Every so often, I like to get out my worn copy of “On The Road”. I have an old Viking copy, I believe it’s a third printing. The dust jacket’s all worn and tattered. It wasn’t mine originally and I always liked to imagine who might’ve owned it before me. I bought it around 1987. I was traveling all over the world at the time, visiting strange, exotic places, and the one thing I was laser-beam obsessed with was the idea that I would live every single moment as if I was Jack, or perhaps (and always better) Neal (albeit, without the Benzedrine…). I would suck the marrow out of each experience I had, etch them into my brain, and be oh, so zen, daddy-o. I would stop in the middle of the road in Pakistan, smell deeply, open my eyes as wide as I could, look around and take in everything. Every sense, every sight, every sound. I’d try to freeze time in the middle of the Wan Chai District in Hong Kong and make sure I never forgot the look on my friends face, flush with alcohol, perma-grin in full effect, as some sweaty Chinese teenager tattooed a dragon on his shoulder. I’d turn around while the jeep careened along dirt roads in the Tsavo National Park in Kenya, just to make sure Stover was seeing what I saw and that it had the same impact; that feeling of the proverbial wind being knocked out of you by the overwhelming beauty of an African plain packed as far as the eye could see with Elephants.
So the last paragraph has always held a certain bit of magic for me. Place this paragraph in the context of the previous 43 chapters. All that adventure, all that road. All that Dean and Carlo. All that life. It’s just one of those paragraphs that’s so pure Kerouac. If you’ve read the book and tried your best to live life in “the most beat way possible”, all you need to do is pick up a copy, flip to the last page and read those last few lines:
“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, and 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? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
How could you not love that whole paragraph? It’s one of those things that can instantly center you. That can immediately place the value in the here, in the now. It reminds you once again that life is for the living, that every moment that flashes across your retinas is for you, and you alone. You can share these moments. You can share these times. You can wallow in the now, but only for an instant, because “the now” quickly (too quickly) becomes “the was” and if you miss it, it’s gone, daddy, gone.