Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing America Chasing Cool
by David Amram
The American Mid-West | As boy brought up on a farm in Pennsylvania in the late 1930s, I have never forgotten the love of trains, which our generation shared. The distant rattle and rumble of the steam locomotives pulling their freight and passengers across America through the wide-open spaces and the lonely wail of the train whistle was sweet music to all of us.
Recently, when I rode the train from Denver to New York, I was reminded of the dreams I had as a little boy in 1937 when I would lie awake at night in our farmhouse in Feasterville Pennsylvania and hear the Crusader, the express train from Philadelphia go tearing by the nearby Somerton Springs railroad station on its way to New York. I used to imagine that some day I could ride on that train and somehow play music in that huge city.
Now, seventy years later, that's exactly what, I was doing. What's more, traveling across the country allowed me see that the America that I thought might have vanished was still here. The railroad tracks, unlike the superhighways, go through miles of undeveloped land, old farms still being maintained, tiny towns, past lakes and quarries and through forests and over mountains and even back yards of old homes, bungalows and shacks filled with old furniture, wrecked boats, horse trailers, campers and homemade dog kennels. This could still be America in the 1930s. Sometimes kids and their parents stood and waved as the train passed them by.
Every night of the trip, I was awakened by that sweet sound of the train whistle, as the train seemed as if it were going to lurch off the tracks, but it never did. Seeing America rolling by outside the window each day reminded me of what it is like reading Jack's Kerouac's own lyrical descriptions of the undeveloped countryside in On The Road, which he feared was being swallowed up by modern times. By the time the train arrived in New York, I knew that while the America Jack wrote had changed, it hadn't vanished. The trip, like reading "On the Road" made me fall in love with our beautiful country all over again.
Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D is an ethnographer, audio producer and professor of sociology. The author of the true-life novel/community study Home Goings, she creates artistic and educational programming for the Denver Public Library. David Amram is an internationally acclaimed composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist and author. His most recent orchestral work, "Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie" made its world premiere in San Jose, California this past September and his third book, Upbeat, Nine Lives of a Musical Cat was published a month later. This blog is a seven-day diary they are collaborating on together about the life, times and 50th anniversary of On the Road, Jack Kerouac's second novel while teaching Sprenger's cross-country sociology and documentary making course "Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, Crisscrossing American Chasing Cool."
Ashley Vaughan is a documentary photographer. Currently a journalism student at the University of Denver, she has received several academic grants for her photographic projects including a Fred McDarrah Grant for Young Photojournalists. An assistant archivist for biographer Bill Morgan, she is also the art director for the David Amram Archive and is currently working with Audrey Sprenger on Jack Kerouac's America, 50 Years Old.
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