01 April 2010

Day 5: On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerourac.  ISBN: 9781415943403 (audiobook).

It's interesting that I find it easier to think about books when I'm reading versus listening to them. Part of the reason is probably due to my tendency to multitask or, as the case may be with this novel, dodge crazy traffic from Cincinnati, Ohio to Franklin, Tennessee, where we finally stopped for the evening. Somehow though I feel that reading from the page just lends itself better to thinking and mulling ideas over. The ocular nerve and the brain are so close together that I can't help but think that the very process of moving one's eyes back and forth across a page sparks neurons that are otherwise left unsparked.
The thing that I noticed about On the Road was the very carelessness with which Sal and friends chose their destinations. While they may have had a general goal in mind, if something else came up, an opportunity or sight to see, they took it. Their revelry in the country and its people is something I think America has lost over the past twenty years, and certainly within the last five. Gas prices are obviously a major culprit as well as the increased cost of living, but I wonder if maybe there's not more to it than that.
Consider the last ten years. Travel has become so much more difficult and restricted, especially for anyone of certain backgrounds or perceived backgrounds. We've also become more conscious of where we travel and how we travel. We no longer hitch hike or ride the rails, most of us can't even pay to ride the trains because they don't go where we want them to. Americans are stuck, they're stuck in the same place and the same life, even when they go to different cities.

We take our own little travel bubbles with us, we pack our cars with things and people from home so that we don't have to deal with other people from different towns or regions. We eat at McDonald's and BurgerKing so that we don't have to risk not liking some local delicacy and so we never really experience the things that make our country so great, the fact that we. are. all. different. from. each. other. We are nation of States that are United despite our differences in the ideal of democratic freedoms.

My fiance and I were able to revel and hate some of those differences on our trip today, and I wonder how much more we might have enjoyed if we had started our lives and our trip half a century earlier. On the Road is about characters more than plot, and we definitely saw some characters on our roads.

Perhaps my favorite exchange, however brief, so far was with an Amish gentleman and his young daughter. The child was maybe two years old and had the most striking blue eyes and blonde hair. I smiled at both of them and made eye contact, which is something that's normally very difficult for me to do, but they both smiled at me, and I found that simple exchange to be one of the most rewarding I've had in the past few months. Some of that may be from being a near complete shut-in due to my lack of job, but somehow I don't think it's anywhere close to being the only reason.

The next interaction was a lot less pleasant and I think very shows a lot of the character of Kentucky, sadly not a very good one. I'm sure there are wonderful people in Kentucky, but well, I'm a little biased against you people because your highway system and how you deal with construction is completely ridiculous. My fiance and I stopped at a Carrollton, Kentucky BurgerKing for lunch (yeah I know I was complaining about that earlier but we made up for it by going to Neely's Barbeque in Nashville for dinner). When we were leaving, a man in a green pick up truck and basball hat was pulling out ahead of us. Since I had finished pulling out of my parking space before him I had the right of way. I drove around to the exit only drive and prepared to make a left turn when he came by to my right, blocked my view of traffic, AND TURNED LEFT FROM MY RIGHT HAND SIDE. I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe if he interacted with someone outside of his tiny, tiny, tiny state of mind if he would have had a little more consideration.

It's funny that my fiance and I were actually listening to this novel because as we were leaving Dinosaur World in Cave City Kentucky we noticed a couple of hitch hikers, an older man and a female of indeterminate age. They had a pet carrier or two with them, and unfortunately I couldn't tell you what their signs said. Obviously you won't see hitch hikers on the actual highway anymore since it's illegal, but we were just remarking at their rarity when we saw these two. It made me wonder about their intentions, where they were going and why, and why they couldn't take the Greyhound or other transportation.
I won't say I've never been tempted to pick up hitch hikers before. There's something very appealing about someone who has enough faith in their fellow humans to trust that once they are in a small metal can traveling at speeds of over 50 mph that they will not be injured somehow. And what an act of faith it must be to actually pick up one of those individuals who is so open and vulnerable in their need, especially given willingness to put yourself in a position of vulnerability by providing a complete stranger with something you are in no way obligated to provide for them.
And since it's April Fool's Day, here's a picture of my head inside a Dinosaur.  Yeah, flattering I know.

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