On the Road

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14 July 2020

I think I'm going to start introducing myself as Dean Moriarty. Although I think it's more likely that people will draw analogy to Sherlock Holmes' nemesis than Jack Kerouac's protagonist in On the Road. Some might argue that Sal is the protagonist, but although he narrates I think Sal is just in Dean's orbit. He is Apollo; driving the sun and the story along. Of course, introducing myself with said pseudonym will alert the literary minded that I am fun but trouble and full of wanderlust. I have a feeling though that anyone getting the reference would take it less in a cautionary manner than in an exhilarating one.

I don't think I would have enjoyed or appreciated Kerouac's masterpiece as a teenager though. I didn't take my first cross country roadtrip until I was 19. It's instructive that while my parents were very unhappy with me when I gave them our itinerary before I left, the next year they asked to come with me. After that it became a summer staple throughout my 20's and 30's: every summer was a roadtrip summer or a moving summer. Zara, my fourth child, visited half the states in the US before her first birthday. So when Kerouac waxes about Pike's Peak on their right as the characters travel south from Colorado Springs, or the desert westward past the Great Salt Lake, or the boring drive from Detroit to Toledo, these are all places I have been to many times. The sacred geography of America, and especially the American West is etched in my bones.

Colorado, 2010 - midway through my 20's and 30's

Kerouac didn't just write a travel guide though, but instead captured the spirit of what it means to be on the road; to start out from one side of the continent with a car and a loose plan of where one wants to end up on the opposite coast and find oneself in the journey rather than the destination. For those of us with wanderlust in our souls this is the great truth of life. As Dean tells Sal,

"You see, man, you get older and troubles pile up. Someday you and me'll be coming down an alley together at sundown and looking in the cans to see."
"You mean we'll end up old bums?" [replied Sal.]
"Why not, man? Of course we will if we want to, and all that. There's no harm ending that way. You spend a whole life of non-interference with the wishes of others, including politicians and the rich, and nobody bothers you and you cut along and make your own way." I agreed with him. He was reaching his Tao decisions in the simplest direct way. "What's your road, man? - holyboyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. Where body how?" We nodded in the rain. "Sheeit, and you've got to look out for your boy. He ain't a man 'less he's a jumpin man - do what the doctor say. I'll tell you, Sal, straight, no matter where I live, my trunk's always sticking out from under the bed, I'm ready to leave or get thrown out. I've decided to leave everything out of my hands. You've seen me try and break my ass to make it and you know that it doesn't matter and we know time - how to slow it up and walk and dig and just old-fashioned spade kicks, what other kicks are there? We know."

There's a certain zen in the apathy of a worn down life. Everyone's journey ends the same way. Controlling our lives will always be an illusion. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and simple pleasures are often the best: the sun setting over the Rockies, the taste of a good steak after a long day of hard work, spending the night with a woman. Of course, non-interference is the opposite of what Dean wrought on the world: fathering children, stealing and wrecking cars, drawing person after person into his orbit for some fun. Reductio ad absurdum, the life of the bum, the beggar, the mendicant is to be lauded. Buddha couldn't have said it better.

I am Dean Moriarty.

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