Saturday, 26 July 2008

In Kerouac's footsteps

In 2002, I took the road trip of a lifetime across America. I was visiting my cousin in San Francisco for the first time since he'd moved there from Ottowa a couple of years before. Instead of flying all the way, I had a brainwave: hop over to the East Coast, hire a car and then drive, drive, drive.

There were a couple of blips on the way. I had to reach his place in Healdsburg by 11th May, which gave me eleven days to traverse the country. But my Dad promised some relatives in New Jersey that I'd visit them, without telling me first. That cost me a day. Then I was grossly ill on day two and ended up in bed until the next morning. So instead of waving goodbye to the NY skyline on Saturday afternoon, it was Monday before I started heading west.

I also messed up slightly with my early route. I reached Pittsburgh on Monday night, but then doubled back on myself on Tuesday so I could pop into the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania. It was worth the visit, but it meant I was barely past Cincinnati by Wednesday, and from there on I always seemed to be trying to catch up with myself. I blasted south in one long leap trying to chase the sunshine by Thursday, and then Texas was traversed in a marathon day on the Friday. But just as I was beginning to give myself breathing space I hit the Grand Canyon on the Monday, and that slowed me down all over again.

It was Tuesday night before I finally hit the coast. Bittersweet moment. On the one hand my epic trek was coming to its close, but on the other, it had been so darned easy. Maybe forty years before it was an adventure to go roaring across the interstate in an overpowered, underbraked muscle-car, but with cheap gas, colossal malls, and welcoming motels at every turnpike exit in 2002, there wasn't the same sense of achievement for me.

Still, as I listened to the Pacific surf lapping against the Los Angeles shore and watched bikini girls roller-blading past me, I felt a million miles away from mortgage payments, pension plans, open-plan office spaces and the routines of life. This trip deserved to be commemorated. I wandered along the Venice Beach boardwalk looking for ideas, settling eventually on three silhouetted surfer dudes being used on tourist clothing. My brainwave was to get just one inked the first time; if it hurt too much I'd have less pain to endure (it didn't hurt at all, in the end), and if I was happy with it I'd have a motivation to return again and get the others added. That's what I did when I visited again in 2005, although this time it wasn't such an odyssey. I flew into SF directly and just drove down the coast this time. And instead of getting one more guy tattooed on me, I had both added together.

I'll be going back again some day. I've never been to California (or anywhere abroad) since I bought my DSLR, and places like Death Valley and Yosemite are crying out to me. I guess the only question is, what'll I have tattooed this time...?

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