Sal starts hitching again, trying to make it home on his last dime, facing a kind of judgment day. Follow along with us by clicking the map.
"I had three hundred and sixty-five miles yet to hitchhike to New York, and a dime in my pocket. I walked five miles to get out of Pittsburgh, and two rides, an apple truck and a big trailer truck, took me to Harrisburg in the soft Indian-summer rainy night. I cut right along. I wanted to get home.
"....That night in Harrisburg I had to sleep in the railroad station on a bench; at dawn the station masters threw me out. Isn't it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father's roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life. I stumbled haggardly out of the station; I had no more control. All I could see of the morning was a whiteness like the whiteness of the tomb. I was starving to death. All I had left in the form of calories were the last of the cough drops I'd bought in Shelton, Nebraska, months ago; these I sucked for their sugar. I didn't know how to panhandle. I stumbled out of town with barely enough strength to reach the city limits."
On the Road, Chapter 14
Who among us hasn't faced our own day of Laodiceans? Okay, as a Catholic, and as I explained in an earlier post, I don't know the Bible at all so I had to look up Kerouac's reference. This particular reference comes from the Book of Revelations, in which the Lord instructs John to address the church of the Laodiceans. The Laodicean church is admonished for being neither "hot" nor "cold," but "lukewarm," meaning that it doesn't lack for faith but it doesn't act upon its faith like it should. It's tepid fervor makes it unworthy - it has grown rich and does not realize that despite its material wealth, it is "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
It is a challenge, of course, when we realize that we've reached that day, or sometimes days, as I believe that the day of the Laodiceans can happen whenever we move into a comfort zone. Something happens to jar us out of our sense of complacency. It can happen when we move to a new place, and need to find new friends and create a new community for ourselves. It can happen when we take a new job and negotiate our way through the first week of work, wanting to prove that we belong and hoping nothing goes badly. Sooner or later, we will cease feeling the adrenaline and nervousness and grow into our new communities and jobs, and become complacent again.
It often happens when a love ends or a love is lost. How many times have I felt the way Kerouac describes? Too many, and upon realizing that the person loved is gone from my life forever, I have gone out into the world with the "visage of a gruesome, grieving ghost...shuddering through nightmare life." The blue sky seemed not so blue, the brilliant greens of nature turned a sickly yellow, and my troubles seemed to weigh down upon me like some great mass pressing me from above. "All I could see of the morning was a whiteness like the whiteness of the tomb." Eventually the wounds healed, the garish colors of remorse and self-pity morphed back into their natural states, and I moved onward toward my next day of the Laodiceans.
In Harrisburg, Sal reaches his own day of the Laodiceans. The purpose of the Revelations passage is not to condemn, but to challenge. The Laodicean church is challenged to take action, to repent, and to let in the Lord. Similarly, Sal has become complacent in long bus rides across the country. He only has cough drops from another place, Shelton, Nebraska, where he faced uncertainty about his decisions. It's ironic and poignant that sugar bought in Shelton is nourishing him now. He is being challenged to draw upon himself to finish his journey, to put aside his romantic fantasies that led him on this adventure, and to begin the next phase of his life.
If you want to know more about Harrisburg
The Fly Magazine (alternative newsweekly)
Hershey-Harrisburg Welcome Center
The Patriot-News (Newspaper)
Slow Food Harrisburg
Vegetarian Dining in the Harrisburg Area
Next up: Allentown, Pennsylvania