What can be discovered (or not) from just finally getting onto the road
I appreciate how this class allowed me to look at concepts, themes, and texts (a few of which I’d read previously) in entirely new ways. It might sound a little ridiculous, but the themes this class engaged throughout the semester are something I struggle with in my life to this day. That 15-year-old girl who read On the Road and thought she had found the capital A Answer still lives somewhere inside me.
I was so gung-ho on these anti-traditional-life-path notions that I dropped out of high school at 15 and essentially traveled and “partied” for the following two to three years. I thought this was the way to not only experience, but understand, life. I didn’t understand why I should be in high school learning stuff that either, I already knew, or that wasn’t something I was interested in knowing. I didn’t understand why I had to go to college to do the things I wanted to do.
I would watch Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch, and think that was the dream (let’s disregard his torturous death, and subsequent regrets, and the fact that he was but a few miles away from help that would have saved his life.) I thought nature was where the true America was; I wanted to meet these cool people that existed somewhere in my mind--vagabonds, present-day hippies, live-off-the-land types. There was something in all that mess that I still assumed was better than what I already had, or had been working towards on the “standard” path.
Now, I think most people will go through that phase. Or, maybe they won’t. A nice chunk of humans in the United States will have that “why don’t I just start driving” moment. They’ll question their “sheep-like” life, their choices, the path they’re on to the supposed American Dream (that isn’t so easily accomplished as it is). What I call a “phase” was truly an entire way of being for many of the authors we read this semester. Some left the “phase” completely, some left it for other versions, some died still searching for “it” (notably, that breed died miserable, often alcoholics or addicts, see: Jack Kerouac).
The whole “thing” was to just get on the road. Open the door to your vehicle, be it a truck, trailer, bus, or standard little two-door, and get in and sit your ass down. It didn’t matter how, why, where, when, as long as it happened. The Pranksters did this along with their further beliefs on drug use, and furthered enlightenment by ways of hallucinogenics.
I can’t say I’ve ever really known anyone to regret their “searching-for-what-freedom-is-road-phase” as long as it remained that, a phase. That phase could be 3 months or 3 years, but as long as it did end, I haven’t known anyone to regret it. It’s those who are eternally dissatisfied, always wanting more, thinking “it” isn’t “it” enough, looking for a new “it,” thinking the “real it” is still out there somewhere, who end up miserable, unhappy, dying with potential regrets.
In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck represented the quintessential “never satisfied” figure. He really couldn’t even decide if he really wanted to give himself over to “real,” rustic America or keep up his bourgeois lifestyle he maintained in the east. I think these discussions are full of contradictions and confusions by their nature, simply because no one really knows what is it they want, or what it is they’re looking for, and I think that’s why I felt so strongly about Least Heat-Moon’s book (or, the parts which I read). He seemed the most able to go with the flow? That’s what they all wanted to do, but no one really was able to. Everyone was let down, surprised in bad ways, melodramatic, undecided about drug use (or coerced into drug use by a “leader”).
When it comes down to it, everyone who feels the slightest desire, probably should just get in their car and go. At the very least, they’ll realize if what they’d been fantasizing about all along was worth it. Or, is the idea of “just leaving” and “finding the truth in America” more appealing for some than the actual act would be? It’s hard to say. The struggle for what freedom means, where to find it, and who truly has it will be the eternally unanswered question. Perhaps, because some are looking for the ultimate truth of freedom, of life, when it’s something that no two people can ever agree on (even in their purest forms of honesty).