What is it about the road that gives us a sense of freedom? What revelation or divine experience are we seeking when we travel down those old gravel and concrete highways that connect the lower 48 states from coast to coast?
Jack Kerouac was looking for what he called the ‘it,’ in his novel ‘On The Road.’ He was in search of that indescribable something, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It was his spiritual discovery of life, people, places, and things that gave him that insatiable wanderlust to experience life to its fullest — and perhaps its most chaotic.
On The Road is about the endless desire to experience life and all it has to offer, but ends with Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) finding out he didn’t really find anything at all, and his friend Dean Moriarty still had that ‘go go go’ spirit, never stopping, and continuing to race through life. It ended with the story of Dean and Sal moving into the next phases of their lives. Jack settled down and Dean couldn’t stop, he was too thirsty, and the myth of Dean Moriarty continued on down the road, and he became “the father we never found,” to the Beats.
On The Road is about the journey, not the destination — but sometimes in-between you find yourself in total serendipity. We are all trying to find that intangible, unknown place, that feeling that makes us say, ‘yeah, it’s this, it’s this right here.’ It was a quest for Kerouac and the Beats (William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg) to find life and live on the outskirts of consumer culture in post-WWII America. They wanted to live without plans, security, and without boundaries using drugs, chasing women, and going mad listening to jazz. Kerouac has influenced countless writers, musicians, and even photographers (Robert Frank became Kerouac’s close friend who penned the introduction of his Seminal photography book ‘The Americans’).
I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness. — Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Most of us have a yearning to find some kind of meaning or purpose to our lives; that burning desire to uncover things we’ve never seen or experienced, and that we’d regret if we didn’t take the chance.
That impracticality and uncertainty is more acceptable for younger people taking a gap year, or backpacking all over the world before they sink their teeth into the world of job security and obligation. I have mostly lived in these worlds, even as a kid out of college trying to break into journalism and trying to find job security. I eventually did, but years later ended up being just becoming another laid off American during the recession, twice over.
By discovering that life had no promises, no security, no guaranteed success, I understood that these goals were out of reach for me, and countless others. I bounced around, had shitty jobs and made a little money, but never enough to settle down. I knew I wanted to be on the road. I didn’t know for how long, or even if I’d like it, but I felt the need to go, go, go.
‘On The Road’ and Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ were important books to me, and both of their philosophies and ways of life spoke to my soul, and helped define my perception of the world as a young man.
Perhaps it is because of my burning desire to try something new — a new way of living. It all clicked to me a few years ago that I had an undying thirst to experience life, its ups and downs, and find beauty in everything. I hated the job I was in, quit, started this Precise-Moment.com and became a freelance writer. Now I am going out on the road to find my ‘it’ and see America.
I had driven from the Midwest to California four times solo, and relished in every second on the road. I always had to be somewhere quickly, and I was never able to experience the places like I wanted.
I drove through Colorado and saw the snowless Aspen trees in summer, the endless long road of I-40 East through the searing, overwhelming heat of Amarillo, Texas with 50 foot crucifixes towering over my car, the vistas overlooking the desert in Utah with the bluest horizon and endless contrasts of land and sky I had ever seen, and the scare of driving through the Mojave desert about to run out of gas when I realized my fuel light popped on, and realized I hadn’t seen a gas station for 50 miles.
Americana, Route 66, miles of road, new experiences, the potential for something, anything to happen, no plans or security, just knowing I want to be on that road for countless miles. It calls me. It lures me with its beautiful possibilities. It calls me by name and asks me to come drive down the lonely highway, get off the interstate and see America.
I don’t have my own family, I don’t own a house, and I sure as hell don’t have any money, but I have a car and a camera and my words, and the will to explore my unknown — that beautiful divide somewhere between chaos and pura vida.
I am going to see America. I am going to get on that old road and take pictures and write about what I see, and who I meet. I want to see what America is and where it’s going. I leave next Friday, but I will give you more details on my odyssey, and how I would love for you to interact with me on the road.
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty. ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road