California Gold – Part II

I'm up in the mountains right now. Out in the sticks; in a cabin with no TV, but thankfully with modern luxuries like wifi. I've got a beat-up copy of Kerouac's On The Road with me that I snagged from my old bedroom while visiting my parents last week. I read this book when I was 19 and I didn't have a clue what was really going on; not even a drop of awareness for what was happening.

Reading it again now, there are some pretty inspiring quotes from this work. Quotes so famous that you can buy framed copies of hand-stitched embroidery, recreating these words in fine thread. Things like:

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

That's a powerful piece of romanticism right there. However, going back (trying to find some inspiration about "the West" before I visit Germain Robin tomorrow) I find that I like the quote that predicates it better. The part where Kerouac says:

"All my New York friends were in the negative, nightmarish position of putting down society and giving their tired bookish or political or psychoanalytical reasons."

That I relate to even more, and it's not so bumper stickery. Then there's the one from Kerouac's friend the Major who pines for Europe:

"Ah, if you could just come with me sometime and drink Cinzano and hear the musicians of Bandol, then you'd be living. Then there's Normandy in the summers, the sabots, the fine old Calvados."

I know those people. Kerouac calls the experience: "Straight out of Hemingway, it was."

While "Sal" and his buddies were romanticizing the boozetacular exploits of "Papa" and his manly bravado, picturing themselves in the iconic literary moments of their generation, I'm now romanticizing the saga of 1950's Americana and the dreams of the West that sent many young beatnik hipsters out on the road and into California. It's important to bask in these moments, but it's also important to define them for yourselves. Using history, nostalgia, and pop culture to increase your enjoyment is a fantastic thing. Anthony Bourdain does it on practically every episode and I eat right out of his hand. But we also have to enjoy the moment for what it is: not a recreation of something already done, but the manifestation of something real and temporary.

It would be a shame if everything great today was simply just the realization of what was done before. It would be great if words inspired us to create our own enjoyment, independent of their literal translation. For example, I just sat in a mineral bath that was used by Mark Twain and Jack London. That's pretty damn cool. But it was more cool that I was just in a mineral bath thinking about nothing; just focusing on that moment.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll