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  • On the Road
    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
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    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

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« On the Road: Times Square | Main | On the Road: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania »

On the Road: Allentown, Pennsylvania

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Where are we now?  Starving, tired, and hoping a crazy man takes us home.  Click on the map and you'll see our current location.

Book Quote

"The ride I proceeded to get was with a skinny, haggard man who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health.  When I told him I was starving to death as we rolled east he said, 'Fine, fine, there's nothing better for you.  I myself haven't eaten for three days.  I'm going to live to be a hundred and fifty years old.'  He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac.  I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who'd say, 'Let's stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans.'  No, I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health.  After a hundred miles he grew lenient and took out bread-and-butter sandwiches from the back of the car.  They were hidden among his salesman samples.  He was selling plumbing fixtures around Pennsylvania.  I devoured the bread and butter.  Suddenly I began to laugh.  I was all alone in the car, waiting for him as he made business calls in Allentown, and I laughed and laughed.  Gad, I was sick and tired of life."

On the Road, Chapter 14

If Jack Kerouac had bought a beer in Allentown during his trip, this was the beer he might have ordered, the local brew in the 1940s.

Allentown, Pennsylvania

I've been going through a "why me?" stage lately.  I got a PhD in Political Science, but of course it coincided with a recession so jobs in academia in my field are hard to come by, and I am working in a medical school instead.  Why me, I ask?

My wife and I haven't been able to have any kids.  I always thought I'd be a father, and had visions especially of a daughter.  Why me?

A person that I really enjoyed and wanted to know wants nothing to do with me now.  It was a situation that started out in the wrong way and went very, very badly.  Why me?

I'm not usually a whiner, but sometimes I feel like letting a nice big whine out.  Or even better yet...I love watching very young children in a store at the end of their rope.  You see it coming.  They have this annoyed look in their eyes that slowly turns to anger and which suddenly bursts forth in a screaming fit accompanied by tears, maybe stamping of feet or a throwing of the body on the ground and a refusal to move while the screaming continues unabated.  I've felt like's the ultimate heart-and-eardrum piercing "why me?"  I often wish that I had the freedom of a child to just blow a gasket like that sometimes - it seems so freeing.

The "why me" is usually followed by a "what's the problem with me?"  That usually brings me into dangerous territory.  I don't generally have a positive outlook to begin with (long story) but when I get into that kind of spiral, I can get down very fast.  I can get, as Kerouac writes above, "sick and tired of life."

Which is why I can relate to Sal in Allentown.  You can understand his exhaustion, his worry because he has no money, his desire to just get back home.  But, let's face it, he's whining.  I can hear my voice in that passage -- out of ALL the people I could meet when I'm tired and hungry, I have to meet the one idiot who is not eating.  Why me?

So what do I do in those situations?  Well, often I ride it out, which is what Sal has to do.  If I'm lucky, I'll have a few bread and butter sandwiches to pick me up once in a while until I'm back up to speed.  When I'm in that type of mental space, I often stay there for a while.  I don't like it, and I'd rather be anywhere else, but sometimes it's just where I have to be.

But at other times, and here's where I'm luckier than Sal in this instance, I have friends and a spouse who help pull me out.  Especially if I'm open to being pulled out.  Instead of being in alone in a car in Allentown waiting on someone to get me home, I have people with me on my own personal journey through life.

If you want to know more about Allentown

Allentown Good News (blog)
Beyond Scrapple: A Guide to Lehigh Valley Ethnic Restaurants (blog)
City of Allentown site
Lehigh Valley Convention and Visitor's Bureau
Lehigh Valley Insite (blog)
The Morning Call (newspaper)
Pulse Weekly (alternative newspaper)
Queen City Daily (blog)
Wikipedia: Allentown

Next up: Times Square, New York City

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