Sal gets the skinny guy starving himself for health to take him all the way to Times Square. He's almost home, and so are we. Click the map to see our progress.
"Suddenly I found myself on Times Square. I had traveled eight thousand miles around the American continent and I was back on Times Square; and right in the middle of a rush hour, too, seeing with my innocent road-eyes the absolute madness and fantastic hoorair of New York with its millions and millions hustling forever for a buck among themselves, the mad dream-grabbing, taking, giving, sighing, dying, just so they could be buried in those awful cemetery cities beyond Long Island City. The high towers of the land - the other end of the land, the place where Paper America is born."
On the Road, Chapter 14
Times Square, New York City
I put this video up because I really like the billboard where the guy smokes, and because it was taken in the 1940s about the time Jack Kerouac was in and out of the area. I can imagine Jack, searching for cigarette butts on the ground to get a puff or two off underneath the billboard as he tries to figure out how to get over to Paterson without any money.
It's hard for me to imagine Times Square as it was, because I only began traveling to New York City in earnest, three times a year, for a job from 1995-2000. At that time, the transition of Times Square from a seedy place filled with porno shops and cheap sex shows to a clean, family friendly Disney atmosphere was almost complete. In 1995, you could still find some of the old Times Square off on some of the side streets, but they were fast disappearing under the onslaught of Mickey Mouse.
The interesting thing about Sal's statement above is how he describes being in New York City once again after having been on the road for so many months. He almost describes the feelings that I have heard some describe after living for a while in a developing country. The hubbub, the busy-ness and the businesses, the traffic at rush hour (which I'm sure is even worse today than in the late 1940s), the chaotic swirl of life in America's biggest city. When you've been standing for hours in a place like Shelton, Nebraska, or picking cotton in Selma, California, or even just riding a bus through places and past names that have almost a mystical sound to them, a jolt of New York City can definitely be a shock to the system. I suppose that in a way, large portions of rural America in the 1940s were akin to a developing country. Though America had awakened its industrial giant in World War II, there were still large portions of rural America that didn't have running water or electricity. If you were near a populated area, you most likely had electricity, but the farther away you got from cities or towns, the less chance that power lines extended out to you.
Sal also makes a distinction between "Paper America," or the business and legal America, with the rest of America he has just seen. In rural America, life must have been even more in stark contrast with the city than it is today. If one doesn't have electricity or running water, one is forced to live a more simple lifestyle. The trappings of a modern society are not needed, nor are they missed because they have never been there. Contracts and stocks, bonds and licenses are not as important. Most likely, even currency was not as important because more bartering took place, i.e. a couple of dozen eggs in exchange for use of tools to fix the old truck.
For Sal, or actually Jack, stepping back into New York must have been quite a culture shock. I'd be interested in knowing if, after visiting a more simple and innocent America, whether he saw things like smoking billboards and the hustle and bustle of Times Square as exciting, or overkill? I know that for me, after spending a month in a developing country, getting used to the hectic pace of my own life back in the states was an adjustment. The rhythm of the road or trip, replaced by a new beat of life.
If you want to know more about Times Square
42nd Street: At the Crossroads
An Appreciation of the New Times Square (video)
History of Times Square
Seven Decades of Times Square (video)
Times Square Alliance
Times Square: Crossroads of the World
Times Square (short film)
Wikipedia: Times Square
Next up: Paterson, New Jersey and end of trip