End of the summer and we hit the road to drive two hundred and fifty miles north: 287, 684, 84, 90, 290, 495 . . . if you know the roads, you know what I’m writing about. If you don’t, it’s all pretty much the same, not much to see, and there’s been a drought so the landscape is dry.
Midway in Connecticut, we stop to eat a giant turkey and Monterrey Jack sandwich on a Miami onion roll kept fresh in a cooler－don’t leave home without one－and thought Kerouac could have used a cooler to store his sandwiches; he’d buy a loaf of bread and meat to last for a cross-country trip. Back in the day, the technology hadn’t yet been developed for a light-weight insulated bag.
On the road, of course, my thoughts are on Jack. How could they not be, as he is my road hero. In the car, I keep my eyes on the line down the middle of the road. The road less traveled, on the way to visit family in New Hampshire, close to Nashua, where Jack’s parents met and married and where there is a family burial site.
Somewhere around Lowell, Massachusetts, the trees change to conifers, and you drive past the Merrimack River, the Merrimack of the great flood of 1936.
I’d like to stop to pay my respects to Kerouac, but our kin warned us about the Friday afternoon traffic, and after driving for four hours, we heed their advice. We’ll have to stop another time. But I have to prepare myself emotionally as well. I’m not going there as a tourist, but as a friend of someone I know well from reading all his books over many years. So another time, when the summer is over and there’s less traffic going north.
From our moving car, we take a photo of the Lowell sign. It’s a poor photo, and I meant to get the line of cars in front of us, but the photo doesn’t show it. Then the motorist behind us honks his horn, so we keep driving.
In Jack’s America, in the books, I can’t recall traffic. Maybe coming back from California, Neal Cassady at the wheel in the Chicago gangster’s boat of a Cadillac, they race a mad Italian, but other than that, I can’t recall a mention of bumper-to-bumper, tie ups, or bottlenecks. The roads seemed pretty wide open, fewer cars, more space, more freedom, less restrictions. For example, anyone been thumbing lately? It’s hard to conceive anyone hitchhiking, or anyone picking up a hitchhiker. Our journey, including a trip to rural Vermont, clocked more than eight hundred miles, and nary a single hitchhiker.
Or pie. Anyone seen a pie cooling on a windowsill of a country home with a handwritten sign: LEAVE MONEY IN CAN? Not lately. The government would shut it down in violation of health codes, and the tax man would be right behind. Jack ate pie, and the deeper he drove into the country the better the pie. I’d like to imagine that someplace in a far corner of Maine a delicious homemade pie is left on the back porch waiting to be snatched by a hungry hitchhiking hobo.
So the country has grown older, sadder than Jack could have imagined, and less free.