Note: First published on Blogger on July 29, 2006
Unfolding the Map
You have done it, Littourati! You and Sal Paradise have braved the prairies, the loneliness, the long hours of wondering whether you will get a ride, and have reached Denver. Now you will kick back for a while, enjoy your friends, meet up with Dean Moriarty and have some wild times until the road calls you again. Wonder exactly how far you've come? Click the image!
"I got on that hot road, and off I went in a brand-new car driven by a Denver businessman of about thirty-five. He went seventy. I tingled all over; I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!'....and before I knew it we were going over the wholesale fruitmarkets outside Denver; there were smokestacks, smoke, railyards, red-brick buildings, and the distant downtown graystone buildings, and here I was in Denver. He let me off at Larimer Street. I stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world, among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street."
On the Road, Chapter 5
Just two weekends ago, I made my first trip to Denver. While I was there, I made sure to stop at Larimer Street to see for myself what Sal/Jack might have seen when he was let off there. I can honestly say that despite the fact that many buildings might be left over from 1947, I'm sure that Denver is very different from when Sal stumbled "among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street."
On the corner of Larimer and 16th, I think, was an area called Writers Corner. Surely they would make some reference to Jack Kerouac? No, there was nary a mention of any writer, and the whole area was a small urban shopping mall with upscale art shops and tiny cafe style restaurants.
16th Street was most likely also very different from Jack's time through. It had become one, long urban shopping mall almost along its entirety through downtown. There was a Starbucks coffee shop approximately every two blocks, along with other chain-style stores. The few businesses that looked local along the street had to really create a niche for themselves and bring in a lot of customers to be able to afford the rent, it appeared to me. 16th Street and had few recognizable Kerouacian characters, a few "bums," so to speak. These were sitting along the side of the sidewalk, watching the free shuttle bus go back and forth, and mumbling their hellos to passersby over the signs that they held reading "God Bless You." They had to be circumspect, however, because Denver had recently started cracking down on panhandling, and the mounted police riding patrol down the street evidently weren't above arresting panhandlers they deemed too aggressive. When my wife attempted to give a woman in a wheelchair money, she said "wait until later," while warily eyeing the cops as they walked by on horseback.
Though I was not able to get there, I heard that a new building, the Jack Kerouac Lofts, had opened up off downtown at 3100 Huron Street, near the Camargo market where Jack (and Sal) took a job for a few days. Evidently, they do not sit on any site that is specifically known for a historic connection to Kerouac.
While my experience in Denver, unlike Sal's, did not consist of watching a friend romance two girls at once (Dean Moriarty), sitting and talking politics and philosophy (Dean and Carlo Marx on bennies), and doing the bars up and down Colfax Avenue (Sal and all his friends), I did eat great Ethiopian (I bet Jack never tried that) and saw the Body Worlds 2 exhibit where corpses without skin were posed doing activities like soccer and ice skating. Almost worthy of Kerouac, I think!
City and County of Denver Denver Beat Auto Tour (be sure to see all pages, including Beat Shuttle and Beat Train)
Denver's Beat Poetry Driving Tour (I wish I had seen these tours before I went!)
Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jack Kerouac Lofts Attract Eclectic Mix (Denver Business Journal)
Neal Cassady's Denver
Next stop: Central City, Colorado