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    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 Sal Paradise (65)


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!


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


On the Road: Allentown, Pennsylvania

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

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


On the Road: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

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.

Book Quote

"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

Harrisburg in the 1940s as Jack Kerouac might have seen it. Photo on Flickr as part of "kawkawpa's" photostream.Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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

Blog Harrisburg
The Fly Magazine (alternative newsweekly)
Hershey-Harrisburg Welcome Center
Jersey Mike
The Patriot-News (Newspaper)
Sara Bozich
Slow Food Harrisburg
Vegetarian Dining in the Harrisburg Area
Wikipedia: Harrisburg

Next up:  Allentown, Pennsylvania