On the Road just gave me the itch. The itch to abandon the glum ho-hum life set before me for a life on the road, tackling the wondrous world and getting my kicks. I believe author Jack Kerouac would agree that being on the road is more about being a madman for your dreams than actually hitchhiking your way to Frisco and back just to hear some maniacal pianist shake and quiver as he pounds the keys into sawdust in a broken-down saloon off Market Street. It’s the itch that drives you to seek and experiment and explore, whether it’s that crazy world around you or those thick books written by Wolfe and Hemingway you’ve got but never had the courage to tackle.
Kerouac and his road buddies traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard, through the Midwest and California to escape their dull lives. Jack and Dean and Carlo Marx just wanted to feel the beat, that jazz they loved so much, and the road beneath them. The crazy wild-eyed excitement, the raging energy of Dean Moriarty tears at your soul and makes you want to be like him – even though he’s one tragic cat. Maybe you don’t want to find yourself still on the road when you’re 45 – dying of alcoholism – but you never want to lose that mad-eyed fervor you felt way back when.
I can see a life ahead of me, one Kerouac would have been proud of. I can see myself in the back of that old Greyhound bus coming out of Port Authority. I’ve got my battered copy of On the Road in one hand and a one-way ticket in the other. I can see the Hudson River lit by a sad orange dusk from the corner of my eye – it flows polluted, the water swelling and shrinking like the crescendos and decrescendos of some lost jazz musician’s trumpet singing sweet “EE-yah” and “EEE-de-lee-yah” into the hollowed-out subways.
The bus grumbles and roars onto the dark highway, bound for Chicago, the dividing point of East and West, my past and future. But then if I followed that road I wouldn’t be myself, just another Kerouac wannabe, wishing I were growing up with those young Beats. So I guess I’ll just have to take in Kerouac’s uncontrollable passionate soul and leave out the hitchhike to Frisco, the ragged clothes and nights spent in the back of a flatbed staring up at the big sky of Wyoming.
As Kerouac hooted – his eyes nearly popping from their sockets – in the midst of one of his mad conversations with Carlo Marx, “I had nothing to offer anyone except my own confusion.” I could tell you that Jack was right, but it wouldn’t matter. Kerouac’s confusion is a beautiful confusion that gives you the clarity to do what you never thought possible.
One day, I will find myself looking into that dark highway – that endless stretch blanketed by the shadowy unknown – I’ll carry On the Road like a bible and I will know that Kerouac gave me the feverish energy to keep traveling through the night. On the Road is more than a book to me; it’s a muse.