On the Road Trip

After graduating High school in 1976 I took a year off to work full-time at that retail giant Bradlees. This decision was greatly influenced by the prodigious amounts of weed I was smoking at the time. During that year, I finally quit weed, smartened up and decided to go to Salem State College in 1977. They had a lottery system to pick your classes at registration for freshman year and I got # 1,950 out of 2,000. Needless to say, the pickings were slim. The only course readily available was Freshman Comp. Beyond that it was a total crapshoot of mostly electives to fill in your fall semester. I remember some guy coming back to our table full of last minute miscreants like myself saying, “I just took something called ‘History of Ethics’…I don’t even know what that means.” As for myself, I took a class called ‘Kerouac and the Beats’ which was probably a senior elective but sounded interesting, especially since I’d already read ‘On the Road’. It was taught by a guy with longish hair called Joel McHale who looked to be about 5 years older than me. It was an interesting course and, at one point McHale said, “I’d like to do a road trip to Lowell this semester to visit Kerouac’s grave and possibly meet with his cousin if anyone is interested.” Well, Hell Yeah, I was interested but, surprisingly only five of the ten students wanted to come along. When the day arrived, McHale said, ‘I guess we’ll take two cars. Who wants to drive?’ “Shucks’, I said, “we don’t need two cars. I have a big old Buick, we can all fit in my car. I’ll drive.” So, drive I did, straight to Kerouac’s grave site which was festooned with wine bottles and notes under rocks. There wasn’t much to say about the in ground stone tribute to “Ti Jean” John Kerouac beyond the fact that it was much smaller than anticipated and actually kind of pathetic so McHale told us we might as well go to the bar to wait for Kerouac’s cousin (whose name sadly is lost to the ravages of time and perhaps booze). I remember he had an unusual first name but…nope…still nothing. Damn you Anheuser Busch!

The place we went to meet Mr. Odd Name cousin was a straight up strip joint but, thankfully the girls only danced at night. We grabbed a table near one of the small (empty) stages and proceeded to drink three rounds of beers…the first was on Professor McHale. I should interject here that, during this time period, the drinking age was 19. So, we weren’t drinking illegally but we were drinking…with our professor at 1 in the afternoon during our first semester at college. College wasn’t so bad. Odd Name finally showed up and bought us two more rounds of beer and told us very little about Jack Kerouac besides the fact that he drank a lot after he returned home to Lowell to live with his mother and sometimes right in this very bar. He said he was quiet and sad during those times and never talked much. I guess when you’ve lived a full life like Jack and come home to drink yourself to death there isn’t much to be happy about. Odd Name had to get back to his own Lowell life so we said our goodbyes and thank you’s and headed back to my car for the ride back to Salem. I was hoping something crazy or interesting would happen on the way home. Perhaps we would pick up some hitchhikers who would share their Benzedrine with us and we’d detour maniacally to New York city but no, the ride home was uneventful.

I dropped everyone off safely back in Salem and by the time I got home I was feeling the beginnings of a daytime hangover. Jack would have been disappointed. That night, I thought about the events of the day and wondered what other unusual, fun times were ahead of me in my new life at college. But I couldn’t shake the image of Jack Kerouac, one of America’s most influential writers, sitting bloated and unrecognized in a dingy bar drinking himself to death. I knew I’d never live as much or as wildly as Jack but I vowed that I would never let this happen to me and it didn’t…mostly.James Sanechiaro

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