Running the Mother Road
If you were to ask a dozen people, you would get a dozen opinions, but for my money, one of the greatest American novels is Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), the defining work about the post-war Beat and counterculture generations.
Based on his travels across the country, the book, a “Roman a clef” novel, is intended to “explain everything to everybody.”
In a brutal, unforgiving, and candid self-portrait, Kerouac once described himself as a “Hopper of freights, Skid Row habitué, railroad Buddhist, New England Modernist, 20th Century Storyteller, crum, dope, divorcee, type, sitter in window of life; idiot far from home; no wood in my stove, no potatoes in my field, no field; hepcat, howler, wailer, waiter in the line of time; lazy, washed out, workless.”
Snaking between all these identities was the long desolate road, both on page and in the reality of his life as he wandered alone, forlorn, searching for meaning. He’s not the only one.
Many, readers of this column even, have also heard the siren call of the open road, wandering what was over the next hill, around the next bend. The feeling could be as minor as the desire for a Sunday drive, or as immense as the need to “chunk it all” and drop off the grid.
Once, for example, I drove on to Highway 84 in Laurel and followed it west until it ended – in Antonino, Colorado. Satisfied, I turned around and came back home.
The Navy loved to send me back and forth across the country. When I was stationed on the east coast, they would send me to the west, and vice versa; the road trips always provided excitement and adventure.