One of my favorite passages from On The Road, by Jack Kerouac is at the end of the novel, after Sal sees Dean for last time “under sad and strange circumstances.”
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, 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?
When I first read this passage, many years ago, I loved it because as a child, Pooh Bear was my God. Each night I worshipped at the altar of A.A. Milne, and snuggled my Winnie the Pooh close. But what gets me now are the images of the road, and travel. …raw land that rolls…all that road going…the immensity of it… I write this because today I had an ache in my heart for the open road. Since my father became ill, over two years ago, neither my mother nor I have been able to travel. And lately, since the weather has turned warm, I crave the open road, cruising towards some destination. I don’t even know where, but going . Perhaps, the best part of any trip is the anticipation. The sense of freedom. The hum of the tires as they speed along on a warm spring day. Passing other cars, knowing they’re headed to work while you’re headed to the coast, or the mountains, or wherever your heart desires. They look like suckers. You feel like a king.
I read a blog the other day in which someone from the UK lambasted Americans for being uncultured and untraveled. He claimed most had never even been out of their own state, let alone to another country. I wondered at his statement, and considered it a gross exaggeration. If he had statistics or facts to bolster his claim, he didn’t state them. While I will concede that many Americans haven’t travelled outside of the country, I will argue a good number of them live near the Canadian or Mexican boarders. Also, isn’t Cabo San Lucas one of the most popular spring-break destinations? Maybe the blogger didn’t consider trips to Canada and Mexico counted as “world travel.” Or perhaps he just didn’t think his argument through.
What I fervently disagreed with was the idea that most Americans have never been out of their own state. While I could possibly give you names of a couple of people who have never been out of the country (and I said ‘possibly’), I know of no one who hasn’t ventured out of their own state. No one. Hell, it’s what we, Americans, are about. Cars. Open roads. Resorts. Amusement Parks. Sandy Beaches. National Parks. Grandmother’s house. We live for this stuff. We plan it. We record it. We post it on YouTube. We build bigger and better interstate superhighways to enable us to speed along to our destinations. Most states have “Welcome Centers” for weary travelers to stop, take a break, use the restroom, get a snack, and snag a brochure or two about local attractions. Cottage industries have sprung up close to our highways to capitalize on the American traveler. Restaurants. Truck stops. Gas stations. Seedy motels. Gift shops. I’ve even seen farmers markets and fruit stands.
I’ve always wanted to travel the length of Route 66, from Chicago to LA. Sure I know a lot of the highway is in disrepair now, but I’d still like to see the fiberglass Paul Bunyan, the statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and The Wigwam Village – the motel that has teepees instead of rooms. Maybe what I want most of all is to feel the sun on my face, land moving below me, and the anticipation of embarking on a new adventure. Don’t we all? But don’t tell me that Americans don’t travel. We do. However, unfortunately for me, for some time at least, I won’t be one of them. Oh well, maybe I’ll settle in with another read of Jack Kerouac.