“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Every Christmas my father gifts each of us a book. And in the mysterious ways fathers work, it always ends up being one you’ll need that year. Two winters ago, I woke up to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, The Original Scroll.
Immense pressure set in immediately. My father harbors unparalleled love for the Beat Generation. His life was different before and after reading Kerouac. Burroughs, Ginsberg, Cassady, and Kerouac are four men he willingly gave in to for enjoyment and sought out for inspiration. I grew up knowing that.
It was the first book laced with expectations. He wanted me to like it. But even more, he wanted me to understand.
Christmas break at home, with family events and holiday parties, simply wasn’t the proper setting, I reasoned. Then school started and the flood of assignments and practices began, I said. And so it sat until June. When, as it turns out, is exactly when I needed it.
I was offered a teaching opportunity in Vietnam that summer. I accepted. And suddenly, On the Road was the most fitting title on my shelf.
It survived the 35 hour flight itinerary. And the rough bus rides on unpaved roads. And the many afternoons spent playing the waiting game with torrent monsoons. It went where I went. And I soaked up every word.
299 pages. No paragraphs. No chapters. No breaks.
I have never read anything like it and I don’t suspect I, or anyone else, will again any time soon. The first word kicks off at a breakneck speed that lasts until the last punctuation mark. Slowing down is never an option. No good stopping points or moments to catch your breath exist. Because really, there is no stopping…or breathing, for the most part anyway.
“Explored” isn’t the right word; every city, state, and highway they meet is conquered. Neal and Jack exist in an ecstatic vigor largely unknown to my generation. They are unabashed consumers of life. And to your pleasure or dismay, they feed it to you every moment you’re with them.
I can’t imagine you exist unaware of how Kerouac and the other Beat writers altered American Literature and culture. If, however, you do… immediately take off for your nearest bookseller, purchase Allen Ginsberg’s A Definition of the Beat Generation, read, and respect (please).
And yet none of this captures why I love this book. It doesn’t explain the humidity-swollen pages or why the spine must cling for dear life every time it’s opened. No, it doesn’t even come close.
My love for this profound piece of literature is rooted right next to my love for my father.
This is where I met him. The him before me. At the turn of every page, he stared. Young, unafraid, irresponsible and so wholly consumed with the adventure of life.
Finally, I understood.