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    by Jack Kerouac
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On the Road: Paterson, New Jersey

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Note:  Originally posted on Blogger on May 22, 2006

Unfolding the Map

At right is a screenshot of the the first point on the Google Map of Sal Paradise's first journey to California in Jack Kerouac's On the Road. You may click on the image to be taken to the actual Map. The map will not look the same as the screenshot because it changes as points are added.

I chose On the Road as the first book to "journey" partly because it was what I was reading when the idea for this blog came to me. On the Road is a novel about a man's journey, not only across space but also within himself. Sal Paradise, the protagonist, represents Kerouac at a time when his life is still uncertain before him and he wants to fill it with excitement, adventure, and understanding about himself and the wider America he lives in. The book careens from place to place, with Sal following his friend Dean Moriarty and barely stopping but always looking ahead to the end point, like San Francisco, or back to New York. However, he travels through interesting places along the way, runs across interesting characters, and offers a snapshot of America in the late 1940s. This was a time of developing possibilities, changing styles and the flowering of the next great period of jazz. Some places Sal stops, either by necessity or curiousity. Others he simply mentions as he blazes on by in a bus, or while hitchhiking in a truck or car. Each of these places will be mapped and reflected on in turn as he makes his virtual journey across the blog. For more information on Kerouac or On the Road, visit the following links:

Jack Kerouac Wikipedia entry
Jack Kerouac Beat Museum Entry
Dharma Beat
National Public Radio story on On the Road
On the Road Wikipedia entry
Youtube: Jack Kerouac reads from On the Road

Book Quote

"In the month of July 1947,having saved about fifty dollars from old veteran benefits, I was ready to go to the West Coast...My aunt was all in accord with my trip to the West; she said it would do me good, I'd been working so hard all winter and staying in too much; she even didn't complain when I told her I'd have to hitchhike some. All she wanted was for me to come back in one piece. So, leaving my big half-manuscript sitting on top of my desk, and folding back my comfortable home sheets for the last time one morning, I left with my canvas bag in which a few fundamental things were packed and took off for the Pacific Ocean with the fifty dollars in my pocket."

On the Road, Chapter 2

On the Road: Chapter 2, Paterson, New Jersey

At the beginning of On the Road, Sal is a struggling writer living with his aunt in Paterson and making regular trips to the nightlife in New York City with Dean Moriarty when he makes the decision, prompted by a letter from a friend in San Francisco, to travel west. He is also encouraged by the fact that a number of his friends, including Dean, are also traveling and he hopes to meet up with them on the road.

My personal experience of Paterson is limited. I have only been to Paterson once, and that was to meet a friend and colleague there for lunch as I was passing through. Other than that, I have little knowledge of the city. My remembrance was meeting for lunch at a little place there off the freeway. I was driving back to my home in Milwaukee after a trip back to the East Coast. What little I saw did not make much of an impression upon me.

However, like Sal, I too have faced the wide open landscape of my life and, as Mark Twain wrote, "lit out for the territories." After my college graduation, the enormity of the challenge of finding a job with an English major led me to make what then seemed like a rash choice. I joined a volunteer organization, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and moved from California to Milwaukee to start what proved to be two years of living and working in one of the most challenging inner-city environments in the nation. However, part of the allure was to go somewhere new, and see something that I'd never seen before. I too wanted to discover something of America beyond my California experience, just as Sal was interested in new experiences. I didn't exactly leave with $50 in my pocket, but I went into a life of voluntary poverty, in a way, and dependence on a community of new friends in the volunteer program.

I remember well my leaving. I went to the San Francisco airport and boarded a United flight to Chicago. It was my first time on an airplane, and I was 22 years old! I was nervous about flying and what I would meet "out there." It was, up to that point, the most exciting time of my life.

If you are interested in learning more about Paterson

Do you have any comments, reflections, stories, or photos about Paterson, On the Road or Kerouac? Feel free to leave comments or suggestions. Until the next post, happy touring!


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