Note: First published on Blogger on July 17, 2006
Unfolding the Map
Wow, this title sure is a mouthful, isn't it? Ogallala. Oh-gah-la-la. Not a very good opening for this post, but let's see what comes of it. As usual, image, click, you're at the map.
"We came suddenly into the town of Ogallala, and here the fellows in the cab called out, 'Pisscall!' and with great good delight....
I had to buy more cigarettes. Gene and the blond boy followed me to stretch their legs. I walked into the least likely place in the world, a kind of lonely Plains soda fountain for the local teenage girls and boys. They were dancing, a few of them, to the music on the jukebox. There was a lull when we came in. Gene and Blondey just stood there, looking at nobody; all they wanted was cigarettes. There were some pretty girls, too. And one of them made eyes at Blondey and he never saw it, and if he had he wouldn't have cared, he was so sad and gone."
On the Road, Chapter 4
The image of the soda fountain catches my eye in this quote. It reminds me of a dream my father once had. The story, which may be more or less factual, has it that my father's original dream was to own a soda shop called The Green Parrot in Fort Bragg, California, where he was born and raised. However, World War II intervened, and he left Fort Bragg to go into the Army. He was eventually stationed in the Pacific, in Saipan, after the initial invasion there. He was a master seargent, and ran a mess hall. Every paycheck, he would send something home home to his dad. His instructions to his father were to put the money in savings. That money was going to be used when he came back home to put a down payment on The Green Parrot, which the owner had promised to sell to him when he got back from the war.
When my father arrived home after the war, he asked his father for the money. His father hemmed, hawed, and then told him to come with him. They wandered about 20 miles out into the forest, on dirty back roads, until they came to a little piece of property consisting of 13 acres of undeveloped, overgrown timberland alongside the Noyo River and straddling both sides of the California Western Railroad tracks. My grandfather had "invested" the money in this piece of property. My father's dream of owning The Green Parrot died, but the property remains in use by my family this day as a sort of rustic, actually primitive, summer resort.
(The Green Parrot does not exist anymore. If you want to see The Green Parrot as it might have looked in the 1940s, you can catch a glimpse of it in the movie Racing With the Moon, starring Sean Penn, Elizabeth McGovern and Nicolas Cage. In fact, my whole damn hometown of Fort Bragg is featured.)
Given that my father died an alcoholic after having worked at a lumber mill all his life, I often wonder what would have happened had he been able to buy The Green Parrot. Would he have been the kindly owner/soda jerk behind the counter, laughing with even as he shook his head at the antics of those damn kids every day? Would I have spent my summers, instead of swimming and sleeping under the stars out in the middle of the redwoods, slinging sodas and malts and sweeping up late nights. Would we have ended up without a business in the 80s, when the chains like Burger King and McDonalds swept into town, or would we have ridden it out and become retro-cool? Would my dad's life have been different, happier?
Or would it have been as Kerouac described the Ogallala soda shop -- a lonely kind of place where kids with nothing to do hang out? Where girls who see the same boys all day are extremely likely to latch on to a couple of homeless drifters looking for nothing more than cigarettes? Would we all just be so "sad and gone," that we just wouldn't care?
If you are interested in learning more about Ogallala or soda fountains and soda shops
Next stop: Cheyenne, Wyoming