The pursuit of the sensual pleasures drove Kerouac and his friends across the country to Denver, San francisco, Los Angeles, the South, and even Mexico. Driving at high speed, fueled by drugs and alcohol, with a car full of friends reciting poetry, visiting friends, including women in the towns they visited. It was then I first realized that women were as sexual as men. It opened a new world to me, a world that Coleridge's Xanadu seemed mild by comparison.
There were parts of "On the Road" that just hummed in my mind. I remember going downtown Salt Lake City with my childhood friend Bobby Nelson to "The Abyss", an underground coffee house on Second South street where I could wear a black turtleneck and listen to Rosalie Sorrels sing folk songs. I had entered the world of the beats. A world filled with poetry, wine, and a free lifestyle. It was the antithesis of the strait-laced Mormon culture I had been reared in.
As soon as I got my driver's license and a Jeep, I drove with my friend Milt Hokanson from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole and climbed the Grand Teton. A few weeks later I got Ted Wilson and Bob Stout to go back with me to climb Mount Owen. Living in the campgrounds and the mountains with friends, I was in my element. Later I ended up working in the Tetons for sixteen years and drove back to Salt Lake at least once a month to visit...I'm sure I've driven that road over a hundred times.
Late the next winter Milt, Dave Wood, and I hopped into the Jeep and drove to Shiprock, New Mexico, and climbed Shiprock. We dumped the jeep on its side in a ditch in the middle of the night on a dirt road near the rock, but we were young and strong, and quickly lifted it back upright.
I didn't pick up the drinking...just the driving, and I drove everywhere. As the years went by, I drove across the US almost a dozen times, going to graduate school in Baltimore. And now that I'm retired, I travel constantly: two years ago I drove my diesel pickup from Alaska down and across the West, climbing, visiting, and enjoying the good life.
Kerouac wrote versions and pieces of his life on the road for many years. It wasn't until the mid-fifties that he found a publisher willing to take it. However, it needed a good job of editing, and the names had to be changed, less to protect the innocent, than the publisher, I believe. When I heard a year ago that the original scroll of 120 feet of teletype paper Kerouac had Scotch-taped together and typed the script for "On The Road" had been published, I had to read it. It wasn't the edited version I had read four times in the past five decades; The Scroll still had the original names: Kerouac, Cassidy, Ginsberg... And, all the wild times. As I read it, it seemed so real, perhaps even better than the published edition.
As the years went by, I read many of Kerouac's books. I was particularly taken by "The Subterraneans", the story of his affair with Alene Lee in New York in 1953. At the time I remember feeling so sad for Alene, an African American woman who seemed to be so disadvantaged and lost in the book.
First edition of 'The Subterraneans'
William Burroughs & Alene Lee
A month ago I heard that One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur, was out in a DVD. It is tribute by Jay Ferrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cuties, interspersed with footage of Kerouac and commentary from the like of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tom Waits and others. "Big Sur" tells the story of how after the success of "On The Road", Kerouac went back to San Francisco to dry out at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin near Big Sur. It didn't last long, and he hiked back to San Francisco and lapsed into a huge binge with old friends.