Look! I’ll level with you. I bought a traveler’s backpack, a 150 dollar World Atlas book, and a lot of other gear suitable for hitting the road, and why, because Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road connected with something deep inside of me, a resonating happening of some sort took place and it’s still echoing some mysterious reverberation. Actually, I asked for all of that as my Christmas gift from my parents long before I decided to sign up for our 1950s poetry class, but still!
Having all that gear already and then reading the book made for an enticing temptation to say the least. How many times did Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac decide to hit the road in the spur of the moment? Let me answer that for you, several times. These drugged out, alcoholic, misogynistic men are my heroes in many ways. In many respects, I look up to them, not for the descriptions mentioned above, but because they decided that they weren’t happy with where they were at in life, and because of that, went elsewhere. Now granted, I know very well that traveling place to place isn’t going to solve your problems, but cut them some slack; at least they went out hopeful that they would find something substantial in their searching travels. And let’s be honest, that’s a whole lot more than a lot of people can say with any degree of truthfulness, whatever that means.
Now you may be asking yourself why I’m so excited and how this has anything to do with me. Well let me tell you my friends and acquaintances, it’s simple. I’m in college and I’m an emerging adult. Did you catch that? I said in that last part that I’m an emerging adult, not adult as in I pay my bills and do what I want when I want. It’s comical and sad, but I’m almost 21 and I still depend on my parents for almost everything. Sure, I have a car (that they bought me), and a few thousand dollars in the bank, but that’s all. How long will that realistically last me though? Within a half a year or so I would either be in between a rock and a hard place, drudging my way through a low-wage job, or I would be a starving artist/homeless person waiting for stars to align that most likely won’t. With this understanding comes an immediate, at least for me, desire to prove my manhood, to prove my independence, to prove that despite my young age, despite the unlikelihood, I could survive and thrive on my own, that I could make it in this world with a smile on my face!
Torn between completing my undergraduate degree and packing my bags today to see the world with my own eyes, I seem to always favor the former and leave the latter for another hour, another day. So I’m here. I’m stuck. I want to succeed, but we’re never granted tomorrow. And then there’s that old thing called wisdom. You know, that talk about tact, about doing the right thing at the right time, hence completing college before I travel to San Francisco, Las Angeles, Denver, NYC, Mexico, and everywhere in between, like Jack and Neal did. That’s the only real thing stopping me from hitting the road, not love, not family, not friends. Do I want to love a ‘significant other’ one day? Maybe. Do I love my family and friends? Yes. But none of those answers or reasons is good enough answers or reasons to inhibit me from doing what I love; from doing what I feel I was made to do—travel!
There are a few things that are scary though. Let me be perfectly frank, or Phillip. I like that better. Let me be perfectly Phillip. Do I want to travel? Yes. Am I scared that a devastating blow could knock me off from ever establishing myself in the future because of my travels? Yes, I’m scared shitless. But that’s the beauty of it. I’m scared. I said I’m scared! Maybe I’ll run out of money. Maybe I’ll get beat up in a neighborhood that’s hostile to strangers. Maybe I’ll get lost. Maybe I’ll have a friend ditch me and leave me out in the cold. But so what, without risk there aren’t rewards. Neal and Cassidy took risks and now we’re reading about those risks. They worked crap jobs to fund their crazy life styles and now we’re reading about those crap jobs. They went out and saw America and now were reading about those adventures. They saw America for what it really was at that time. They saw the people in the bars and the stations and the jazz clubs and the motels and the mountains and the coasts and the cities and the towns and the country and everywhere else. They saw America. They were miserable sometimes, but they saw America, that elusive country wide and long that stretches seemingly infinitely, that land that’s as beautiful as its ugly, that place where dreams are built and shattered, that magnificent terrain of monks and maniacs and presidents and pedestrians and rich and poor alike. They saw America!
Perhaps I’m being a little irrational, or a lot irrational. Perhaps I’m glorifying their successes but forgetting their failures. Perhaps I’m glorifying their travels but forgetting their miseries along the way. Perhaps! But I know that something special was in their souls, something holy! Look past all their sexual espionages and messed up characteristics and you’ll see something holy! You’ll see men that had great yearnings for that ultimate high. Men that went to great extremes to find that settlement of soul! Men that traveled coast to coast multiple times in search for a home in the truest sense of the word! And for this realization I’m not irrational, in fact, I would argue that I’m saner than ever!
Now that I’ve finished worshipping them as gods in some regards, let me defile their names and kick myself out of the temple I constructed for them. They were idiots. They were raving madmen trekking mountains and driving through Mexican villages looking for cheap prostitutes and beer. They were neurotically-challenged voyagers looking for a fix. They were spiritual vagabonds travelling, having week long affairs with strangers they would meet on a bus one moment, and the next moment, situating themselves in some city with the idea of establishing a livelihood. They were men who ran away from most of the people that ever loved them. They were idiots. The most beautiful, intelligent, soulful idiots I’ve ever read about!
I’m so glad I read On The Road. I didn’t read a stylistically phenomenal masterpiece that used big words and fancy-sounding French words to describe a character and a story that I couldn’t relate to, but that’s why I’m glad I read On The Road. I read about 2 guys who saw our great country. I read about their highs and lows, about times when they were broke and hitchhiking their way through 3000 miles of land, and times when they had money to blow and satisfy all their carnal cravings day after day after day. I got a fairly complete picture, the ying and the yang, the beautiful and the ugly—I got life!