The fourth part in a travel series by A. E. Sadler
Friday, April 23rd. It's interesting but something's silencing me. It's not as if the stuff isn't going around in my head. It is. It's going around a lot. But something...something's keeping me from externalizing it, expressing it. From letting it escape the privacy of my own head. Maybe that's okay, maybe that's no big deal. I've been pretty much letting myself go with the flow this whole trip. Maybe those are good instincts. Maybe this is about trying to get back in touch with my instincts, which I've felt completely disconnected from for most of this trip.
I'm at my aunt's right now. My aunt's and uncle's. Waiting for Allison to come in from DC. And it keeps getting a little bit later and a little bit later and a little bit later, and I wonder if we'll have the same problem we seem to keep having--of getting out of cities. That has been one of the biggest difficulties we've encountered on the trip. Getting out of the cities. They keep putting their arms around you and holding on. But what's interesting is that I am antsy to be on the road, to be on my way. And, I get that way everywhere we stop. Everywhere we stop.
April 23, later. Back on the highway again. I think I'm getting addicted to white lines. We're going to the Windy City but it's already windy out here on the highway. Hell of a lot windier than when we were outrunning the tornado down South. We're crossing through eastern Pennsylvania. The sky opens up.
Western Pennsylvania highway signs: "Drive With Care. Be Alive When You Arrive." And, one sign later, "Minimum Speed: 40 mph."
It's a different kind of sleep, a different kind of somnambulance that you get when you're driving on the highway. The endless highway. Different than the somnambulance of the city, the somnambulance of society. A hypnotic state that isn't only hypnotic, but also addictive: addiction to motion, addiction to moving. Addiction to leaving?
It's interesting, it was when I arrived on the East Coast in Philadelphia, that I really encountered history. The history of the United States of America, and the history of my own family. I feel in some way that part of me has been restored.
The sky is a painting. Two hundred and thirty six miles to the Ohio turnpike. We're coming into the shadows of the clouds. Under the shadows of clouds. Allison says that her friend in DC had a lot of connections, that she got a lot of good interviews for her feminist book project that she's working on. The other thing she got was a cold.
My poems and photographs to Randy are like leaves, falling and blowing away with the wind.1 Music/poetry/body/movement/life/dreams/fantasy/spirit/flying.
Like Kerouac, I wanted to get away from intellectual silliness.2 Like the way I immediately got people's attention when I dropped Neitszche's name to authorize a statement of my opinion.
This is in Toledo, Ohio.
We choose our destiny
Yes we travel down that lonesome road
Feel like I'm dragging a heavy load
I try to turn my head away
But we have a disaster every day
Come on babe!
Those hard dots in the white line are to wake you up.
cuz things don't set with me,
I don't know about yourself
or what you plan to be
We've got more.
We choose our destiny
Yeah, we travel down this lonesome road
Meanwhile gonna drag this heavy load
Don't try to turn my head away
I'm with disaster every day.
Just saw two people walking down the side of the highway; it's after 1 am, middle of Indiana. Lord knows what was going on. I don't even see a car they were coming from. Billboard for a military school, their motto: "We've been changing young lives for years." This is just a little over two miles east of Hallegrange, Indiana, past the sign of the dancing, leaping deer. Guess I should keep my eyes open for them. Glowing red light in the distance. Could it be Rudolph?
The scars that won't heal...
I just met a Daniel. I'm hugging that white line. Seas, oceans of black on either side. Highway drops away into these dark shadows.
We're heading back west. Towards openness, freedom.
April 24. I'm in Chicago, at a neighborhood poolhall. We left the yuppie poolhall and now we're at a real neighborhood poolhall. Rod is being really sweet.3 He's exhausted, his eyes are about to close and yet he won't call it a night because he doesn't want to let me down. Never even met me. I caught him on the phone purely by chance.
We keep having these intellectual conversations that go back to art, being commercial and selling out. Life in L.A. vs. life in Chicago, or other parts of the country, other cities. Talked about racism. Talked about finding America. Talked about how the search for the New World keeps going on because the New World doesn't really exist. Or does it?
I'm exhausted, I'm beat. The mad dash to get Allison on the bus...very stressful.4 Do I drive to Denver, do I take a bus? I still have to decide. Do I stay in town an extra night?
Right now I'm debating whether or not to have a cigarette. I want to be a nonsmoker, I choose to be a nonsmoker. Blue tickets on the side of the pool table.
A long wait to play.
Rod: When we play pool, we meet so many people. There's another bar called the Innertown. It's kind of fun. Maybe we'll go. It's a cool place to play.
I could still play some more pool.
Rod: Pool isn't even the issue. I mean, obviously these two poolhalls are different. Innertown is much different than here. It's just like a very different culture, you know? The people that we end up meeting when we play pool, we just make it a habit to almost always play somewhere where you challenge the table and then hopefully we end up playing for a few minutes. And you meet so many people. We make a point to introduce ourselves, talk to people, and play pool. There's not really much point to be made. That's what we do. We talk to people and...what else is there?
Being in the rat race.
Rod: Yeah, you can be in the rat race. Especially when you find yourself exhausted after work and all you can do is go to sleep, and then before you know it you're back at work. Because I get really frustrated with myself if I don't go to somewhere between work and sleep, even it's just for ten minutes. Even if it's just for a beer. As long as it's not work. I think it's also quintessential to do something with your peers or your superiors from the workplace that's not work. That brings out something where they can respect you as a human, see you as a human being as opposed to whatever else you are at work.
Rod: Yeah, sure.
Rod introduces me to a Bicycle Delivery Guy, a former co-worker of his. I tell him, You look like somebody who's read On The Road, made it a way of life. Am I right?
BDG: Actually, I lost On The Road.
You lost On The Road?
BDG: Yeah. It was a borrowed copy and I lost it. Years later, I happened to find it in a used bookstore...and returned it.
Pass it on.
BDG: Pass it on, pass it back.
Recycle it. I've been on this trip with.... It's really been hard because, you know, I either have been encountering people who have never heard of Jack Kerouac or people who think he's just full of shit--
BDG: He was beat. There was no doubt about that. And Hunter Thompson. I mean, Jack was much more loaded than Hunter Thompson. I don't think Thompson had weed. But as far as the culture of writing on speed, there's no question. As far as rapid fire attack--
First thought, best thought
BDG: Go with it. Go with it, don't re-edit. Yeah.
BDG: You know there's this crummy never-been-there-wouldn't-go-there crummy joint they opened up in the last year, it's up on Lincoln Avenue--Kerouac Jack--which they've been marketing. It calls itself ahhh, a bistro...beatnik. A beatnik bistro?
BDG: But it's so preconceived and packaged, and the neighborhood, and the atmo--I wouldn't think of making that place a hangout.
Do you think Jack would ever go there?
BDG: No. Jack would not be there. And yet it tries to bill the iconography of the image for all it's worth.
Rod: That's right. They all do. Predigestible.
BDG: Predigestible, like refried beans.
Sounds of the subway in the Windy City. It's April 25th. A...Sunday. I'm learning why they call luggage luggage. You lug it around.
Train passenger Stanley Vlantes, upon learning the nature of my trip, wants to tell me about "the psychological rapist" (though why, I am unsure).
Stanley: Because ...there is such a thing. You don't have to be physically violated, but you can be psychologically violated. Here were relatively nice young guys who were told to go kill...and, some of the Air Force people, for instance, the 8th Air Force...the idea of bombing a city and knowing that they were killing women and children, this is why they used to come back and get drunk. Would you? How old are you?
Let's say you were twenty-two and they gave you this big gorgeous plane to fly which physically is a great thing for a young guy to do, fly this huge bomber, okay? But then you have this realization that down there, after I drop these things I know what I'm doing. And there's no escaping it. I've been ordered to do this. So this is where--
So, Kerouac, On The Road, how does that lead in with this?
Stanley: Well, I'm talking about the hurt that these guys felt.
Stanley: Some of them were ex-Army, Air Force, Navy people. Who felt violated. Then they needed time and space to kind of recover themselves. Most of them went in the Army or the Forces so young. I was nineteen. Frankly, what did I know? I didn't know anything. Really. I had an idea what we called a war but I had no idea of what a savage, absolutely indecent thing it really is. When you realize...there were a lot of doubts as to how valid the stories were about why we won the war [laughs]. That was one side of it.
Some guys, some of the Beats became that way because as they looked back on what had been done, many of them knew that they just didn't have the talent to equal someone like Sinclair Lewis or Faulkner or Thomas Wolfe or or William James or Henry Adams or whatever. These guys had done a certain body of work which, really, there was no point in trying to duplicate. No one was ever going to do it quite as well.
Well, don't you think that they were looking at that and just saying, "That form isn't relevant at this time. We're in a different time, we have a different reality and, you know, we're exploring new forms."
Stanley: --But they said, "Where does this go from here? Where does my concept of American life reside?" With Kerouac it was the instant writing. You know, he would sit and he would just...he would just go for it. And a lot of it in many cases had to be dressed up by an editor because sometimes there wasn't even the correct punctuation...but he was a very fast and a very facile writer. And he created that style which has since been imitated by so many other people. But he actually got into that first.
Even Alan Ginsberg...he broke a lot of taboos with his poetry. Gary Snyder did, Ferlinghetti realized around San Francisco and the Bay Area there were a tremendous number of people--
Train Conductor: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The far car is serving a variety of breakfast items, Danishes, muffins, egg mcmuffins. Anybody wishing to get anything please do so at this time. In approximately twenty minutes from now I will be taking my employee breakfast break. The far car is open and serving and will be open for approximately twenty more minutes. Thank you.
Stanley: --There was talent. I mean, not fakes--there are always fakes--but people finally with genuine talent, and this society didn't want to hear them. And that's why you have the double culture. You have the surface culture and you have a culture underneath it. And, as I say, there are precious few of those people left today. It remains to be seen where the present people of the eighties and the nineties will be going, what their expression of what their life signifies, what their statement will be.
Before disembarking, he presses a card into my hand:
Stanley N. Vlantes
Above this is scrawled, "Good luck, AE, on your Kerouac quest!"
1 My friend Randy gave me a book of postcard stamps before I left and commanded that it be empty by my return.
2 This is one of Kerouac's grievances about his dear, erudite but stuffy East Coast crowd.
3 My sister Laura's friend.
4 Yes, Allison finally decides to throw in the towel, leaving me on my own. After a near-bloody showdown about whether or not I should be saddled with the rental car Allison does not want to be charged the penalty fee for failing to return it to San Diego and I do not want to be penalized in precious days lost due to the fact that I no longer have anyone to share the driving, which effectively doubles the travel time it will now take me to get anywhere--we get her to the Greyhound station in the heart of downtown Chicago. And none too soon!
To be continued...
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