Note: First published on Blogger on May 3, 2007
Unfolding the Map
Okay, I'm going to admit something here. I'm just guessing on this one. I did a Google and a Google Earth search for Alameda Avenue, and the only one that came up was in Burbank. So, I don't really know whether Sal went here or not, or if Alameda Avenue even exists. But, it's plausible, perhaps, even though Burbank doesn't quite fit the image. So I'm just going with it and I hope you'll excuse my leap. If you want to see where we are on the map, just click the image at left. Enjoy today's posting!
"'Man,I'm going to get my clothes from Sis and we'll hitchhike to New York,' said Terry. 'Come on, man. Let's do it. If you can't boogie I know I'll show you how.' That last part was a song of hers she kept singing. We hurried to her sister's house in the sliverous Mexican shacks somewhere beyond Alameda Avenue. I waited in a dark alley behind Mexican kitchens because her sister wasn't supposed to see me. Dogs ran by. There were little lamps illuminating the little rat alleys. I could hear Terry and her sister arguing in the soft, warm night. I was ready for anything."
On the Road, Chapter 13
Alameda Avenue, Burbank, California
As stated above, I don't know if this is the general area where Terry's sister lived or not. It seems plausible, simply because the only other Alameda Avenue I could find is much farther away, in Azusa, California, and it is only a small street. Sal says, vaguely, "somewhere beyond Alameda Avenue." That could mean anything.
It seems like almost a spot decision, the way it is presented in the book, that Terry and Sal will hitchhike to New York. Sal has already entertained her with stories of New York, and being from Bakersfield and already heading for a big city when Sal met her, it makes some sense for Terry to want to see something even bigger and perhaps better herself in the wealth of opportunities there. This is also somewhat notable, because it is the first time in this journey that Sal really thinks about heading back to New York. Many times he has had moments of crisis, notably at the Bear Mountain Bridge and in Iowa and Nebraska, but he manages to keep traveling toward his goal of Denver and then San Francisco. Now, however, he doesn't say a word, just follows Terry's lead. Perhaps he is in love? Or maybe he's tired of the road? Or a little of both?
I find the use of "sliverous" to describe the dwellings of the Mexican families interesting. I can't decide whether he means that they are narrow, or they are made of material that would give one slivers. Either way seems to work...I can imagine narrow shacks jammed together in a kind of "barrio." I can also imagine that they are made of rough hewn planks, and whatever else could be salvaged. One only need to visit a colonia along the Texas-US, New Mexico-US, Arizona-US or California-US border to get a sense of what I mean. A colonia is usually a settlement with houses made from whatever can be scrounged -- wood, tin roofing, plastic, canvas, in short everything. They often have no running water, and perhaps no electricity. Obviously Terry's sister's neighborhood had some electricity because of the lamps in the narrow "rat" alleys. To Jack, such neighborhoods may have seemed dangerous and exciting, and it is notable that Sal must hide because propriety dictates that Terry's sister not know about him. Had he been seen, who knows what might happen.
Was this place in or near Burbank? Probably not, since Burbank has traditionally been an upper-middle class area. But it could very well have been beyond Burbank, which must have seemed like the hinterlands in the late 1940s; a dark, less populated area beyond the city lights that the well-to-do and comfortable avoided, but which provided shelter and life to the down and out on the fringes of society.
If you want to learn more about Burbank or colonias
City of Burbank
Colonia definitions (Texas)
History of Burbank
Next up: Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California