Yes, I was male suburban cliché: Like thousands of other disaffected middle-class white kids before me (and many more after, I’m sure), I discovered Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in high school—I’m proud to say I still own the very same copy I picked up at a long-since shuttered Borders Books in McMurray, Penna. It was the first book I ever read, front to back, in one sitting. (Embarrassing as it is to admit, Bukowski’s Ham on Rye was the second; The Catcher in the Rye was the third.)
I have a few other good Kerouac stories:
When I moved to San Francisco after college, I got a job in North Beach, right down the street from City Lights and its next-door neighbor, Vesuvio Cafe, and the little alley—Jack Kerouac Alley is its actual name—that runs between the two.
For a short while, there was a bartender working at Vesuvio who was literally the spitting image of Kerouac—same hair, same vintage checkered shirts. He could have been a Kerouac body double, easily, or won a look-alike contest. It was eerie.
A friend of mine named Toby, an aspiring Aussie novelist, had a short-lived job as Vesuvio as a doorman. Every time I walked by—and I mean every time—Toby was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk, right outside the bar’s front entrance, with his nose in a paperback. He didn’t last very long, I don’t think.
My favorite Kerouac story, though, is one that’s probably not even true. I had a friend in college, Paul, who’d grown up around Boston; he was, and still is, the most well-read person I’ve ever met in my life. (He’s currently teaching English in Oman, of all places.) It was a well-known fact, Paul once told me, that one of the houses formerly occupied by Kerouac in his hometown of Lowell, Mass., had for years been the home of a low-level marijuana dealer with no arms or legs. It’s possible, I suppose. But definitely not likely. That’s a rumor I would love to either prove or dispel.
How about the rest of you? Any good Kerouac stories or memories to share? His birthday was yesterday, March 12; he would have been 91 years old. Happy birthday, Jack.