I just finished “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. This novel, which is probably one of the most famous American novels of the era, is the true stories of Kerouac (as Sal Paradise) as he takes four trips across the United States in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I really enjoyed the book and, in several ways, I could relate to a lot of what Kerouac experienced in terms of environment, people, and the spirit of travel in this country. Though, the times have certainly changed in the last 75 years.
I don’t know of Kerouac’s spontaneity was common back then, but if it was then times really have changed in spirit. He and his friends were willing to hitchhike, take buses, and do whatever was necessary to get where they wanted to go. They wanted to get from NY to SF, so they found a way. They rarely had money, so they just figured it out as they went along. They lived in a time when clean water was not readily available, cross-country communication was expensive, money took time to be transferred, and cars were unreliable, but they did what they desired despite the dangers. It is ironic that we currently live in the safest, most stable time in human history but people are more afraid than ever. It has literally never been easier to go on an adventure but people crave security over liberty, even though security is less needed.
Maybe Kerouac and his crew were an exception to the average person living in post-WWII America. Just like some of the people we meet on the road are the exception to modern Americans. Maybe in all generations there is a stable percentage (1%? 5%? 10%?) that have an insatiable drive to explore, experience, and wander, even at the expense of their sanity or their lives. I think we need this crazy ones, the ones who explore the depths of our mind and spirit, the Earth and the heavens. They help push humanity forward, as painful as that journey can be, it is necessary to find new barriers to blast all to hell.
Or maybe I’m missing the whole point of “On the Road”.
I’m going to re-read this one soon. It had so many beautiful passages that articulated the extreme emotions you can experience while wandering North America. I know that this book had a huge impact on the Beat Movement (something I know nothing about) and I want to read more of the books from that era. Luckily, Kerouac has given me a cast of characters who mostly all wrote books during that time that I can dive into. All in all, it was a good read that I finally got around to. In some ways I wish I would have read this sooner, but in other ways I’m glad that I finished it when I did. Books seem to come to me at just the right moment in your life, and this one was no exception.