“On The Road” observations from the King of the Beats


Source: behance.net

Source: behance.net

While reading the classic Jack Kerouac autobiographical novel, On The Road, I was struck by his interesting reflections about the various urban and natural landscapes he observed.  These were made while he was zooming back and forth across the nation’s mostly two-lane byways in the later 1940s, often with his friend Neal Cassady.

Source: vanityfair.com

Source: vanityfair.com

As the de-facto King of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac packs a lot of raw power and emotion into his writing, which sometimes is classified as spontaneous prose. His writing, much like his frenetic lifestyle, often took place in the fast lane, with no (or little) hesitation. Here are some examples of his observations gleaned from the book. By the way, anyone like me, who has ever daydreamed about places unvisited will immediately relate to the second quote below. Enjoy!

  • “I’ve been pouring over maps of the United States in Paterson for months, even reading books about the pioneers and savoring names like Platte and Cimarron and so on…”
  • “Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska, and I could see the greater vision of San Francisco beyond, like the jewels in the night.”
  • “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future…”
  • “The floors of bus stations are the same all over the country, always covered with butts and spit and they give a feeling of sadness that only bus stations have. For a moment it was no different from being in Newark, except for the great hugeness outside that I loved so much.”
  • “The mountains, the magnificent Rockies that you can see to the west from any part of town [Denver], were papier-mache.”
  • “The bus trip from Denver to Frisco was uneventful, except that my whole soul leaped to it the nearer we got to Frisco.”
  • “Tracy [California] is a railroad town, brakemen eat surly meals in diners by the tracks. Trains howl away across the valley. The sun goes down long and red.”
  • “I loved the way she said L.A. I love the way everybody says L.A. on the Coast.; it’s their one and only golden town when all is said and done.”
  • “L.A. is the loneliest and most brutal of all American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter, but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. L.A. is a jungle.”
  • “We arrived in St. Louis at noon. I took a walk down by the Mississippi River and watched the logs that came down from Montana in the north – grand Odyssean logs of our continental dream. Old steamboats with their scrollwork more scrolled and withered by weathers sat in the mud inhabited by rats. Great clouds of afternoon overtopped the Mississippi Valley. The bus roared through Indiana cornfields that night; the moon illuminated the ghostly gathered husks; it was almost Halloween. I made the acquaintance of a girl and we necked all the way to Indianapolis.”
  • “I had traveled eight thousand miles around the American continent and I was back on Times Square; and right in the middle of rush hour, too, seeing with my innocent road-eyes the absolute madness and fantastic hoorair [sic] 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.”
  • “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Source: On The Road

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