FOLLOWING DEAN MORIARTY
Greg Veis takes to the road
dont know how badly I wanted to be Dean Moriarty over Fall
The noun whirlwind is the one that I most often see
associated with this reckless character from Jack Kerouacs
1957 novel On The Road. Dean traveled by hitch or by bus
to Denver or San Fran or Timbuk-fricking-tu with no discernible
worries. Without a base, physically or emotionally, Dean allowed
himself the freedom to travel through America devoid of any potential
source of connection that could tangle up his personal desires.
He was lovable, vile and completely irresistible all at once.
His youthful passion for life, so blistering and untamed, as sporadic
as it may have been, had a staggeringly infectious quality to it
because his internal fire was what made him so damn attractive in
the first place.
Never has anyone used a word such as whirlwind, that denotes such carelessness
and emotional liberty, to encapsulate my personality, yet I still hit
the open highways of America with three of my best friends, a couple pairs
of boxers, a toothbrush and a handle of booze in an attempt to lead this
blithe lifestyle, if for only a few days.
After an excruciating month in which both the normal Duke fare and the
distress resulting from the attacks and their aftermath weighed heavily
upon me, I found myself completely enamored with this romantic vision
of the road and Dean Moriarty.
However, right before departure, I called home, and the official request
was to bring a cell phone along with me on account of these weird
Let me get this straight right now: I hate cell phones.
Even more, Im from Los Angeleswhere people way too important
for their own good champ away on their Ericssons ceaselessly as if Billy
Clint were on the other endand I resisted the temptation for nineteen
full years. Now, whenever I turn on my tumor-tastic device, the first
words that flash across the screen read Sell Out, a phrase
I typed in as a constant reminder of my disappointment for having succumbed
to powers obviously much greater than I can handle alone.
Also, for the trips purposes, very little would be less in the spirit
of my whirlwind of a role model. I wanted to escape any outside connection,
any sense of attachment to school or CNN, and the sole purpose of a cell
phone is to retain this no matter the locale.
Nevertheless, begrudgingly, I brought it out of respect for my folks on
the condition that they would only call if tragedy did in fact strike.
I would banish it to the outer recesses of my duffel so that it would
never even get so much as a first glance, but Id bring it all right.
So, we headed west on Interstate 40 to Boone, North Carolina Friday night,
and despite the miserable campus scene at Appalachian State, we managed
to scrape up just enough troublefraternity boy confrontations and
restaurant altercationsto make it an enjoyable evening.
The next morning though, I woke up panicked. Despite my immense desire
to brush my fears aside for a mere four days, the first thought that popped
in my mind dealt with all of the warnings that the government had issued
in relation to terrorist retaliatory measures for our bombing raids. Thus
began the morning ritual of turning our half-asleep, half-hungover, bleary
eyes to CNN as soon as one of us rattled exhaustion enough to snag the
Two mornings and much silent anxiety later, it was my turn to drive.
Coasting from Knoxville to Nashville, as the other three dolts slept off
the previous nights activities, I found myself perched atop an incline
on Interstate 40. Framing the thoroughfare, the trees covering the undulating
hills were brown and yellow, but mostly red, and the morning sunlight
gave the scene a sense of vibrancy and life. Then, in one of those odd,
long-drive daydreams, I imagined a plane emerging from the right side
of the sky blocking the rays of the sun as it plummeted into the side
of one of the undulations. In my mind the countryside, once so brilliant,
had transformed into a fiery cemetery of rotting trees and exhaust fumes.
As soon as we reached our destination, I reached deep into my bag to procure
my previously despised cell phone to check if any disaster had befallen
my family. I knew the chances were minuscule, but whos to say that
the impossibleanthraxwould skip over my loved ones? A friend
of mine wasnt so lucky after all, and now she doesnt even
have a father to be worried about.
Fortunately and somewhat obviously, they were healthy, and as much as
I knew that my fears were logically irrational, it did not diminish the
reality of my anxiety in the slightest.
This same feeling of unspoken dread resurfaced the next evening when upon
our check-in at an Asheville, NC hotel, the receptionist alerted us to
the anthrax scare that the establishments bar had received that
afternoon. The maid left the cleaning powder out, she assured
us, but the mere reality that we could have jeopardized our health by
checking into the wrong hotel in America didnt do much in the way
of forcing myself to believe that my fears were unreasonable.
For much of the trip though, I lived in my whirlwind escapist fantasy:
meeting all sorts of southern folks, parading through country music clubs,
telling old war stories over a few beers, abandoning one of my heavily
inebriated travel partners (wearing only his boxers and a visor reading
Im a good kid
sometimes!) at a deserted gas station
in the boonies of Tennessee on his 21st birthday, wreaking havoc on a
defenseless beauty products convention.
Hell, Dean wouldve been proud of me.
Given the dull, quiet, yet biting anguish Americans are presently being
forced into, I dont even think the fantastic Dean Moriarty would
think himself immune from the potential of the cell phone actually ringing.
© Greg Veis
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Byung Hung Kim
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