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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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Entries in Jack Kerouac (67)


On the Road: The Daily Beat

I haven't done an On the Road post in a while, but I just learned about a website to share with all of you Littourati who come by this website looking for things Kerouac or beat.

Dr. Rick Dale, professor of Special Education at the University of Maine at Farmington and the author of The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions, has a blog where he posts daily Kerouactions that you can do to keep in touch with your own inner beat.  For example, based on Sal's time in "Sabinal," California - on which I wrote a post about Selma, California, the actual town where Kerouac spent time with Bea Franco and whose relationship formed the basis for the Sal and Terry romance - Dale argues that being beat includes eating Mexican food.  He pulls a passage from On the Road to prove his point, where Sal, Ponzo, Terry, Terry's brother and his kid eat "tacos and mashed pinto beans rolled in tortillas" at a Mexican restaurant.

Other tecent topics Dale tackles include interconnectedness, priorities, sleep and movies, all inspired by On the Road.  In other words, it's a little like Littourati without the maps, and Dale is more succinct, i.e. less verbose, than I am.

Check it out!  And buy his book on Amazon so that you can help your true beat self shine!  If you forget, you can always come back to my links page and find his site there!


On the Road Journey based on Littourati's Google Map

Someone has re-posted my Google Map of On the Road onto their site, seemingly to begin video-chronicling a journey in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac.  You can go to their site at to see what they have planned.

I'm glad they have found use for the map, and hope they find a way to credit me for my work in putting it together.  Regardless, I wish them luck in their journey!


Blue Highways: St. Louis, Missouri

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

Heading east with William Least-Heat Moon, we cross the Missouri, then the Mississippi at St. Louis.  We also have a cross-reference (I'll call it an intersection) with Jack Kerouac.  If you want to see where we are, click on the map.

Book Quote

"Eighty miles out, rain started popping the windshield, and the road became blobby headlights and green interstate signs for this exit, that exit.  LAST EXIT TO ELSEWHERE.  I crossed the Missouri River not far upstream from where Lewis and Clark on another wet spring afternoon set out for Mr. Jefferson's 'terra incognita.'  Then, to the southeast under a glowing skull-cap of fouled sky, lay St. Louis.  I crossed the Mississippi as it carried its forty hourly tons of topsoil to the Louisiana delta."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 4

Littourati Intersection

On the Road: St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri

In my last post on St. Louis, I focused on the Gateway Arch, which wasn't built when Jack Kerouac went through, but was by the time Least-Heat Moon heads through town.  But Least-Heat Moon's (I'm going to refer to him as LHM for short now) passage about St. Louis is very similar to Kerouac's.  Both were heading in the same direction - east.  Both remark on the air above St. Louis.  For Kerouac, it was "great clouds of afternoon overtopping...".  But LHM describes it more ominously, giving us more of modern, polluted big city feel when he writes of St. Louis with a "glowing skull-cap of a fouled sky."  Both authors also point out the Mississippi River.  Kerouac writes of logs carried down the current from Montana past steamboats, mud and rats, while LHM makes reference to the tremendous amounts of topsoil that washes into the Mississippi and is carried its length to fan out into the Gulf.

Electricity Building at 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis

One interesting aspect of St. Louis, besides the Arch, is the fact that it was once home of a huge World's Fair, the grounds of which are still open as a park, and its Catholic cathedral has some amazing mosaic work throughout its edifice.  Kerouac didn't stop to take the sights in St. Louis, so focused was he on getting back to the East Coast, and I assume that LHM was probably familiar with all these aspects of St. Louis.  But both of these attractions were for me extremely interesting.  The Fair evidently popularized a lot of American food staples that we think of as essential American food today: ice cream cones, hamburgers, hot dogs, peanut butter, ice tea, and cotton candy, to name a few.  A number of buildings from the Fair still exist on the Washington University of St. Louis campus.  Many of the buildings were eye-poppers for their day.  One building was devoted entirely to electricity, still a novelty in many areas, and was lit up with thousands of electric lights at night.  The Fair was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, the "terra incognita" that LHM cites above, and which Kerouac alludes to in On the Road when he mentions the logs floating down the river connected with our "continental dream."  The Fair is also somewhat infamous for its "human zoos" in which aboriginal peoples from newly conquered American territories in the Philippines and Guam, as well as some Native Americans, were on display for the public to gawk at their "primitive" nature.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis made a huge impression on me when I visited.  The mosaics were started in 1912, not long after the cathedral was built, and not finished until 1988.  The mosaics were designed by Albert Oerken and, on the sides, Tiffany Studios.  They cover the entire cathedral and depict the life of King Louis the IX of France, the namesake of St. Louis, events in the archdiocese, and Old and New Testament stories.  It is one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world.  I like mosaics because the idea of taking bits of colored glass which by themselves are unremarkable and assembling them into something beautiful that tells a story is so symbolic.  Our entire existences are really mosaics.  Individual, unremarkable stars coalesce to form galaxies, which themselves, coalesce within the universe.  Individual cells, each performing one function on its own, combines with other cells doing each doing their own duties to create a living being, and individual atoms combine in a mosaic to form those cells.  Each individual person combines his or her actions and lives with others and forms a civilization.  The words I write here, each individual in itself, combine to create this blog post in a mosaic of ideas.  Finally, individual parts of us, including our strengths and flaws, combine in a mosaic to make us the people we are.

If you want to know more about St. Louis, the 1904 World's Fair, or the Cathedral Basilica

1904 World's Fair
1904 World's Fair Society
1904 World's Fair Virtual Tour
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
Explore St. Louis
Terry Laupp's 1904 World's Fair Page
Wikipedia: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
Wikipedia: Louisiana Purchase Exposition
Wikipedia: St. Louis

Next up: Lebanon, Illinois


On the Road: Paterson, New Jersey (end of trip)

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

Wow!  It's taken us four years to travel along with Sal Paradise across the country and back.  Along the way, we've seen a lot of interesting things and done a lot of introspection about life, both in the 1940s and all the way to today.  This is the last post in this particular string of literary wandering, but upcoming are more trips for you, and eventually, we'll also come back to Jack Kerouac.  So take a look at the map.  Also, be sure to check out the Google Earth kmz tour that has now been uploaded.  Click here, or click on the link to the left under "Maps."

Book Quote

"I had to panhandle two bits for the bus. I finally hit a Greek minister who was standing around the corner. He gave me the quarter with a nervous lookaway. I rushed immediately to the bus.

"When I got home I ate everything in the icebox. My aunt got up and looked at me. 'Poor little Salvatore,' she said in Italian. 'You're thin, you're thin. Where have you been all this time?' I had on two shirts and two sweaters; my canvas bag had torn cottonfield pants and the tattered remnants of my huarache shoes in it. My aunt and I decided to buy a new electric refrigerator with the money I had sent her from California; it was to be the first one in the family. She went to bed, and late at night I couldn't sleep and just smoked in bed. My half-finished manuscript was on the desk. It was October, home, and work again. The first cold winds rattled the windowpane, and I had made it just in time."

On the Road book cover

Back in Paterson, New Jersey

Coming home after being away is always an adjustment, at least to me.  At the time of this writing, I am 46 years old, but going home is always fraught with peril.  I fit very easily into my old family functions, and dysfunctions, and even after 25+ years out of my mom's house, I sometimes find that it is difficult for me to don those roles again.  Why does my mom treat me like the teenager she used to when I visit the kitchen, hovering over everything I do there?  Why is it we talk so easily over the phone, but when I get home getting her to talk to me about something serious is like pulling teeth?  My wife comments on the weird relationship I have with my mother.  Over the past three years, my sister has been living with my mom, and now those two have come to some sort living arrangement that makes interlopers like my wife and I even more uneasy sometimes because of unknown boundaries and rules that they've worked out for themselves.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't feel welcome at my house.  I do.  But I also keenly aware that "my" house, where I grew up, isn't my house anymore.  So even though I'm at home, I'm not really at home.

I compare and contrast this with Sal's experience.  He comes home, and his aunt welcomes him with words of concern.  She also talks as if he hasn't been gone for months, but has been gone for a day and has maybe gotten himself into some trouble.  I'm sure Sal, after traveling for days with little money and wondering if he is going to get home, is happy for some loving care.  I think, however, that it will be difficult to answer his aunt.  Sal's world has expanded so exponentially that there is no way that he's going to be able to adequately convey his experiences to this kindly, uncomplicated woman who is worried about how skinny he looks.

My experience with my mom is similar.  I find that there are "safe" topics that I can discuss with her.  The weather.  The doings of our neighbors.  The animals.  What my sisters and extended family members have been up to.  She usually picks out whether I feel down and tells me platitudes that she's built up over the years:  "You have to stop and smell the roses," or "It's time to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and put your best foot forward."  But my mom has a high school education and does not understand a lot of my reality since I left home.  I can give her generalities about the difficulties of being a PhD looking for a job, or what life in Albuquerque is like, or discuss vaguely the things that I find interesting, but I can't fully connect with her on these things.  It creates a bit of a gulf between us.  My wife, on the other hand, has a very accomplished family.  Her father and one sister is a PhD, her brother is in information technology in health care, another sister is an MBA, lawyer and CFO, and another sister is a highly accomplished artist.  Her mother is also very accomplished as well.  My wife can bring up anything with them and have good discussions with them on practically any topic.  I would like to have this kind of relationship with my mom, but my overeducation precludes it, though I value what my mom gives me as she is.

So Sal is now back home, his life stretching before him, a manuscript of a book waiting for his attention, and a kindly aunt taking care of him.  Before long, the itch to travel will overtake him again, and he will meet up with Dean Moriarty and once again make a cross-country trip.  It's hard to resist the lure of adventure and the road, especially when you have a devil-may-care friend.

I will close this string of reflections on the first trip of On the Road with my gratitude to everybody who has read from this blog.  There have been few comments but many visitors, and I hope it has been enjoyable for you.  I will start on a new book and a new set of reflections shortly.  I will probably also come back to Kerouac sometime in the future, because he made three trips that are chronicled in On the Road, and I've only mapped out the first one.  So look for more Kerouac eventually.  Comments are welcome, if you wish to make any, about anything you see in this blog.

If you want to know more about On the Road or Jack Kerouac

30 Writing Tips by Jack Kerouac
Haiku by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac Quotes
On the Road online
On the Road Symbolism, Imagery and Allegory
Penguin Reading Guides: On the Road
Youtube: Kerouac interviewed by Fernanda Pivano
Youtube: Kerouac interviewed on the Steve Allen Show
Wikiquote: On the Road quotes

Next up: Wherever another book takes us


On the Road: Times Square

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

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.

Book Quote

"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