Sunday, 29 June 2008

30 June 2008

called up his house, talked to his mother---she said, “Why Jack what are you doing in Denver? Did you know Ginger was here?”---and of course I knew Ginger was there but that was not my reason for coming. Ginger was Hal’s girl; I played around with her a bit in New York when he wasn’t looking. For this I was really and genuinely sorry and I hoped Hal still felt the same about me. I don’t think he did but he never showed it, the thing about Hal being, he was always as clever as a woman. Hal is a slim blond boy with a strange witchdoctor face that goes with his interest in anthropology and pre-history Indians. His nose beaks softly and almost creamily under a golden flair of hair; he has the grace of a western hotshot who’s danced in roadhouses and played a little football. A quavering twang comes out when he speaks---“the thing I always like, Jack, about the plains Indians was the way they always got s’danged embarrassed after they boasted the number of scalps they got…in Ruxton’s Life in the Far West there’s an Indian who gets red all over blushing because he got so many scalps and runs like hell into the plains to glory over his deeds in hiding. Damn, that tickled me!” Hal’s mother located him, in the drowsy Denver afternoon, working over his Indian basketmaking in the local museum. I called him there; he came and picked me up in his old Ford coupe that he used to take trips in the mountains to “dig” for Indian objects. He came into the bus station wearing jeans and a big smile. I was sitting on my bag on the floor talking to the very same sailor who’d been in the Cheyenne bus station with me, asking him what happened to the blonde. He was so bored he didn’t answer. Hal and I got into his little coupe and the first he had to do was get maps at the State building. Then the next thing he had to see an old schoolteacher, and so on, and all I wanted to do was drink beer. And in the back of my mind was the wild, wild thought - - “Where is Neal and what is he doing right now?” Hal had decided not to be Neal’s friend anymore, for some odd reason, since the winter, and he didn’t even know where he lived. “Is Allen Ginsberg in town?” “Yes---“ but he wasn’t talking to him anymore either. This was the beginning of Hal Chase’s withdrawal from our general gang---and he was going to

29 June 2008

he let me off at Longmont Colo. I was feeling normal again and had even started telling him about the state of my own travels. He wished me luck. It was beautiful in Longmont. Under a tremendous old tree was a bed of green lawngrass belonging to a gas station. I asked the attendant if I could sleep there and he said sure; so I stretched out a wool shirt, lay my face flat on it, with an elbow out, and with one eye cocked at the snowy Rockies in the hot sun for just a moment, I fell asleep for two delicious hours, the only discomfiture being an occasional Colorado ant. “And here I am in Colorado!” I kept thinking gleefully. “Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m making it!” And after a refreshing sleep filled with cobwebby dreams of my past life in the East I got up, washed in the station men’s room, and strode off fit and slick as a fiddle to get me a rich thick milkshake at the roadhouse to put some freeze in my hot tormented stomach. Incidentally a very beautiful Colorado gal shook me that cream, she was all smiles too; I was grateful, it made up for last night. I said to myself, “Wow! What’ll Denver be like!” I got on that hot road and off I went to Denver in a brand new car driven by a Denver businessman of about thirty five. He went seventy. I tingled all over; I counted minutes and subtracted miles. In a minute just over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes I’d be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the prophet that has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was Wow. The man and I had a long warm conversation about our respective schemes in life and before I knew it we were going over the Denargo fruitmarkets outside Denver, there was smoke, smokestacks, railyards, redbrick buildings and the distant downtown graystone buildings and here I was in Denver. He let me off at Larimer street. I stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer street. It was also the biggest city I’d seen since Chicago and the bigcity buzz made me jump. As I say, in those days I didn’t know Neal as well as I do now, and the first thing I wanted to do was look up Hal Chase immediately, which I did. I

Saturday, 28 June 2008

28 June 2008

tired of this. Ain’t no place to go but Cheyenne and ain’t nothing in Cheyenne.” “Ain’t nothing in New York.” “Hell there ain’t” she said with a curl of her lips. The bus station was crowded to the doors. All kinds of people were waiting for buses or just standing around; there were a lot of Indians, who watched everything with their stony eyes. The girl disengaged herself from my talk and joined the sailor and the others. Slim was dozing on a bench. I sat down. The floors of bus stations are the same all over the country, they’re always covered with butts and spit and a sadness that only bus stations have. For a moment it was no different than being in Newark except that I knew the great hugeness outside that I loved so much. I rued the way I had broken up the purity of my entire trip, saving very dime and not drinking and not dawdling and really making time, by fooling around with this sullen girl and spending all my money. It made me sick. I hadn’t slept in so long I got too tired to curse and fuss and went off to sleep; eventually I curled up on the entire seat with my canvas bag for a pillow, and in that way slept till eight o’clock in the morning among the dreamy murmurs and noises of the station and of hundreds of people passing. I woke up with a big headache. Slim was gone…to Montana I guess. I went outside. And there in the blue air I saw for the first time, in hints and mighty visitation, far off, the great snowy-tops of the Rocky Mountains. I took a deep breath. I had to go to Denver, at once. First I ate breakfast, a modest one of toast and coffee and one egg, and then I cut out of town to the hiway. The Wild West festival was still going on, I left it behind me: they were having rodeos and the whooping and jumping was about to start all over again. I wanted to see my gangs in Denver. I went over a railroad overpass and reached a crossroad of shacks where two highways forked off, both for Denver. I took the one nearest the mountains so I could look at them, and pointed myself that way. I got a ride right off from a young fellow from Connecticut who was driving around the country in his jaloppy painting; he was the son of an editor in the East. He talked and talked; I was sick from drinking and from the altitude. At one point I almost had to stick my head out of the window. But I made it, and by the time

Friday, 27 June 2008

27 June 2008

bustled around to close the place quick. I had to get out. I gave her a smile when I left. Things were going on as wild as ever outside, except that the fat burpers were getting drunker and whooping up louder. It was funny. There were Indian chiefs wandering around in big headdresses and really solemn among the flushed drunken faces. I saw Slim tottering along and joined him. He said “I just wrote a postcard to my Paw in Montana. You reckon you can find a mailbox and put it in.” It was a strange request; he gave me the postcard and tottered through the swinging doors of a saloon. I took the card, went to the box and took a quick look at it. “Dear Paw, I’ll be home Wednesday. Everything’s all right with me and I hope the same’s with you. Richard.” It gave me a different idea of him; how tenderly polite he was with his father. I went in the bar and joined him. Sometime in the distant dawn I planned to get on the road for Denver, the last 100 miles but instead of that we picked up two girls who were wandering in the crowds, a pretty young blonde and a fat brunette sister of some kind. They were dumb and sullen but we wanted to make them. We took them to a rickety nightclub that was already closing and there I spent all but two dollars on Scotches for them and beer for us. I was getting drunk and didn’t care; everything was fine. My whole being and purpose was pointed at the little blonde’s middle; I wanted to go in there with all my strength. I hugged her and wanted to tell her. The nightclub closed and we all wandered out in the rickety dusty streets. I looked up at the sky; the pure wonderful stars were still there, burning. The girls wanted to go to the bus station so we all went, but they apparently wanted to go there to meet some sailor who was there waiting for them, a cousin of the fat girl’s, and the sailor had friends with him. I said to the blonde “What’s up.” She said she wanted to go home, in Colorado just over the line south of Cheyenne. “I’ll take you in a bus,” I said. “No, the bus stops on the hiway and I have to walk across that damned prairie all by myself. I spend all afternoon looking at the damn thing and I don’t aim to walk over it tonight.” “Ah listen, we’ll take a nice walk in the prairie flowers.” “There ain’t no flowers there,” she said. “I want to go to New York, I’m sick and

Thursday, 26 June 2008

26 June 2008

wooden sidewalks of old Cheyenne; further down were the long stringy boulevard lights of new downtown Cheyenne. The celebration was focusing on oldtown. Blank guns went off. The saloons were crowded to the sidewalk. I was amazed and at the same time I had never seen anything so really ridiculous: in my first shot at the west I was seeing to what absurd devices it had fallen to keep its proud tradition. Man I rubbed my eyes. We had to jump off the truck and say goodbye, the Minnesotans weren’t interested in hanging around. I was sad to see them go and realized I would never see any of them again, but that’s the way it was. “You’ll freeze your ass tonight,” I warned, “then you’ll burn ’em in the desert tomorrow afternoon.” “That’s allright with me long’s as we get out of this cold night” said Gene. And the truck left, threading its way through the crowds and nobody paying attention to the strangeness of it and of the kids inside the tarpaulin watching the town like babes from a coverlet. I watched it disappear into the night. Mississippi Gene was gone; bound for Og-den and then God knows what. I was with Montana Slim and we started in hitting the bars. I had about ten dollars, eight of which I foolishly squandered that night on drinking. First we milled with all the cowboydudded tourists and oilmen and ranchers, at bars, in doorways, on the sidewalk, then I shook Slim for awhile who by now was wandering a little slaphappy in the street from all the whisky and beer; he was that kind of drinker, his eyes got glazed, in a minute he’d be telling an absolute stranger about things. I went into a chili joint and the waitress was Spanish and beautiful. I ate, and then I wrote her a little love note on the back of the bill. The chili joint was deserted; everybody was drinking. I told her to turn the bill over. She read it and laughed. It was a little poem about how I wanted her to come and see the night with me. “I’d love to Chiquito but I have a date with my boyfriend.” “Can’t you shake him?” “No, no, I don’t” she said sadly; and I loved the way she said it. “Some other time I’ll come by here,” I said, and she said “Any time, kid.” Still I hung around just to look at her and had another cup of coffee. Her boyfriend came in sullenly and wanted to know when she was off. She

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

25 June 2008

to the music on the jukebox. There was a lull when we came in. Gene and Blondey just stood there looking at nobody; all they wanted were cigarettes. There were some pretty girls, too. And one of them made eyes at Blondey and he never saw it and if he had, he wouldn’t have cared he was so sad and gone. I bought a pack each for them; they thanked me. The truck was ready to go. It was getting on midnight now and cold. Gene who’d been around the country more times than he could count on his fingers and toes said the best thing to do now was for all of us to bundle up under the big tarpaulin or we’d freeze. In this manner, and with the rest of the bottle, we kept warm as the as the air grew ice cold and pinged our ears. The stars seemed to get brighter the more we climbed the High Plains. We were in Wyoming now. Flat on my back I stared straight up at the magnificent firmament, glorying in the time I was making, in how far I had come from sad Bear Mtn. after all, how everything worked out in the end, and tingling with kicks at the thought of what lay ahead of me in Denver---whatever, whatever it would be and good enough for me. And Mississippi Gene began to sing a song. He sang it in a melodious quiet voice, with a river accent, and it was simple, just “I got a purty little girl, she’s sweet six-teen, she’s the purti-est thing you ever seen,” repeating it with other lines thrown in, all concerning his life in general and how far he’d been and how he wished he could go back to her but he done lost her. I said “Gene that’s the prettiest song.” “It’s the sweetest I know,” he said with a smile. “I hope you get where you’re going and be happy when you do.” “I always make out and move along one way or the other.” Montana Slim was asleep. He woke up and said to me “Hey Blackie, how about you and me making Cheyenne together tonight before you go to Denver.” “Sure thing.” I was drunk enough to go for anything. And the truck reached the outskirts of Cheyenne, we saw the high red lights of the local radio station, and suddenly we were bucking through a great strange crowd of people that poured on both sidewalks. “Hell’s bells, it’s Wild West Week” said Slim. Great crowds of businessmen, fat businessmen in boots and tengallon hats, with their hefty wives in cowgirl attire bustled and whoopeed on the

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

24 June 2008

stars anywhere. And once I saw a moody whitefaced cow in the sage by the road as we flitted by. It was like riding a railroad, just as steady and just as straight. By and by we came to a town, slowed down, Montana Slim said “Ah, pisscall” but the Minnesotans didn’t stop and went right on through. “Damn, I gotta piss,” said Slim. “Go over the side” said somebody. “Well, I will” he said, and slowly, as we all watched he inched to the back of the platform on his ass, holding on as best he could till his legs dangled over. Somebody knocked on the window of the cab to bring this to the attention of the brothers. Their great smiles broke as they turned. As just as Slim was ready to proceed, precarious as it was already, they began zig-zagging the truck at 70 miles an hour. He fell back a moment; we saw a whale’s spout in the air; he struggled back to a sitting position. They swung the truck. Wham, over he went on his side, pissing all over himself. In the roar we could hear him faintly cursing with the whine of a man far across the hills. “Damn…damn..” He never knew we were doing this deliberately, he just struggled with his lot, and just as grim as Job. When he was finished, as such, he was wringing wet, and now he had to edge and shimmy his way back, and with a most woebegone look, and everybody laughing, except the sad blond boy, and the Minnesotans roaring in the cab. I handed him the bottle to make up for it. “What the hail,” he said, “was they doing that on purpose?” “They sure were.” “Well damn me, I didn’t know that. I know I tried it back in Nebraska and didn’t have half so much trouble.” We came suddenly into the town of Ogallala, and here the fellows in the cab called out “Pisscall!” and with great good delight. Slim stood sullenly by the truck rueing a lost opportunity. The two Dakota boys said goodbye to everybody and figured they’d start harvesting here. We watched them disappear in the night towards the shacks at the end of town where lights were burning, where a watcher of the night in jeans said the employment men would be. I had to buy more cigarettes. Gene and the blond boy followed me to stretch their legs. We walked into the least likely place in the world, a kind of lonely plains sodafountain for the local teenage girls and boys. They were dancing, a few of them,

Monday, 23 June 2008

23 June 2008

them things in the ground something’ll grow up?” Without cracking a smile, of course, and the other boys heard him and laughed. And they were the silliest shoes in America; I brought them along specifically because I didn’t want my feet to sweat in the hot road for fear I’d develop another case of phlebitis, and except for the rain in Bear Mtn. they proved to be the best possible shoes for my journey. So I laughed with them. And they’d become pretty ragged by now, the bits of colored leather stuck up like pieces of a fresh pineapple, with my toes showing through. Well, we had another shot and laughed. As in a dream we zoomed through small crossroad towns smack out of the darkness and passed long lines of lounging harvest hands and cowboys in the night and were back out there. They watched us pass in one motion of the head and we saw them slap their thighs from the continuing dark the other side of town---we were a funny looking crew. A lot of men were in this country at that time of year, it was harvest time. The Dakota boys were fidgeting. “I think we’ll get off at the next pisscall, seems like there’s a lot of work around here.” “All you got to do is move north when it’s over here,” counseled Montana Slim, “and jess follow the harvest till you get to Canada.” The boys nodded vaguely; they didn’t take much stock in his advice. Meanwhile the blond young fugitive sat the same way; every now and then Gene leaned over from his Buddhistic trance over the rushing dark plains and said something tenderly in the boy’s ear. The boy nodded. Gene was taking care of him, even his moods and fears. I wondered where the hell they would go and what they could do. They had no cigarettes. I squandered my pack on them I loved them so. They were grateful and gracious. They never asked; I kept offering. Montana Slim had his own but never passed the pack. We zoomed through another crossroads town, passed another line of tall lanky men in jeans, clustered in the dim light like moths on the desert, and returned to the tremendous darkness…and the stars overhead were as pure and bright, because of the increasingly thin air as we mounted the high hill of the western plateau about a foot a mile, so they say, and a mile a minute, pure clean air and no trees obstructing any low-levelled

Sunday, 22 June 2008

22 June 2008

earlier days I’d been to sea with a tall rawboned fellow from Ruston La. Called Big Slim Hubbard, William Holmes Hubbard, who was hobo by choice; as a little boy he’d seen a hobo come up to ask his mother for a piece of pie, and she had given it to him, and when the hobo went off down the road the little boy had said, “Ma, what is that fellow?” “Why that’s a ho-bo.” “Ma, I want to be a ho-bo someday.” “Shet your mouth, that’s not for the like of the Hubbards.” But he never forgot that day, and grew up, after a short spell playing football at LSU, and did become a hobo. Slim and I spent many nights telling stories and spitting tobacco juice in paper containers. There was something so indubitably reminiscent of Big Slim Hubbard in Mississippi Gene’s demeanor that I came out and said “Do you happen to have met a fellow called Big Slim Hubbard somewhere?” And he said “You mean the tall fellow with the big laugh?” “Well, that sounds like him. He came from Ruston Louisiana.” “That’s right, Louisiana Slim he’s sometimes called. Yessir, I shore have met Big Slim.” “And he used to work in the East Texas oil fields?” “East Texas is right. And now he’s punching cows.” And that was exactly right; and still I couldn’t believe Gene could really have known Slim, whom I’d been looking for more or less for years. “And he used to work in tugboats in NY?” “Well now, I don’t know about that.” “I guess you only know him in the West.” “I reckon, I ain’t never been to NY.” “Well, damn me, I’m amazed you know him. This is a big country. Yet I knew you must have known him.” “Yessir, I know Big Slim pretty well. Always generous with his money when he’s got some. Mean tough fellow, too; I seen him flatten a police-man in the yards at Cheyenne, one punch.” That sounded like Big Slim; he was always practicing that one punch in the air; he looked like Jack Dempsey, but a young Jack Dempsey who drank. “Damn!” I yelled into the wind, and I had another shot, and by now I was feeling pretty good. Every shot was wiped away by the rushing wind of the open truck, wiped away of its bad effects and the good effect sank in my stomach. “Cheyenne, here I come!” I sang. “Denver, look out for your boy.” Montana Slim turned to me, pointed at my shoes, and commented “You reckon if you put

Saturday, 21 June 2008

21 June 2008

had switched up front; the fresh brother was gunning the truck to the limit. The road changed too; humpy in the middle, with soft shoulders and a ditch on both sides about four feet deep, so that the truck bounced and teetered from one side of the road to the other, miraculously only when there no cars coming the opposite way, and I thought we’d all take a somersault. But they were tremendous drivers. They swapped at the wheel all the way from Minnesota to palmy L.A. without stopping more than 10 minutes to eat. How that truck disposed of the Nebraska nub!---the nub that sticks out over Colorado, though not officially in it, but actually looking southwest towards Denver itself a few hundred miles away. I yelled for joy. We passed the bottle. The great blazing stars came out, the far receding sand hills got dim. I felt like an arrow that could shoot out all the way. And suddenly Mississipi Gene turned to me from his crosslegged patient reverie, and opened his mouth, and leaned close, and said “These plains put me in the mind of Texas.” “Are you from Texas?” “No sir, I’m from Green-vell Muzz-sippy” and that was the way he said it. “Where’s that kid from?” “He got into some kind of trouble back in Mississippi so I offered to help some. I take care of him best as I can, he’s only a child.” Although Gene was white there was something of the wise and tired old Negro in him, but a railroad Hunkey, a traveling epic Hunkey, crossing and recrossing the country every year, south in the winter and north in the summer and only because he has no place he can stay in without getting tired of it and because there’s nowhere to go but everywhere, and keep rolling under the stars, generally the western stars. “I been to Og-den a couple times. If you want to ride on to Og-den I got some friends there we could hole up with.” “I’m going to Denver from Cheyenne.” “Hell, go right straight thru, you don’t get a ride like this everyday.” This was a tempting offer. What was in Ogden. “What’s Ogden?” I said. “It’s the place where most of the boys pass thu and always meet there, you’re liable to see anybody there.” In my

Friday, 20 June 2008

20 June 2008

who had money to buy food. We all shambled after them to a restaurant run by a whole bunch of women and sat around over hamburgers while they wrapped away enormous meals just like they were back in their mother’s kitchen. They were brothers: they were transporting farm machinery from Los Angeles to Minnesota and making good money at it. So on their trip to the Coast empty they picked up everybody on the road. They’d done this about five times now; they were having a hell of a time. They liked everything. They never stopped smiling. I tried to talk to them---actually it was a kind of dumb attempt on my part to befriend the captains of our ship and there was no reason to, because they treated the crew with equal respect---and the only response I got were two sunny smiles and large white cornfed teeth. Everybody had joined them in the restaurant except the two hobo kids, Gene and his boy. When we all got back they were still sitting in the truck forlorn and disconsolate. Now the darkness was falling. The drivers had a smoke; I jumped at the chance to go buy a bottle of whisky to keep warm in the rushing cold air of night. They smiled when I told them. “Go ahead, hurry up.” “You can have a couple shots!” I reassured them. “Oh no, we never drink, go ahead.” Montana Slim and the two high school boys wandered the streets of North Platte with me till I found a whisky store. They chipped in some, and Slim some, and I bought a fifth. Tall sullen men watched us go by from false-front buildings; the main street was lined with square box-houses. There were immense vistas of the plains beyond every sad street. I felt something different in the air in North Platte, I didn’t know what it was. In five minutes I did. We got back on the truck and roared off, same speed. It got dark quickly. We all had a shot, and suddenly I looked, and the verdant farmfields of the So. Platte began to disappear and in their stead, so far you couldn’t see to the end of it, appeared long flat wastelands of sand and sagebrush. I was astounded. “What in the hell is this?” I cried out to Slim. “This is the beginning of the rangelands, boy. Hand me another drink.” “Whoopee! Yelled the high school boys. “Columbus so long! What would Sparkie and the boys say if they was here. Yow!” The drivers

Thursday, 19 June 2008

19 June 2008

old hobo but with a youthful look so you couldn’t tell exactly what age he was. And he sat on the boards crosslegged, looking out over the fields without saying anything for hundreds of miles, and finally at one point turned to me and said “Where you headed?” I said Denver. “I got a sister there but I ain’t seed her for several couple years.” His language was melodious and slow. His charge was a sixteen year old tall blond kid, also in hobo rags, and that is to say they wore old clothes that had been turned black by the soot of railroads and the dirt of boxcars and sleeping on the ground. The blond kid was also quiet and he seemed to be running away from something, and it figured to be the law the way he looked straight ahead and wet his lips in worried thought. They sat side by side, silent buddies, and said nothing to anyone else. The farmboys and the high school boys bored them; Montana Slim however spoke to them occasionally with a sardonic and insinuating smile. They paid no attention to him. Slim was all insinuation. I was afraid of his long goofy grin that he opened up straight in your face and held there half-moronically. “You got any money?” he said to me. “Hell no, maybe enough for a pint of whisky till I get to Denver. What about you?” “I know where I can get some.” “Where?” “Anywhere. You can always folly a man down an alley can’t you?” “Yeah, I guess you can.” “I ain’t beyond doing it when I really need some dough. Headed up to Montana to see my father. I’ll have to get off this rig at Cheyenne and move up some other way, these crazy boys are going to Los Angeles.” “Straight?” “All the way---if you want to go to L.A. you got a ride.” I mulled this over, the thought of zoomingallnight across Nebraska, Wyoming and the Utah desert in the morning and then the Nevada desert most likely in the afternoon, and actually arriving in Los Angeles California within a foreseeable space of time almost made me change my plans. But I had to go to Denver. I’d have to get off at Cheyenne too, and hitch south 90 miles to Denver. I was glad when the two Minnesota farmboys in the cab decided to stop in No. Platte and eat; I wanted to have a look at them. They came out of the cab and smiled at all of us. “Pisscall!” said one. “Time to eat!” said the other. But they were the only ones in the party

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

18 June 2008

up right outside the town of North Platte, where he left me off. And I wasn’t thinking much but the greatest ride in my life was about to come up, a truck, with a flatboard at the back, with about already five boys sprawled out on it and the drivers, two young blonde farmers from Minnesota were picking up every single soul they found on that road---the most smiling cheerful couple of handsome bumkins you could ever wish to see, both wearing cotton shirts and overalls, nothing else, both thick-wristed and earnest, with broad howareyou smiles for anybody and anything that came across their path. I ran up, said “Is there room?” They said “Sure, hop on, ‘s’room for everybody.” So I did. I was amazed by the simplicity of the whole ride; I wasn’t on the flatboard before the truck roared off, I lurched, a rider grabbed me, and I sat down some. Somebody passed a bottle of rotgut, the bottom of it. I took a big swig in the wild lyrical drizzling air of Nebraska. “Whooee, here we go!” yelled a kid with a baseball cap, and they gunned up the truck to seventy and passed everybody on the road. “We been riding this sonofabitch since Omaha. These guys never stop. Every now and then you have to yell for a pisscall otherwise you have to piss off the air and hang on, brother, hang on.” I looked at the company. There were two young farmer boys from North Dakota in red baseball caps, which is the standard NODakota farmer boy hat, and they were headed for the harvests: their old men had given them leave to hit the road for a summer. Then there were two young city boys, from Columbus Ohio, high school footballplayers, chewing gum, winking, singing in the breeze, and they said they were hitchhiking around the US for the summer. “We’re going to LA!” They yelled. “What are you going to do there?” “Hell, we don’t know. Who cares?” Then there was a tall slim fellow whose name was Slim and he came from Montana, he said, and he had a sneaky look. “Where you from?” I asked; I was lying next to him on the platform, you couldn’t sit without bouncing off; it had no rails. And he turned slowly to me, opened his mouth and said, “Mon-ta-na.” And finally there was Mississippi Gene and his charge. Mississippi Gene was a little dark guy who rode the freight trains around the country, a 30 year

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

17 June 2008

minds. We felt silly and didn’t know what to say and I for one didn’t want to get hung up with a carnival I was in such a bloody hurry to get to the gang in Denver. I said “I don’t know, I’m going as fast as I can and I don’t think I have the time.” Eddie said the same thing, and the old man waved his hand and casually sauntered back to his car and drove off. And that was that. We laughed about it awhile and speculated what it would have been like. I for one had visions of a dark and dusty night on the plains, and the faces of Nebraska families wandering by, Okies mostly, with their rosy children looking at everything in awe, and I know I would have felt like the devil himself rooking them with all those cheap carnival tricks that they make you do…and the ferris wheel revolving in the flatlands darkness, and Godalmighty the sad music of the merry-go-round and me wanting to get on to my goal…and sleeping in some gilt wagon on a bed of burlap. Eddie turned out to be a pretty absentminded pal of the road. A funny old contraption rolled by, driven by an old man, it was made of some kind of aluminum, square as a box, a trailor no doubt, but a weird crazy Nebraska homemade trailer, and he was going very slow and stopped. We rushed up; he said he could only take one; without a word, after a look from me, Eddie jumped in and slowly rattled from my sight, and wearing my wool plaid shirt, the very shirt I’d worn to write the first half of my book. Well, lackaday, I kissed the shirt goodbye, it only had sentimental value in any case, besides of which, though I didn’t know it, I was destined to retrieve it some ways up the road. I waited in our personal godawful Preston for a long, long time, several hours; I kept thinking it was getting night but actually it was only early afternoon, but dark. Denver, Denver, how would I ever get to Denver. I was just about giving up and planning to sit over coffee in a stew when a fairly new car stopped, driven by a young guy. I ran like mad. “Where you going?” “Denver.” “Well I can take you a hundred miles up the line.” “Grand, grand, you saved my life.” “I used to hitch hike myself, That’s why I always pickup a fellow.” “I would too if I had a car.” And so we talked, and he told me about his life which wasn’t very interesting and I started to sleep some and woke

Monday, 16 June 2008

16 June 2008

been in this town before. It was years ago, during the fucking war, at night, late at night when everybody was sleeping, I went out on the platform to smoke, and there we was in the middle of nowhere and black as hell and I look up and see that name Preston written on the watertank…bound for the Pacific, everybody snoring, every damn dumb sucker, and we only stayed a few minutes stoking up or something and off we went. Damn me, this Preston! – I hated this place ever since!” And we were stuck in Preston. As in Davenport Iowa somehow all the cars were farmer-cars; and once in a while a tourist car, which is worse, with old men driving and their wives pointing out the sights or poring over maps, and sitting back like they do in living rooms all over America looking at everything with suspicious faces. The drizzle increased and Eddie got cold; he had very little clothes. I fished a wool plaid shirt from my canvas bag and he put it on. He felt a little better. I had a cold. I bought cough drops in a rickety Indian store of some kind. I went to the little two-by-four post office and wrote my mother a penny postcard. We went back to the gray road. There she was in front of us, Preston, written on the watertank. The Rock Island balled by. We saw the faces of Pullman passengers go by in a blur. The train howled off across the plains in the direction of our desires. It started to rain harder. But I knew I’d get there. A tall, lanky fellow in a gallon hat stopped his car on the wrong side of the road and acme over to us; he looked like a sheriff. We prepared our stories secretly. He took his time coming over. “You boys going to get somewhere, or just going?” We didn’t understand his question and it was a damned good question. “Why?” we said. “Well I own a little carnival that’s pitched a few mile down the road and I’m looking for some old boys willing to work and make a buck for themselves. I’ve got a roulette concession and a wooden ring concession, you know, the kind you throw around dolls and take your luck. You boys want to work for me you can get 30% of the take.” “Room and board?” “You can get a bed but no food. You’ll have to eat in town for that. We travel some.” We thought it over. “It’s a good opportunity,” he said and waited patiently for us to make up our

Sunday, 15 June 2008

15 June 2008

They can give Nebraska back to the Indians far as I’m concerned. I hate this damn place more than any place in the world. Montana’s my home now, Missoula. You come up there sometime and see God’s country.” Later in the afternoon I slept and got some rest when he got tired talking---he was an interesting talker. We stopped along the road for a rest and a bite to eat. The cowboy went off to have a spare tire patched and Eddie and I sat down in a kind of homemade diner. I heard a great laugh, the greatest laugh in the world, and here came this rawhide oldtimer Nebraska farmer with a bunch of other boys into the diner; you could hear his raspy cries clear across the plains, across the whole gray world of them that day. Everybody else laughed with him. He didn’t have a care in the world and had the hugest regard for everybody nevertheless. I said to myself, “Wham listen to that man laugh. That’s the west, here I am in the West.” He came booming into the diner calling Maw’s name from a distance, and she made the sweetest cherrypie in Nebraska and I had some with a mountainous scoop of ice cream on top. “Maw, rustle me up some grub afore I have to start eatin myself raw or some damn silly idee like that” and he threw himself on a stool and went “Hyaw hyaw hyaw hyaw! And thow some beans in it.” It was just the spirit of the west sitting right next to me. I wished I knew his whole raw life and what the hell he’d been doing all these years besides laughing and yelling like that. “Whooee,” I told my soul, and the cowboy came back and off we went to Grand Island. We got there in no time flat. He went to fetch his sleeping wife and off to whatever fate awaited him in the intervening years since, and Eddie and I resumed on the road. We got a ride from a couple of young fellows, wranglers, teenagers, countryboys in a put-together jaloppy and were left off somewhere up the line in a thin drizzle of rain. Then an old man who said nothing and God knows why he picked us up took us to (Preston) Nebraska. Here Eddie stood forlornly in the road in front of a staring bunch of short squat Omaha Indians who had nowhere to go and nothing to do. Across the road was the railroad track and the water tank saying “Preston.” “Damn me,” said Eddie with amazement, “I’ve

Saturday, 14 June 2008

14 June 2008

said so I saw the great trees in the distance that snaked with the riverbed and the great verdant fields around it, and almost agreed with him. Then as we were standing there and it was starting to get cloudy another cowboy, this one six foot tall with a modest half-gallon hat, called us over and wanted to know if either one of us could drive. Of course Eddie could drive, and he had a licence and I didn’t. He had two cars with him that he was driving back to Montana. His wife was sleeping at Grand Island in a motel and he wanted us to drive one of the cars there, where she’d take over. At that point he was going north and that was the limit of our ride with him. But it was a good 100 miles into Nebraska and of course we jumped for it. Eddie drove alone, the cowboy and myself following, and no sooner were we out of town that he started to ball that jack ninety miles an hour out of sheer exuberance. “Damn me, what’s the boy doing!” the cowboy shouted, and took off after him. It began to be like a race. For a minute I thought Eddie was trying to get away with the car---and for all I know that’s what he meant to do. But Old Cowboy stuck to him and caught up with him and tooted the horn. Eddie slowed down. The cowboy tooted to stop. “Damn, boy, you’re liable to get a flat going that speed. Can’t you drive a little slower.” “Well I’ll be damned, was I really going ninety?” said Eddie. “I didn’t realize it on this smooth road.” “Just take it a little easy and we’ll all get to Grand Island in one piece.” “Sure thing.” And we resumed our journey. Eddie had calmed down and probably even got sleepy. So we drove 100 miles across Nebraska, following the winding So Platte with its verdant fields. “During the depression,” said the cowboy to me, “I used to hop freights at least once a month. In those days you’d see hundreds of men riding a flat car or in a box car, and they weren’t just bums, they were all kind of men out of work and going from one place to another and some of them just wandering. It was like that all over the west. Brakemen never bothered you in those days. I don’t know about today. Nebraska I ain’t got no use for. Why in the middle 1930’s this place wasn’t nothing but a big dustcloud as far as the eye could see. You couldn’t breathe. The ground was black. I was here in those days.

Friday, 13 June 2008

13 June 2008

telling about ourselves, then he told dirty stories, then we just ended up kicking pebbles and making goofy noises of one kind and another. We got bored; I decided to spend a buck on beer; we went to a riotous old buck’s saloon in Stuart and had a few. There he got as drunk as he ever did in his Ninth Avenue night back home and yelled joyously in my ear all the sordid dreams of his life. I sort of liked him; not that he was a good sort, as he later proved, but he was enthusiastic about things. We got back on the road in the darkness and of course nobody stopped and nobody came by much. This went on until three o’clock in the morning; we spent some time trying to sleep on the bench at the railroad ticket office, but the telegraph clicked all night and we couldn’t sleep and big freights were slamming around outside. We didn’t know how to hop a proper hiball, we’d never done it before, whether they were going east or west and how to find out and what boxcars to pick and so on… So when the Omaha bus came through just before dawn we hopped on it and joined the sleeping passengers---for this I spent most of the last of my few bucks, his fare as well as mine. His name was Eddie. He reminded me of my cousin-in-law from Brooklyn. That was why I stuck with him. It was like having an old friend along…a dumb smiling goodnatured sort to goof along with. We arrived at Council Bluffs at dawn; I looked out; all winter I’d been reading of the great wagon parties that held council there before hitting the Oregon and Santa Fe trails; and of course now it was only cute suburban cottages of one damn dumb kind and another, all laid out in the dismal gray dawn. Then Omaha, and by God the first cowboy I saw, walking along the bleak walls of the wholesale meat warehouses with a great big ten gallon hat on and Texas boots, looking like any beat character of the brickwall dawns of the east except for the getup. We got off the bus and walked clear up the hill, the long hill formed by the mighty Missouri over the millenniums, alongside of which Omaha is built, and got out to the country and stuck our thumbs out. We got a brief ride to a further crossroads from a wealthy rancher with a ten-gallon hat, who said the Valley of Nebraska (platte) was as great as the Nile Valley of Egypt, and as he

Thursday, 12 June 2008

12 June 2008

then that strange red afternoon. But I had to get going and stop moaning, so I picked up my bag, said so long to the old hotelkeeper sitting by his spittoon, and went to eat. I ate apple pie and ice cream---it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer. There were the most beautiful bevies of girls everywhere I looked in Des Moines that afternoon---they were coming home from hi school, but I had no time now for thoughts like that and promised myself a ball in Denver. Allen Ginsberg was already in Denver; Neal was there; Hal Chase and Ed White were there, it was there hometown; Louanne was there; and there was mention of a mighty gang including Bob Burford, his beautiful blonde sister Beverly; two nurses that Neal knew, the Gullion sisters; and even Allen Temko my old college writing buddy was there. I looked forward to all of them with joy and anticipation. So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines, Iowa. A crazy guy with a kind of toolshack on wheels, a truck full of tools, that he drove standing up like a modern milkman, gave me a ride up the long hill; where I immediately got a ride from a farmer and his son heading out for Adel in Iowa. In this town, under a big elm tree near a gas station, I made the acquaintance of another hitch-hiker who was going to be with me a considerable of the rest of the way. He was of all things a typical New Yorker, an Irishman who’d been driving a truck for the Post Office most of his worklife and was now headed for a girl in Denver and a new life. I think he was running away from something in NY, the law most likely. He was a real rednose young drunk of 30 and would have bored me ordinarily except my senses were sharp for any kind of human friendship. He wore a beat sweater and baggy pants and had nothing with him in the way of a bag---just a toothbrush and handkerchiefs. He said we ought to hitch together. I should have said no, because he looked pretty awful on the road. But we stuck together and got a ride from a taciturn man to Stuart Iowa, a town in which I was destined to be really stranded . We stood in front of the railroad ticketshack in Stuart waiting for the westbound traffic till the sun went down, a good five hours…dawdling away the time at first

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

11 June 2008

Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska, and I could see the greater vision of San Francisco beyond like jewels in the night. He balled the jack and told stories for a couple of hours, then, at Stuart, a town in Iowa where years later Neal and I were stopped for suspicion in what looked like a stolen Cadillac, he slept a few hours in the seat. I slept too; and took one little walk along the lonely brickwalls illuminated by one lamp, with the prairie brooding at the end of each little street and the smell of corn like dew in the night. He woke up with a start at dawn. Off we roared, and an hour later the smoke of Des Moines appeared ahead over the green cornfields. He had to eat his breakfast now and wanted to take it easy, so I went right on into Des Moines the rest of the way, about four miles, hitching a ride from two boys from the U. of Iowa; and it was strange sitting in their brand new comfortable car and hear them talk of exams as we zoomed smoothly into town. Now I wanted to sleep a whole day and go on until I reached Denver. So I went to the Y to get a room, they didn’t have any, and by instinct wandered down to the railroad tracks—and there’s a lot of them in Des Moines—and wound up in a gloomy old plains inn of a hotel down by the locomotive roundhouse, and spent a wonderful long day sleeping on a big clean hard white bed with dirty remarks carved in the wall beside my pillow and the beat yellow windowshades pulled over the smoky scene of the railyards. I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, that I didn’t know who I was…I was far away from home haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the crack of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared, I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost…I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

10 June 2008

went all the way down and I was standing in the purple darkness. Now I was scared. There weren’t even any lights in the Iowa countryside; in a minute nobody would be able to see me. Luckily a man going back to Davenport gave me a lift downtown. But I was right where I started from. I went to sit in a bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream, that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and of course it was delicious. I decided to gamble. I took a bus in downtown Davenport, after spending a half hour watching a waitress in the bus station café, and rode to the city limits, but this time near the gas stations. Here the big trucks roared, wham, and inside two minutes one of them cranked to a stop for me. I ran for it with my soul whoopeeing. And what a driver…a great big tough truckdriver with popping eyes and a hoarse raspy voice who just slammed and kicked at everything and got his rig underway and paid hardly any attention to me so I could rest my tired soul a little…for one of the biggest troubles hitchhiking is having to talk to innumerable people, make them feel that they didn’t make a mistake picking you up, even go so far as to entertain them almost, all of which is a great strain when you’re going all the way and don’t plan to sleep in hotels. The guy just yelled above the roar and all I had to do was yell back, and we relaxed. And he balled that thing clear to (Rapid City Iowa) and yelled me the funniest stories about how he got around the law in every town that had an unfair speed-limit, reiterating over and over again “Them goddam cops can’t put no flies on my ass.” And he was wonderful. And he did a wonderful thing for me. Just as we rolled into Rapid City he saw another truck coming behind us, and because he had to turn off at Rapid City he blinked his tail lights at the other guy and slowed down for me to jump out, which I did with my bag, and the other truck, acknowledging this exchange, stopped for me, and once again, in the twink of nothing, I was in another big high cab all set to go hundreds of miles across the night, and was I happy! And the new truckdriver was as crazy as the other one and yelled just as much and all I had to do was lean back and relax my soul and roll on. Now I could see

Monday, 9 June 2008

09 June 2008

the impossible complexities of Chicago traffic I took a bus to Joliet, Illinois, went by the Joliet pen, and stationed myself just outside town, after a walk through its leafy rickety streets behind, pointed my way. All the way from New York to Joliet by bus in actuality, and I had about 20 dollars left. My first ride was a dynamite truck with a red flag, about thirty miles into the great green Illinois, the truckdriver pointing out the place where Route 6 that we were on intersected Route 66 before they both shot west for incredible distances. Along about three in the afternoon after an apple pie and ice cream in a roadside stand a woman stopped for me in a little coupe. I had a twinge of hardon joy as I ran after the car. But she was a middleaged woman, actually the mother of sons my age, and wanted somebody to help her drive to Iowa. I was all for it. Iowa! not so far from Denver, and once I got to Denver I could relax. She drove the first few hours; at one point insisted on visiting an old church somewhere, like as if we were tourists, and then I took over the wheel, and though I'm not much of a driver drove clear through the rest of Illinois to Davenport, Iowa, via Rock Island. And here for the first time in my life I saw my beloved Mississippi River---dry in the summer haze, lowwater, with its big rank smell that smells like the raw body of America itself because it washes it up. Rock Island----railroad tracks, shacks, small downtown section; and over the bridge to Davenport, same kind of town, all smelling of sawdust in the warm Midwest sun. Here the lady had to go on to her Iowa hometown by another route; and I got out. The sun was going down. I walked, after a few cold beers, to the edge of town, and it was a long walk. All the men were driving home from work...wearing railroad hats, baseball hats, all kinds of hats, just like afterwork in any town anywhere. One of them gave me a ride up the hill and left me at a lonely crossroads on the edge of the prairie. It was beautiful there. Across the street was a Motel, the first of the many motels I was to see in the west. The only cars that came by were farmer-cars, they gave me suspicious looks, they clanked along, the cows were coming home. Not a truck. A few cars zipped by. A hotrod kid came by with his scarf flying. The sun

Sunday, 8 June 2008

08 June 2008

my tragic route Six—more to come of it, too. In Newburgh it had stopped raining, I walked down to the river, and among all things I had to ride back to NY in a bus with a delegation of schoolteachers coming back from a weekend in the Mtns.- - chatter chatter blah-blah and me swearing for all the time and money I’d wasted, and telling myself “I wanted to go west and here I’ve been all day and into the night going up and down, north and south, like something that can’t get started.” And I swore I’d be in Chicago tomorrow; and made sure of that, taking a bus to Chicago, spending most of my money, and didn’t give a damn, just as long as I’d be in that damned Chicago tomorrow. The bus left at 2 o’ clock in the morning from the 34St. bus station sixteen hours after I’d more or less passed it on my way up to Route Six. Sheepishly my foolish ass was carried west. But at least I was headed there at last. I won’t describe the trip to Chicago, it was an ordinary bus trip with crying babies and sometimes hot sun and countryfolk getting on at one Penn town after another, and so on, till we got on the plain of Ohio and really rolled, up by Ashtabula and straight across Indiana in the night for Chicago. I arrived in Chicago quite early in the morning, got a room in the Y and went to bed with a very few dollars in my pocket as a consequence of my foolishness. I dug Chicago after a good day’s sleep. The wind from Lake Michigan, the beans, bop at the Loop, long walks around So. Halsted and No.Clark and one long walk after midnight into the jungles where a cruising car followed me as a suspicious character. At this time, 1947, bop was going like mad all over America, but it hadn’t developed to what it is now. The fellows at the Loop blew, but with a tired air, because bop was somewhere between its Charley Parker Ornithology period and another period that really began with Miles Davis. And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which it has come to represent for all of us, I thought of all my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in the same vast backyard doing something so frantic and rushing-about beneath. And for the first time in my life, the following afternoon, I went into the west. It was a warm and beautiful day for hitchhiking. To get out of

07 June 2008

rides took me to the desired Bear Mtn. bridge where Route 6 arched in from New England. I had visions of it, I never dreamed it would look like it did. In the first place it began to rain in torrents when I was left off there. It was mountainous. Six came from the wilderness, wound around a traffic circle (after crossing the bridge that is) and disappeared again into the wilderness. Not only was there no traffic but the rain came down in buckets and I had no shelter. I had to run under some pines to take cover; this did no good; I began crying and swearing and socking myself on the head for being such a damn fool. I was forty miles North of New York, all the way up I’d been worried about the fact that on this, my big opening day, I was only moving north instead of the desired, the so-longed for west. Now I was struck on my northernmost hangup. I ran a quarter mile to an abandoned cute English style filing station and stood under the dripping eaves. High up over my head the great hairy Bear Mtn. sent down thunderclaps that put the fear of God in me. All I could see were smoky trees and dismal wilderness rising to the skies. “What the hell am I doing up here?” I cursed I cried for Chicago…”Even now they’re all having a big time, they’re doing things, I’m not there, when will I get there!” and so on…Finally a car stopped at the empty filling station, the man and the two women in it wanted to study a map. I stepped right up and gestured in the rain; they consulted; I looked like a maniac of course with my hair all wet my shoes sopping…my shoes, damn fool that I am, were Mexican huaraches that, as a fellow later said to me in Wyoming, would certainly grow something if you planted them---plantlike sieves not fit for the rainy night of America and the whole raw road night. But they let me in, and rode me back to Newburgh which I accepted as a better alternative than being trapped in the Bear Mtn. wilderness all night. “Besides said the man there’s no traffic passes through six…if you want to go to Chicago you’d do better going across the Holland tunnel in NY and head for Pittsburgh” and I knew he was right. It was my dream that screwed up, the stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America instead of trying various roads and routes. That’s

06 June 2008

while we went through the rigmarole of getting a ship. He was living with a girl called Diane, he said she was a marvellous cook and everything would jump. Henri was an old prep school friend, a Frenchman brought up in Paris and France and a really mad guy---I never knew how mad and so mad at this time. So he expected me to arrive in 10 days. I wrote and confirmed this…in innocence of how much I’d get involved on the road. My mother was all in accord with my trip to the west, she said it would do me good. I’d been working so hard all winter and staying in too much; she even didn’t say too much when I told her I’d have to hitch hike some, ordinarily it frightened her, she thought this would do me good. All she wanted was for me to come back in one piece. So leaving my big half-manuscript sitting on top of my desk, and folding back my comfortable home sheets for the last time one morning, I left with my canvas bag in which a few fundamental things were packed, left a note to my mother, who was at work, and took off for the Pacific Ocean like a veritable Ishmael with fifty dollars in my pocket. What a hang up I got into at once! As I look back on it it’s incredible that I could have been so damned dumb. I’d been poring over maps of the U.S. in Ozone Park for months, even reading books about the pioneers and savoring names like Platte and Cimarron and so on, and on the roadmap was one long red line called Route Six that led from the tip of Cape Cod clear to Ely Nevada and there dipped down to Los Angeles. “I’ll just stay on six all the way to Ely,” I said to myself and confidently started. To get to six I had to go up to Bear Mtn. New York. Filled with dreams of what I’d do in Chicago, in Denver, and then finally in San Fran, I took the 7th avenue subway to the end of the line at 242nd street, right near Horace Mann the prep school where I had actually met Henri Cru who I was going to see, and there took a trolley into Yonkers; downtown Yonkers I transferred on an outgoing trolley and went to the city limits on the east bank of the Hudson river. If you drop a rose in the Hudson river at its mysterious mouth up near Saratoga think of all the places it journeys by as it goes out to sea forever…think of that wonderful Hudson valley. I started hitching up the thing. Five scattered shot

05 June 2008

squeeze and stop on a dime at the brickwall, and jump out, snake his way out of close fenders, leap into another car, circle it fifty miles an hour in a narrow space, shift, and back again into a tight spot with a few inches each side and come to a bouncing stop the same moment he’s jamming in the emergency brake; then run clear to the ticket shack like a track star, hand a ticket, leap into a newly arrived car before the owner is hardly out, leap literally under him as he steps out, start the car with the door flapping and roar off to the next available parking spot: working like that without pause eight hours a night, evening rush hours and after theater rush hours, in greasy wino pants with a frayed furlined jacket and beat shoes that flap. Now he’d bought a new suit to go back home in; blue with pencil stripes, vest and all, with a watch and watch chain, and a portable typewriter with which he was going to start writing in a Denver roominghouse as soon as he got a job there. We had a farewell meal of franks and beans in a 7th avenue Riker’s and then Neal got on the bus that said Chicago on it and roared off into the night. I promised myself to go the same way when Spring really bloomed and opened up the land. There went our wrangler. And this was really the way that my whole road experience began and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell. I’ve only spoken of Neal in a preliminary way because I didn’t know any more than this about him then. His relation with Allen I’m not in on and as it turned out later, Neal got tired of that, specifically of queerness and reverted to his natural ways, but that’s no matter. In the month of July, 1947, having finished a good half of my novel and having saved about fifty dollars from old veteran benefits I got ready to go to the West Coast. My friend Henri Cru had written me a letter from San Fransisco saying I should come out there and ship out with him on an around the world liner. He swore he could get me into the engine room. I wrote back and said I’d be satisfied with any old freighter so long as I could take a few long Pacific trips and come back with enough money to support myself in my mother’s house while I finished my book. He said he had a shack in Marin City and I would have all the time in the world to write there

04 June 2008

of Bill Tomson, Al Hinkle, his boyhood buddies, his street buddies…they rushed down the street together digging everything in the early way they had which has later now become so much sadder and perceptive.. but then they danced down the street like dingledodies and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night. Allen was queer in those days, experimenting with himself to the hilt, and Neal saw that, and a former boyhood hustler himself in the Denver night, and wanting dearly to learn how to write poetry like Allen, the first thing you know he was attacking Allen with a great amorous soul such as only the common can have. I was in the same room, I heard them across the darkness and I mused and said to myself “Hmm, now something’s started, but I don’t want anything to do with it.” So I didn’t see them for about two weeks during which time they cemented their relationship to mad proportions. Then came the great time of traveling, Spring, and everybody in the scattered gang was getting ready to take one trip or another. I was busily at work on my novel and when I came to the halfway mark, after a trip down South with my mother to visit my sister, I got ready to travel west for the very first time. Neal had already left. Allen and I saw him off at the 34th street Greyhound station. Upstairs they have a place where you can make pictures for a quarter. Allen took off his glasses and looked sinister. Neal made a profile shot and looked coyly around. I took a straight picture that made me look, as Lucien said, like a 30 year old Italian who’d kill anybody who said anything against his mother. This picture Allen and Neal neatly cut down the middle with a razor and saved a half each in their wallets. I saw those halves later on. Neal was wearing a real western business suit for his big trip back to Denver; he’d finished his first fling in New York. I say fling but he only worked like a dog in parkinglots, the most fantastic parkinglot attendant in the world, he can back a car forty miles an hour into a tight

03 June 2008

minute, I’ll be right with you soon as I finish this chapter,” and I did and it was one of the best chapters in the whole book. Then I dressed and off we flew to NY to meet some girls. As you know to go from Ozone Park to New York takes an hour by elevated and subway, and as we rode in the El over the rooftops of Brooklyn we leaned on each other with fingers waving and yelled and talked excitedly and I was beginning to get the bug like Neal. In all, what Neal was, simply, was tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and also to get involved with people that would otherwise pay no attention to him. He was conning me, so-called, and I knew it, and he knew I knew (this has been the basis of our relation) but I didn’t care and we got along fine. I began to learn from him as much as he probably learned from me. As far as my work was concerned he said, “Go ahead, everything you do is great.” We went to New York, I forget what the situation was, two girls---there were no girls there, they were supposed to meet him or some such thing and they weren’t there. We went to his parkinglot where he had a few things to do---change his clothes in the shack in back and spruce up a bit in front of a cracked shack mirror and so on, and then we took off. And that was the night Neal met Leon Levinsky. A tremendous thing happened when Neal met Leon Levinsky…I mean of course Allen Ginsberg. Two keen minds that they are they took to each other at the drop of a hat. Two piercing eyes glanced into two piercing eyes…the holy con-man and the great sorrowful poetic con-man that is Allen Ginsberg. From that moment on I saw very little of Neal and I was a little sorry too…Their energies met head-on. I was a lout compared; I couldn’t keep up with them. The whole mad swirl of everything that was to come then began which would mix up all my friends and all I had left of my family in a big dust cloud over the American night---they talked of Burroughs, Hunkey, Vicki, …Burroughs in Texas, Hunkey on Riker’s Island, Vicki hung up with Norman Schnall at the time…and Neal told Allen of people in the west like Jim Holmes the hunchbacked poolhall rotation shark and cardplayer and queer saint…he told him

02 June 2008

remember me, Neal Cassady? I’ve come to ask you to show me how to write.” And where’s Louanne?” I asked, and Neal said she’d apparently whored a few dollars together or something of that nature and gone back to Denver… “whore!” So we went out to have a few beers because we couldn’t talk like we wanted to in front of my mother, who sat in the livingroom reading her paper. She took one look at Neal and decided from the very beginning that he was a madman. She never dreamed she too’d be driving across the mad American night with him more than once. In the bar I told Neal, “For krissakes man I know very very well you didn’t come to me only to want become a writer and after all what do I really know it except you’ve got to stick to it with the energy of a benny addict,” and he said, “Yes of course, I know exactly what you mean and in fact those problems have occurred to me but the thing that I want is the realization of those factors that should one depend on Schpenhauer’s dichotomy for any inwardly realized…” and so on and on in that way, things I understood not a bit and he himself didn’t, and what I mean is to say, in those days he really didn’t know what he was talking about, that is to say, he was a young jailkid all hung up on the wonderful possibilities of becoming a real intellectual and he liked to talk in the tone and using the words but in a jumbled way that he had heard “real intellectuals” talk although mind you he wasn’t so naïve as that in all other things, and it took him just a few months with Leon Levinsky to become completely in there with all the terms and the jargon and the style of intellectuality. Nonetheless I loved him for his madness and we got drunk together in the Linden bar behind my house and I agreed that he could stay at my house till he found a job and we furthermore agreed to go out west sometime. That was the winter of 1947. Shortly after meeting Neal I began writing or painting my huge Town and City, and I was about four chapters on when one night, when neal ate supper at my house, and he already had a new parkinglot job in New York, the hotel NYorker lot on 34 st., he leaned over my shoulder as I typed rapidly away and said “Come on man, those girls won’t wait, make it fast,” and I said “Hold on just a

01 June 2008

those leftover things concerning our personal lovethings and at once begin thinking of specific worklife plans…” and so on in the way that he had in his early days. I went to the coldwater flat with the boys and Neal came to the door in his shorts. Louanne was jumping off quickly from the bed; apparently he was fucking with her. He always was doing so. The other guy who owned the place Bob Malkin was there but Neal had apparently dispatched him to the kitchen, probably to make coffee while he proceeded with his loveproblems…for to him sex was the one and only holy and important thing in life, although he had to sweat and curse to make a living, and so on. My first impression of Neal was of a young Gene Autry---trim, thin-hipped, blue eyes, with a real Oklahoma accent. In fact, he’d just been working on a ranch, Ed Uhl’s in Sterling Colo. before marrying L. and coming East. Louanne was a pretty, sweet little thing, but awfully dumb and capable of doing horrible things, as she proved a while later. I only mention the first meeting of Neal because of what he did. That night we all drank beer and I got drunk and blah-blahed somewhat, slept on the other couch, and in the morning, while we sat around dumbly smoking butts from ashtrays in the gray light of a gloomy day Neal got up nervously, paced around thinking, and decided the thing to do was have Louanne making breakfast and sweeping the floor. Then I went away. That was all I knew of Neal at the outset. During the following week however he confided in Hal Chase that he absolutely had to learn how to write from him; Hal said I was a writer and he should come to me for advice. Meanwhile Neal had gotten a job in a parking lot, had a fight with Louanne in their Hoboken apartment God knows why they went there and she was so mad and so vindictive down deep that she reported him to the police, some false trumped up hysterical crazy charge, and Neal had to lam from Hoboken. So he had no place to live. Neal came right out to Ozone Park where I was living with my mother, and one night while I was working on my book or my painting or whatever you want to call it there was a knock on the door and there was Neal, bowing, shuffling obsequiously in the dark of the hall, and saying “Hel-lo, you

31 May 2008


I first met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had something to do with my father’s death and my awful feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Neal there really began for me that part of my life that you could call my life on the road. Prior to that I’d always dreamed of going west, seeing the country, always vaguely planning and never specifically taking off and so on. Neal is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jaloppy, on their way to Los Angeles. First reports of Neal came to me through Hal Chase, who’d shown me a few letters from him written in a Colorado reform school. I was tremendously interested in these letters because they so naively and sweetly asked for Hal to teach him all about Nietzsche and all the wonderful intellectual things that Hal was so justly famous for. At one point Allen Ginsberg and I talked about these letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Neal Cassady. This is all far back, when Neal was not the way he is today, when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery. Then news came that Neal was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time; also there was talk that he had just married a 16 year old girl called Louanne. One day that I was hanging around the Columbia campus and Hal and Ed White told me Neal had just arrived and was living in a guy called Bob Malkin’s coldwater pad in East Harlem, the Spanish Harlem. Neal had arrived the night before, the first time in NY, with his beautiful little sharp chick Louanne; they got off the greyhound bus at 50 St. and cut around the corner looking for a place to eat and went right in Hector’s, and since then Hector’s cafeteria has always been a big symbol of NY for Neal. They spent money on beautiful big glazed cakes and creampuffs. All this time Neal was telling Louanne things like this, “Now darling here we are in Ny and although I haven’t quite told you everything that I was thinking about when we crossed Missouri and especially at the point when we passed the Bonneville reformatory which reminded me of my jail problem it is absolutely necessary now to postpone all

project proposal

getting inside Jack Kerouac’s head

Simon Morris


“A few years ago I was lecturing to a class at Princeton. After the class, a small group of students came up to me to tell me about a workshop that they were taking with one of the most well-known fiction writers in America. They were complaining about her lack of imagination. For example, she had them pick their favorite writer and come in next week with an “original” work in the style of that author. I asked one of the students which author they chose. She answered Jack Kerouac. She then added that the assignment felt meaningless to her because the night before she tried to “get into Kerouac’s head” and scribbled a piece in “his style” to fulfill the assignment. It occurred to me that for this student to actually write in the style of Kerouac, she would have been better off taking a road trip across the country in a ‘48 Buick with the convertible roof down, gulping Benzedrine by the fistful, washing ‘em down with bourbon, all the while typing furiously away on a manual typewriter, going 85 miles per hour down a ribbon of desert highway. And even then, it would’ve been a completely different experience, not to mention a very different piece of writing, than Kerouac’s.

Instead, my mind drifted to those aspiring painters who fill up the Metropolitan Museum of Art every day, spending hours learning by copying the Old Masters. If it’s good enough for them, why isn’t it good enough for us? I would think that should this student have retyped a chunk — or if she was ambitious, the entirety — of On The Road. Wouldn’t she have really understood Kerouac’s style in a profound way that was bound to stick with her? I think she really would have learned something had she retyped Kerouac. But no. She had to bring in an “original” piece of writing.”

– Kenneth Goldsmith