Here we are lucky enough to have an except from the Outlaw Traveller journals of Marc____. These journals document a Kerouac-inspired journey around Europe and America, and shall appear, serialised, here in Beatdom. But I’ll let Marc explain for himself…
Father Kerouac – An Introduction
If it hadn’t been for Kerouac I probably wouldn’t have travelled, and certainly not kept as detailed a diary.
When my dreams of becoming a footballer expired in my rebellious teens my ambitions for life turned to travelling the world, with Kerouac’s road trips the biggest inspiration to my dream. I can’t remember when I read On The Road, whether it was before or after I started travelling, but I certainly knew about the book when I started formulating my travel plans, and the knowledge that such travel was possible, and that publication of the experiences had a precedent, got me travelling and writing.
It wasn’t only the travelling that made me relate to Kerouac, as we share many other similarities and life parallels. I also grew up in a small rural town, fatherless, and was good at sports. I also became a wayward jock, experimenting with drink and drugs, rebelling against the system and conformity, while trying to push my mind towards new experiences and truths. We also both went to university, and like Kerouac I sometimes felt out of place, being working class in higher class company: I was often the socially inept drunk sitting in the corner. Moreover, while the drink could be a source of great fun, and inspiration to many of my favourite times, when I crossed the boundary into a paralytic state it would often lead to pain and misery, both physical and mental. Also like Kerouac I’ve always been more interested in living life than making money, whether through travelling, socialising or creating.
And now as I’ve entered my forties, in debt with no mortgage or vehicle, I have become more conservative and patriotic like Kerouac, and am trying to control my desire for binging, with Kerouac’s example a constant warning to me of the possible consequences. But I still like to write as Kerouac did as much as possible, the first thought, the spontaneous prose, and many of my present day blogs are evidence of this.
How parallel our lives would have been if Kerouac had never been documented I don’t know, because I have read Kerouac, and others’ views on him. So he’s been with me since an early age, and while I’ve never consciously tried to copy him, I often see his influence in things I’ve done or worn even though I wasn’t thinking of him at the time.
The Kerouac Kid California Hitch: UK to Yugoslavia, via Belgium, France, Spain and Italy.
I was twenty-one, and planned to travel in Europe before heading to the United States; to emulate Kerouac’s journey from east to west coast and finish off in Los Angeles, which was now home to my favourite Heavy Metal music.
After a decent sleep I was about to leave when I heard voices; I looked round the corner of the house and saw a man guiding a car out, before locking the gate and entering the house. I rushed to the front but that exit was also shackled. So I threw my rucksack over the fence ready to follow it stealthily, only for my glass water bottle to fall out and smash on the floor, increasing my panic; so I quickly vaulted the fence, collected my rucksack, and skedaddled past a few startled pedestrians!
I was getting nowhere fast hitching out of Florence until I scribbled per favore on my Roma sign, and the magic words did the trick for me with a sixty miles lift soon after. We had a good conversation before he turned off to Perugia in the east for a birthday party, and dropped me off at a toll to the south. I was confident I wouldn’t be there long after receiving friendly gestures from several drivers, and sure enough I soon had a lift straight to Rome. He was a scrap-dealer driving a truck towing a smashed car. He said his name was Franco, he was thirty, and his wife was expecting their first baby. The truck kept cutting out, and I helped him siphon petrol from one side to the other, getting my hands greasy in the process. He’d been working for twelve hours but was still driving like a bat out of hell as we entered Rome, swerving between heavy traffic in our path. He dropped me off at a bus-stop on the edge of Rome and advised me to take a bus to the centre, but after waving ciao to each other I hiked for an hour before stopping at another bus-stop, with a convenience store nearby.
I washed my hair under a tap and spent the evening reading and writing while sitting against a wall, before sleeping behind some flats. The next morning I frequented the store, but an old man chucked me out talking Italian, with his demeanour leaving me in no doubt what he meant; I didn’t know why he was hostile, but guessed he was either aware of me sleeping rough nearby or just didn’t like my appearance: barbarian at the gates of Rome syndrome? I laughed at him and scarpered, catching the bus to the centre after buying two 700 lire tickets at the bus stop; but I regretted my acquisition after I wasn’t asked for them on the bus or when I transferred to a tram. I’d arrived in Rome, but it was a few days too late to meet Uwe.
However, I was to get some much needed company after all, because while I was at the train station looking for information a Canadian called Eddie persuaded me to stay at the campsite he was working for; I’d thought about getting accommodation anyway, as I needed a proper rest and wash. He said you could buy a bus ticket that lasted from 2pm-midnight for 1000 lire, so we got one and travelled to the campsite together on two buses; he bought me a slice of pizza on the way and told me he’d been in Europe for three years. I checked in at the camp and they took my passport, as you paid at the end of the stay; it was 7500 lires a night. I walked up to the accommodation shacks and there were four double bunks on each side of a walkway; it reminded me of the convict quarters in the Cool Hand Luke film, set in a southern US prison. There were two lads in mine, and they introduced themselves as Ross and Chris: Ross was from Toronto and had been cycling round Europe for six months, but was tired of it, and was taking the train to Athens; Chris was from Aberystwyth, a town just above Lampeter, but he’d been in Europe for two years busking with his banjo.
After I had a shower we relocated to some tables just below the cabins, where rays of golden sunshine from a clear blue sky filtered down through leaves of lime green. The idyllic setting set the mood for the day, and everybody just chilled at the tables, or in the two hammocks strung between sturdy branches; talking travelling, home, music and generally having a laugh. I played rummy with Ross and Tommy, a Scot who collected money for Chris while he busked. An Englishwoman called Kate and an Irishman named Tynan also sat with us; Kate used to live thirty miles south-east of Lampeter in Llanboidy, and knew an old friend who’d joined a rock band called Atom Seed and made an album, while Tynan was returning home after a holiday in Corfu. We called Tynan Conan, after the barbarian, because although his name was similar his thin frame and placid nature meant he was the opposite in every other way. During the evening several of us chipped in for food and cooked it at the tables, but it didn’t turn out well, with the vegetables cold and the pasta burnt; however, I didn’t let it go to waste and ate quite a lot! I also had a few beers, and there was wine and smoke passed around. I talked to Ross quite a lot about Heavy Metal, as he’d been to several concerts and knew about the LA scene I was most interested in. Chris crashed out quite early, and later on Tommy and I carried him to the cabin, before we also called it a day. I’d thoroughly enjoyed my evening and it was nice to be amongst humanity again, having conversations and a laugh with like-minded people. I’d yearned for company before Rome, and thought myself fortunate to have found such a nice crowd.
In the morning I felt quite rough from the alcohol, but also happy and content, as I could hear the others talking and felt at home. My head felt better after a shower, and I joined the others in humorous conversation. Later in the morning Ross agreed to go sightseeing in Rome with me, even though he’d been around before, and we travelled to the centre on the buses in the afternoon; we didn’t bother buying tickets, as apparently checks were rare. We visited most of the main attractions, with the Coliseum and St. Peter’s Basilica the highlights; we had to put jeans on over our shorts to enter the basilica! We finished off at the Trevi fountain, and got pizza and ice-cream in Sempione on the way back. After returning to the camp we talked all night with the others; nobody was really drinking, but we still stayed up past midnight.
I was staying for Eddie’s birthday party on Saturday night and didn’t want to pay for five nights, so I checked out the next morning as I planned to sleep nearby for a night. Tynan and I bussed into the centre and liaised with Ross at the train station; I had a little ride on his bike in the car park, gooning round like Butch in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After a stroll we met Chris and Tommy at the Spanish Steps and returned to the camp together. I stayed outside, reading on a bench, and some of the others came over to chat. When they’d left, and it was late enough to sleep, I bedded down on a flat patch of grass at the bottom of a slope on the side of the road.
After rising I went straight over the office and checked myself back in. I sat round for most of the day with the others at the tables, talking and playing cards. In the afternoon a few of us ventured down to Sempione to buy food and alcohol for Eddie’s birthday, and after bumping into others from the camp we returned on the bus in a party mood. Tynan and Ross cooked the food on my stove, and it went perfectly this time; the manager of the campsite also brought a delicious cake out for Eddie, and we all had a piece. I drank beer all night, and had a really good time as far as I could remember, chatting and laughing; however, the next day the others said I fell asleep at the table and was sick over myself, before Ross washed the puke off and carried me to the cabin. We continued partying the next day, finishing off the food, smoke and alcohol from the Saturday, and replenishing our stock of beer from the camp shop during the night. I couldn’t remember much late on, but the next morning everybody was in our cabin talking about the previous night’s drunken antics; we all thought it had been another classic day, with the weather and all of us playing our parts.
After venturing out to the tables we had a good laugh when the cleaner started spraying us with the hose, and we all moved out of the way apart from Tynan, who was too hung-over to move. We also had a chuckle when Ross spent ages washing his sweatshirt and hung it on the clothes-line, only for the camp-cat to knock it into the dirt soon after. Ross, Tynan and I were supposed to leave that day, so we all checked out and went down the city. We also met Tommy and Chris there to say goodbye, but as it turned out, none of us left: I thought it was too late to start hitching, Tynan still felt unwell and Ross just couldn’t be bothered. Despite lethargy and sobriety we had another entertaining night, with everybody reminiscing about the weekend’s highlights; we also picked out each other’s funny characteristics, with my accent and habit of drunkenly falling asleep on the table the main ones attributed to me. After going to bed I couldn’t sleep for ages, as I felt hot and wired; it could have been my sub-conscious trying to rebel against my sleepy image, but was more likely to be the dry horrors! The next morning I rose at 8, having heard Tommy and Chris leave to go busking earlier. I washed and went through the leaving ritual with Ross and Tynan, and also arranged to meet Ross in an Athens hostel if we were there at the same time; it didn’t happen, but we met again on my third journey six years later. I was sad to be leaving a place and time I’d loved, and people I’d bonded with, to go back on the road alone, but that is the nature of independent travelling my friend; and as the old adage goes, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
I started hitching northwards to Venice from outside the campsite and soon had a lift to Orte, where I decided to travel via a different route to the journey south. So I swapped roads to ramble east across the Apennines, and had two quick lifts through glorious mountain scenery. I was dropped off in a secluded spot, and feeling like a desolation angel back on the road amongst almost unspoilt nature I had time to ponder, reflecting on my time in Rome and how quickly the friendships had formed and ended; a few hours after leaving my first community away from home the hole in the shack gang was now just memories, and that time had gone.
Short story by Paul Kay.
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