'd called our youngest brother ("Dude, spot me some cash"), met up for the exchange at the house, where he grabbed his passport and was promptly off all over again. "I couldn't help it," he told me, "the road was just calling to me."
He had a great time up north, making new friends, checking out different neighborhoods, and came to love San Francisco. And knowing that I would have simply called the trip a fail had it been my lost wallet and GPS, I admired my brother's fearlessness in an entirely new way. A few weeks later, he posted to his Facebook wall that he'd just received a package in the mail: his wallet! It was sent back by a young man who had the same first name, and the same appreciation for the unknowns, both good and bad, of being on the road. A kindred spirit.
As I returned to the novel after my brother's experience, I was able to appreciate that semi-fictional cross-country roadtrippin' in a new way, too. Of course I recommended it to my brother.
Though I might have hinted otherwise above, it actually is one of my dreams to do a California (or Pacific Northwest) coast road trip one of these days, and, eventually, a cross-country road trip, sometime in my life. I've got bookmarks and plans and to-dos galore; all's left is the time off and the actual going. It might be nice to have an extended trip at home (instead of always going abroad) one of these years. Could be 2012, right? We'll see.