As a reformed political junkie, my advice in this volatile political season is to take a break from all the head spinning news cycles. I suggest, like the boys from Delta Tau Chi in Animal House, that it’s time for a classic road trip by plane, train, or automobile. Yes sir, in tough economic times, my motto is you must continue to travel, but you must travel like it’s a war, down and dirty in the trenches. Seriously, I love to take a road trip and this summer, I connected to a part of my past that has been instrumental in shaping my perspective of the world. I don’t ever suggest taking my travel stories or anyone else’s as a “do it exactly like me” endeavor. What I am saying is that this country offers a great deal of variety and you can do it rather thriftily if you stay away from cookie cutter resorts and instead become a true adventurer. America was built on the pioneer spirit and it needs to be revived. But as my mom advised, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
When I was a young man, Jack Kerouac, whom I consider to be a prolific story teller, influenced my writing style and my viewpoint. On the Road is a classic tale of America and its restless youth with eyes full of wanderlust. Things haven’t changed much. I always considered myself a candidate to become a traveling man and so I did. Forty years and millions of miles of self discovery have been a function of my work and my play and starting early on, the lines were fuzzy. “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry,” Jack would say and when you pack a bag these thoughts are more important than your seat assignment as far as I am concerned. I have learned more about people at airport bars than almost anywhere else. I travel light. There is something cathartic in being mobile. You honestly don’t need as much stuff as you have tricked yourself into believing.
So I was thrilled this summer when I was able to visit Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts and it was the last leg of a five part saga that was on my “to do” list for many years. This is another must. Keep a journal and a current “bucket list”. The desire to do something is in and of itself inspirational and fulfilling. These jaunts embraced what influenced me most as a storyteller and as a curious traveler. It all began overlooking the Pacific Ocean some years ago when I visited Steinbeck’s Monterey County in California including Big Sur and thinking about material for a book I would eventually co-write with friends about the spiritual life experience we all share. Next there was a journey to Jack London’s Oakland, California at a time that my publisher was located in Berkeley. A dinner at Trader Vic’s talking Jack London is one memory I shall always treasure. But then I love a good Mai Tai. Then there was my visit to Mark Twain’s Virginia City, Nevada where he took his first writing job as reporter at the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. His work there embraced the wild and wooly American West. That trip was followed by a trek to Hemingway’s Key West where I entered the famous Look-alike Contest in 2007 after I wrote My Way or the Hemingway. I lost because there are some far better Hemingways than me. Finally this year, I got to visit Kerouac’s Lowell, Massachusetts, a factory town, the symbol of another generation of blue collar workers, an image of my own past. In the end, your travels are reflective of who you are and more importantly what you will become. At each leg of my adventure I was reminded that this is a magnificent land we live in and endless opportunity remains.
In June. I drove into Lowell making the short drive from Boston and arrived there alone after some unfinished business and it was fitting because I read Kerouac when I was alone. He is that kind of read. I reconnected with something special for me, the roots of the Beat Generation. It was a rainy day and the sun broke through the gray clouds and as I got out of the rental car, there was a rainbow and Jack’s words filled the air. “What is a rainbow, Lord?– A hoop for the lowly”.
I strolled into the The Worthen House, established in 1898 and ordered a cold one. This place smells like history. It has a classic bar and a belt-linked fan system that connects you to this old factory town. Kerouac hung out here but also Edgar Allan Poe. Good company. As I sat there I became an Old Dharma Bum and I looked up at the tin ceiling and spoke directly from the book. “Who were all these strange ghosts rooted to the silly little adventure of earth with me? And who was I?”
I found myself strolling down the wet streets ducking into Majors Pub and Cappy’s Copper Kettle and peeping into Ricardo’s Café Trattoria to see the neon sign that proclaims “Jack Lives Here.’’ The best part of the day was spent at Kerouac Park the memorial to the author. I sat on a granite bench to gather my thoughts and then read each tall monument that have excerpts from a variety of Jack Kerouac’s writings.
I made my way back to Boston knowing I had a couple of days left there but then like kismet often works, it occurred to me how much Thoreau was a part of the travelogue I wrote in 2005 and I found myself at Walden Pond dreaming of further adventures and things to add to my list. We are all pilgrims, us earthlings and even the homebodies among us must realize that one day we will be moving on. Perhaps, if you are lucky, you might get a first class upgrade because of all the miles you have accumulated.