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.
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 aging beatniks.
No open windows.
No open bottles.
Just cruise control and conversation.
We wended our way home.
Le mot juste.
We missed our exit and had to wend our way through much of Woodford County.
It was a sunny day.
The horses were sprinkled in their paddocks.
I briefly flashed back to those après school days…
…on the road.