Natalie Merchant is responsible for what I’ve become. Compulsive listening to 10,000 Maniacs caused neurons to fire with recognition at the sight of Jack Kerouac in the book store at the beginning of my last year of high school. The unremarkable walk out of Walden Books in the crisp October afternoon sun in 1993 seemed like any other, just as an inconsistency in metal rails is just as much until a train comes barreling down on them.
While it was never my dream to get married and have children, I also didn’t see any alternatives to that future. There was only one road to the future. Everyone I knew planned to navigate it.
When my friends would enthuse about their future families, a tiny quiver in a dank, seldom-visited corner of my brain would induce sweaty palms and a dry mouth. I had dutifully obtained a high school boyfriend thinking that it would unlock my vision of my future self, mom, wife. I felt sure making all the preordained choices would silence that troubling quiver.
And then this happened:
“… they rushed down the street together digging everything in the early way they had which has later now become so much sadder and perceptive.. but then they danced down the street like dingledodies and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” Jack Kerouac On the Road (Scroll Edition)
Like a blaring alarm clock that jolts the sleeper upright, waking came to me abrupt and complete. Inhabiting On the Road opened me to the pursuit of truth. The power inherent in chance encounters. The heartbreak and beauty in seeking authenticity in a world saturated with facades and costumes. I saw in On the Road the quiver grow to a rattling. The train jumped the tracks.
The book describes late 1940’s America with love and smoldering intensity. Every crevasse and sewer grate from New York to San Francisco is found with a quiet beauty in its disarray. They roar across the country looking to drink every real experience in every moment stealing real connections from the jaws of 1950’s conformity.
Since I took the other road in 1993 that led me to move away from home and come out, I read On the Road again in the early 2000’s. So, I selected The Original Scroll edition for this reading. This edition was written in 1948, whereas the published version of On the Road was rewritten several times before it finally hit the shelves in 1957. The versions are different in that the punctuation typically used in quotations is eschewed and the names of the characters haven’t been changed. Sal is Jack in The Original Scroll edition. These are the most obvious differences. There are other minor differences that will only be obvious to the most obsessive fan.
My third reading of this finds me at thirty-nine. It finds me coming to the realization that I love experiences over things. It finds me shedding my furniture. It finds me putting down all the things I’ve collected over the years. It finds me single with a string of failed relationships behind me all collateral damage in part due to my incessant searching for more. It finds me throwing clothes, guitars, and cat into my car in three weeks to move across the country. It finds me hungry for authenticity. It finds me going on the road.
I don’t know what Seattle will hold for me. I do know that I need to face this down. I do know that I will make a pilgrimage to this bridge in Big Sur while I am out West. And I know like Jack Kerouac and Ben Gibbard, I will be reminded that it’s about the journey and not the destination. And I know that I couldn’t have better muses to carry me on this journey than Jack and Neil.
“Bixby Canyon Bridge” – Death Cab for Cutie
I descended a dusty gravel ridge
Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge
Until I eventually arrived
At the place where your soul had died
Barefoot in the shallow creek
I grabbed some stones from underneath
And waited for you to speak to me
In the silence it became so very clear
That you had long ago disappeared
I cursed myself for being surprised
That this didn’t play like it did in my mind
All the way from San Francisco
As I chased the end of your road
‘Cause I’ve still got miles to go
And I want to know my fate
If I keep up this way
And it’s hard to want to stay awake
When everyone you meet, they all seem to be asleep
And you wonder if you’re missing a dream
You can’t see a dream
You can’t see a dream
You just can’t see a dream
A dream [x12]
And then it started getting dark
I trudged back to where the car was parked
No closer to any kind of truth
As I must assume was the case with you