This is a birthday to mark. It's a chance to notice the enormous influence Kerouac continues to exert. And it's a chance to remember how very much I was blown away when I first read On The Road. Is that what made me want to be a writer? Or did I just wish I could be that cool and wise? Or is that all same thing? All I know is that it's impossible for me to drive on a westbound Interstate (I did this yesterday on I-84, but that's another story) without thinking about this book. And whenever I'm stopped at a railroad crossing (this happens a lot in Chatham, New York) and see those boxcars with open doors, I remember Jack Kerouac and his stories.
From Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of Jack Kerouac, (books by this author) born Jean-Louise Kerouac, in Lowell Massachusetts (1922). He grew up speaking French, and couldn't speak English fluently until junior high. He was strong and athletic; he played football and he was good at it. In the Thanksgiving game of his senior year in high school he scored a game-winning touchdown—the ball was tipped, he stretched out and grabbed it inches from the ground, and smashed his way into the end zone. The fans went crazy, and there were college scouts there who got him an athletic scholarship to Columbia University. In the college newspaper they called him a "fleet-footed backfield ace," but he broke his leg early on and never played again.
But he became friends with other like-minded writers, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. He took a series of cross-country road trips with his friend Neal Cassady. In 1949 they drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951 he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation and Allen Ginsberg called it "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself." And that became his novel On the Road (1957).