Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

On the Road + 70 years

I think I first read Jack Kerouac’s road-trip opus about 1968. The wheels that inspired Kerouac’s chronicle had rolled a few years before I was born, but I was now in my teens and had been driving for about 20 months. It was not unusual to find me cruising the intoxicating two-lane rural asphalt through northern Fayette County for hours after my school day at Bryan Station. My folks had moved to Omaha, I was alone, gas cost about 33¢ a gallon, Dad had left me a 1959 sky-blue Cadillac he had restored to viability for the spring…and, of course, I was gonna live forever…and maybe…just maybe…I might catch a gander at that Golden Gate Bridge on the old Athens-Boonesboro Road.

20+ years later, I finally did make it to San Francisco, not on a spiritual journey by thumb, but on a business trip by plane and by rental car…not wine spodee-odee, but Napa cabernet…not crashing at someone’s pad, but snoozing at a Holiday Inn on the Wharf. I’m not complaining. It was fine enough. But my zooming and dreaming though the tree tunnels of the Bluegrass and Jack’s crooning about jazz-inspired freedom and the end-of-the-western-world light had promised more.

I had an afternoon free on that trip. I went moseying. I walked the worn wooden floors of Ferlinghetti’s book store. I smiled to see Wendell Berry so proudly displayed there. I saw an old poster for Job Rolling Papers. I smiled at that too. I’d always thought those graphics were cool without knowing anything about Alphonse Mucha at the time, and also without knowing anything about rolling my own. My own what? I was a 40-something hippy-type liquor and wine retailer who had never smoked tobacco much less anything more exotic (euphemism for illegal). That’s got to be a miniscule demographic.

I also saw a poster for the current exhibition at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. They were showing something called Bay Area Figurative Art 1950-1965.

Whoa.

I went.

For three hours I lost myself in the GI-Bill-fueled creative images of Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Clyfford Still, and Paul Wonner – the same images in which Kerouac, Carl Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady would have swum after their highway hajj. I imagined myself into a 50’s garage/art studio, listening to Ginsberg chanting “Howl” while Kerouac passed the hat for wine. I know my comfort-loving geezer would not have lasted 20 minutes in that room, but once…once…I drove a ’59 big-finned sky-blue caddy on green-infused country roads…

Last week, Joe, Eric and Junesboy, three mature bohemians climbed into Joe’s car and headed towards the Speed Museum in Louisville to see their current exhibition of the works of Alphonse Mucha.

What goes around…

We were on the road, yass, yass, on the road.

We lunched first at the corner drug store. It was Weeny Wednesday. Thus we were nutritionally fortified with hot dogs and milk shakes for the journey. Joe drove, it being his car, Eric navigated, I kibitzed from the back seat, geezer-splaining the ins and outs of Kentucky legislative schemes with my deep, eight-year outdated wisdom. Could there be a more potent recipe for random bewildered tedium?

But the sun was shining. The horse farms were still faintly green in January. The company was fine. We were in no hurry. Hell, we’re retired!

It’s unwise for us to be hurried. None of us are the skilled (<< snort >>) drivers we once imagined ourselves to be; Joe’s reaction time is borderline glacial, Eric likes to look directly and immediately at whomever he’s speaking to (left, right, or upwards when Joe decides the lane markers are optional), and I read mystery novels at long red lights until the guy behind me honks. We are three creative types who should hire a limo.

Today, Joe extolled driving 100mph in Montana as a teen (as the trucks roared by us on I-64 today), Eric thrilled us with descriptions of his 30mph jaunts around Woodford County on his now-defunct Vespa (as two Harleys zipped by us on the right), and I offered a succinct assessment of the Reds’ chances in the upcoming baseball season; “I fear they’re gonna suck” (as a thoroughbred cantered past us with ease and grace).

Against all Las Vegas predictions, we reached our destination and it was a good day. It was my first visit to the Speed since its renovation. It’s a treasure. I wish it was in Lexington, but I’m glad it’s as close as Louisville.

The Mucha exhibit was mesmerizing. It had me reliving pre-internet University of Kentucky Guignol Theatre days spent pestering local businesses to put up our production posters to attract an audience. Of course we didn’t have Sarah Bernhardt as a selling point, but we did have Betty Waren urging us on.

A special treat was crossing paths with one of my dozen or so ex-stage-wives who I had not seen for thirty years. At that distant time she wished me safe travels to the Antarctic to freeze to death in Ted Nally’s fine play; “Terra Nova,” in the basement of Angel Levas’s fine restaurant in downtown Lexington. Angel actually participated in our production by NOT turning the heat on in the basement. The Shivering Verismo School of Theatre – who knew such a thing existed?

Despite that frigid parting decades past, it was a warm reunion last week.

We three drifted through the beautiful exhibit. I concocted stories behind the images, Joe envisioned staging the plays and operas, and Eric attracted his usual entourage of other museum attendees who wanted a docent to describe and explain. He is remarkably suited for this role: he is intelligent, verbal, charming, and just happens to be a nationally recognized painter himself…and he can juggle anything.

Eventually, our trio reassembled in the museum gift shop where I made my greatest contribution of the day by finding and purchasing a killer tee-shirt for Janie’s sleep-ware collection. Priorities, gentlemen!

Back to the car and back on the road.

Three bohemians.

Three aging beatniks.

No open windows.

No open bottles.

Just cruise control and conversation.

We wended our way home.

Wended…

Le mot juste.

We missed our exit and had to wend our way through much of Woodford County.

Who cares?

It was a sunny day.

The horses were sprinkled in their paddocks.

I briefly flashed back to those après school days…

…on the road.

Out of Quarantine

April, 2020.

It’s been an intriguing week in and out of quarantine. May I share it with you?

Out of quarantine?

Yes…for about three hours.

Monday was a lovely Kentucky spring day; sunny, sixty-something degrees, lawns greener than Oz, dogwoods poppin’ cream and raspberry. We don’t tell “furriners” about days like this…why share? We seem to have so little and Carmel-by-the-Sea, California demonstrates no eagerness to share their ocean. Without Jack Kerouac, Pebble Beach, and PLAY MISTY FOR ME, their chunk of paradise would be legendary to the rest of the world.

We have spring days.

Central Kentuckians resonate with days like this and mostly never understand why. It just feels right and rare.

Janie left the house about three o’clock on Monday with Chloe the Wonder Pup for Chloe’s daily adulation tour of the neighborhood. Neighbors, dogs, joggers, hired flacks, and alien spaceships line the lanes to pay homage to the shaggy dog of glee.

It can take hours.

I turned the porch light on to let my wanderers know the front door was unlocked, stepped out and noticed that Janie and Miss Wonderful had only made it to the corner where Chloe was basking in the worship of the Pantheon of Chuck and Paula who live there. They might be gone till dark at this rate.

I have written before in this blog about my love of bicycles. Janie and I had our bicycles readied for the season recently and I had been trying to make a habit of tooling about the almost perfectly flat streets of our neighborhood on a daily basis. The recent cool days had interrupted this effort but today… I found it enticing to pedal my ass again.

I zipped out of the garage, down the driveway, and onto the street. I flashed past Chloe and her adoring throng and had a momentary flashback on Tolkein’s warning about the road in front of your house leading to amazing places and hazardous missions. Will I meet goblin spiders or Stupey the Loud Cocker Spaniel on this journey? Will I reach the Mount of Doom or the low hedge by the old baseball field?

Neither, as it turned out

I reached the end of Providence Road and turned downhill and picked up a bit of speed. The gimme hat I was wearing (pandemic lack of haircut!) began to shift and I instinctively reached up to salvage it as if I were 25 and flexible.

I was neither, as it turned out.

The next thing I remember was answering questions from an Emergency Medical Technician in the back of an emergency vehicle bearing me to the hospital trauma suite tout suite.

Stitches, injections, and a cat scan later I was told Janie was waiting for me in the parking lot. I located the nearest restroom and finally saw the damage. I was a blood-drenched Rocky from film number one. I immediately ran the calendar through my battered head and determined I was still six months away from Lexington’s Thriller Event and I couldn’t possibly maintain this look for that long without actually dying, in which case my dancing would be even worse than it already is.

So…

…I cleaned myself up as best I could, and tottered out to Janie. She was laughing at me in the sunny parking lot. It was the best medicine in the world; even better than Lysol.

It seemed right…and rare.

Under her care I feel a little better every day and look a little less outré every day. I think I’m now up to “No, officer, I ran into a door.”

Chloe is totally embarrassed and doesn’t want to be seen with me.

I sleep, and I watch movies…bad movies. I’ll share them with you…just for mean-ness.

I miss my friends. Who doesn’t?

To my friends and others;

…don’t drink bleach…no matter what he says…please.

It doesn’t seem right.

And then I’ll really miss you.

Alaska Daydreaming?

Some pondering on an odd 60-degree winter day after a fine summer in Lexington…

I recently passed my anniversary of my time with the Canadian-owned Liquor Barn. It has since returned to being a Kentucky-owned business.

The anniversary prompts me to meditate.

My last two years with the very large group that owned Liquor Barn involved a lot of travel. It probably wasn’t that much travel compared to other hardy folks, but to this fixed-footed Lexingtonian, it was too much travel. Boston, Mobile, Tampa, Montana, Chicago, San Antonio, Phoenix, Washington…and Alaska required visits. These are all places that have interest for me, but for a business trip…meh.

I hated the travel. For those who know me you know I try to use the word “hated” rarely and with deliberate thought. The air travel that was a delight in the 60-70’s has decayed from delight to ordeal. Hotels are amazing…but not my home. They try to substitute free breakfast, daily clean linens, and tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, for my wife, my critters, and my trusty roster of pizza delivery partners. LOUD BUZZER; thank you for playing.

Given that, I generally enjoyed my times in Alaska. There were things that stirred me to think;

  • Alaska’s young. They just recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. We have neighborhoods in Lexington twice that age. There are whole periods of architecture not present in Alaska because of that youth. To quote one of my favorite songwriters; “It feels like something’s bein’ born.” There were no buildings in Anchorage that didn’t scream; “We think this is the way to be, but check with us tomorrow, we may change our mind.”
  • Anchorage seemed often suffused by an “end-of-the-continent Western light.” I’m paraphrasing Jack Kerouac’s description of a late 1940’s San Francisco. When this happened in Anchorage, I felt like I was walking in a nickel postcard from the 1950’s, a fantasy ideal of possibilities, again quoting Kerouac; “What will happen! Hey!!”
  • Alaska is young but it lives in the shadow of instant destruction every day. Earthquakes and tsunamis…we don’t let those things affect our days in Kentucky.
  • The color pallet of Alaska seems to only include 12-14 shades of green, not the 1,248 we have in Kentucky. That’s a serious problem for me.
  • High humidity lingers for 15 minutes in Anchorage, not the four generations we occasionally live through in the Bluegrass State.
  • The distances that are part of Alaskans’ lives dwarf ours. No, they double dwarf ours. Their state capitol is a 750-mile flight over water away from their home, not a twenty-minute drive from my house. On clear days, Anchorage citizens can see Mt. Denali. That’s the equivalent of me walking out on my front porch and seeing Indianapolis. Damn!
  • Their mountains are towering, jagged, snow-covered, around the corner, and intimidating as hell. Ours are round, green, womb-like, enveloping, and seductive on the horizon.
  • Their nights are sharp and invigorating, challenging us to plunge ahead into the night’s adventures. Ours are soft, narcotic (thank you, Tom Waits), and contemplative, inviting us to go for a stroll with our ghosts.

All that being said, let me be clear; I enjoyed being in Alaska, not going to Alaska. It was a lo-o-o-ng journey for this geezer.

Rowdy and Petulant

Movie night!

A commentator recently described a speech as “Clint Eastwood without the chair”. That prompted me to pull out Play Misty for Me for the 384th time.

My experience with Clint Eastwood begins with his rowdy and petulant portrayal of Rowdy Yates in the TV cowboy series; “Rawhide”. He had a great squint even then.

Later, I loved his spaghetti westerns; A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and the monumental and rambling The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Mr. Eastwood’s character in these films had no name so I just assumed it was an older Rowdy Yates in need of a shower. I wore a poncho myself for several years. I’m not proud of that but I did shower regularly.

Then he created Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry films; talk about rowdy and petulant! But this time, he packed a lot more firepower. For you conspiracy fans, notice that Dirty Harry and Rowdy Yates have the same number of letters in their names. Hm-m. A clue?

The 1992 flick; Unforgiven is a great western. In it, Mr. Eastwood’s character is once more rowdy and petulant, but now also older and slower. He’ll either break yer face or break yer heart – you choose…are ya feelin’ lucky?

These films make me feel as if I’ve watched Rowdy Yates’ entire adult life in movies and enjoyed the hell out of it, though I’m not sure Rowdy enjoyed it as much as I did.

Play Misty for Me, interestingly enough, is not part of that same experience. This character

(Dave) is not rowdy and petulant, he’s selfish and bewildered.

Random synapses firings from Misty;

  • It strikes me how similar Clint Eastwood’s radio show in the film is to “Chris in the Morning” on the TV show; “Northern Exposure”. Of course there’s a degree of difference – about 70 degrees of difference.
  • I also wonder if Adrienne Barbeau’s radio show in John Carpenter’s The Fog might be inspired by Mr. Eastwood. In my travels by car around Kentucky, I’ve caught myself scanning radio channels searching for Clint, Chris, and Adrienne. A little poetry on I-65 would relieve the pounding of the semi convoys.
  • Donna Mills is luscious in her cuter’n-pup-turds pixie haircut. But I cannot get her “Knot’s Landing” character out of my head and I keep weighing who’s truly more dangerous; her or Jessica Walters?
  • I have the similar issues with the amazing picture postcard shots of the Monterey Peninsula director Clint Eastwood employs in this film. Yes, the images are beautiful. Yes, I’ve visited the area AND read Kerouac’s tone poem in BIG SUR and know for certain the beauty of Monterey is not a trick of movie-making, it’s really there. But the cumulative effect of these shots keeps summoning the croonings of Rod McKuen recordings…not so good in a film of terror.

Unlike Rowdy Yates, this film doesn’t age well, but I love it.