I once travelled from here to NYC to do a play with my friend, Kent, and we took the Southern Route. We drank our way across America, believing we could understand each city and its culture by spending the evening in the roughest places we could find. We had a high time of it, taking off the next morning with hangovers and assessments. We came close to getting 'our asses kicked' in Little Rock, ARK., and stayed around Nashville for three days, trying to convince a dancer we met there that she needed to come to NYC with us and do a play. We came close to convincing her, but in the end, we lost track of her, but I still carry that number in my wallet as a memory. Richmond, Virginia was one of the strangest places, but after several beers and whiskeys, we made friends. By the time we drove across the Washington Bridge to the city, we were spent.
Thus began the new adventure with the play. As we gained energy from rehearsals, we found solace in 'The Coyote Saloon', (before it was famous) the most raucous honky tonk bar in the east. The smell of whiskey permeated the air as we walked in, sometimes in the morning. We drank in Irish pubs and made friends with Irishmen of dubious character, rode the trains up and down the coast with whiskey in our pockets. After three months, the play was over, we were all dead broke and drunk, and then the sky began to fall. When I left NYC, I had a plane ticket to Phoenix, two dollars for the bus and a couple swallows of whiskey. As pieces of the sky began to land on our heads, (and all of us going in different directions) there was a price to pay. I drank for three more months, (the only time in my drinking career I drank daily) mostly with a Croation man next door who once belonged to the secret service there. We talked fishing, fire arms, and vodka, and soon my girlfriend threw me out. I went to an A.A meeting the next day, homeless, and stayed sober for almost seven years. The terrible thing about a connection to alcohol is that I missed it everyday, but my life begin to re-build itself. I rarely spoke at meetings, because I knew no one would believe my story, which I will have to write about in detail someday. Even though I think there has always been these kind of 'road scholars', I think 'On The Road' did mobilize a lot of young people pre-sixties. It was published in 1957, and did take awhile to catch on, but when it did, it did lots of justifying. I think though, that's the beauty of it, Kerouac, I think, in some part was saying, "get out there and have yourself some adventure, find out what life is all about." I always felt bad that he couldn't find a power to save himself from such a young alcoholic death. He did move a generation.
I'm so grateful that I found teaching as a tool to keep me sober and somewhat stable, and I hope all of those students, (some of who might read this) understand how grateful I am for that period of my life, and let's face it, teaching high school students is an adventure all of its own. There is a monologue in the play that I need to re-work some, that is a direct speech to all the wild boys and girls I ran with for so long, urging them to pick up the duffle bag and go on one last 'runner'. As I'm making this proclamation, none of them can look at me. So many did not find any kind of stable environment, many are dead, and many are just plain tired. I find in speaking to this metaphor of people, a sense of liberation in finding the need to talk about what we did and where we travelled. Of course, most were not writers, and most failed in the action of communicating what they were going through at the time, or for that matter, later in life. That is why its so embarrassing for most of them, they never got to talk about it like I did. Quote from the play: "George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young.." Mason Lyman, (a friend of those days) said, "We're young, let's get wasted..." And that is exactly what we did. I'm not proud of those we hurt in our travels, but I am proud of the fearlessness we attempted. We rode bulls, drove our cars from Idaho to Mexico at a hundred miles an hour. We wrecked cars, fought whoever didn't see it our way, and learned what the inside of a jail looked like. I have to find a way of conveying this speech so it isn't over romanticized, because the price was so great. There are other ways of finding 'meaning in life', still, I'm grateful I lived through it and can now, write about it. The students that remember these, 'on the road' stories in class I hope remember me for giving my life experience temperance, and I hope I was a half-assed role model, even though the stripes in the character are never thoroughly removed. Now that I am not teaching, I feel more of a freedom to talk about some of these things, and perhaps in doing so can live to have, 'another adventure'.
And to Kerouac and his generation, they were the precursor to what became and continued in the sixties and seventies, and if you were looking for adventure, it was in full bloom. Kerouac did say one thing in the book that struck me if its true, "The only thing in life for me is to love God and write about it..." I thought that in his own way, he tried to do this, but alcohol always has a way of railroading any allusions of doing the work of a saint. The jury is out on that one...
Time to take a shower and go out into the city, another adventure, another something to see.