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March 13, 2013
By , Ball Ground, GA
I couldn’t tell you what I was hoping to find that night I emerged from the subway tunnel into the heart of the throbbing city just as the short hand on my wristwatch passed silently over the number twelve. I was a virgin to these streets, to anything bigger than myself and my nondescript hometown whose overwhelming insignificance renders it not even worthy of mentioning. A dark shroud covered the face of the sky, but you wouldn’t even notice if you didn’t bother to check; the sidewalks were daylight. Heavy, brooding buildings watched me silently from above and waited for me to move. Peoples of most every type hustled down the indefinite pavement to some place or another, but didn’t bother to hesitate or even throw a sideways glance in the direction of the skinny, seventeen year old boy who stood gawking at the sheer magnificence of such widespread vitality which smothered the whole city like a bowl of ice cream with too much chocolate syrup. That was me. I couldn’t stop staring at the rich chocolate syrup that oozed from the sidewalk cracks, dribbled from ladies’ dress hems, and plastered the tires of the taxi cabs. It was electrifying. Mesmerizing.

At the junction of Broadway and Seventh, at the very core of this disturbed ant hill, I waited for my buddy, Will, who similarly sneaked out of his undistinguished home in New Jersey to meet me here and experience life. I think I was intently admiring the great height of a street sign when Will’s familiar voice called to me from across the road. I watched him weave through traffic like a skilled huntsman who knew exactly his way through this concrete jungle. Will knew New York. Will was constantly strutting these streets through the ungodly hours of the morning, bumming smokes, meeting ladies who were much too old for him, and going to poetry readings, yet still slumping home before dawn, leaving no trace behind but his burned cigarette butts.

“Hey, man!” I greeted him. I tried to maintain the cool, assured countenance Will always portrayed, but inside my stomach and heart joined hands to do the jitterbug.

“Hey, Jack, I’m glad you came. For a minute on the way over I worried if you would change your mind. You don’t usually come all the way out here to my area.” Will always said things like that. He’d read a book twice, declared it was his favorite, and claimed it as his own. No one had the right to belong to anything more than Will.

“Naw, I’m here. Where are we headed?” I inquired somewhat desperately as I bustled to keep up with my arrogant friend who had suddenly taken off down the sidewalk with unimaginable determination.

“I don’t know,” was all he said.

It didn’t take us long to find somewhere to go. Although I would have been content to simply sit watch the neon lights dance outside the theaters, clubs and storefronts, Will was feeling intellectual that evening and we somehow ended up at the Tibor de Nagy gallery for a poetry reading. We quietly slipped in the back and watched numerous eclectic poets step before the crowd of scholarly critics, passionate artists, and some sort of in-between folk, and recite their words of tragedy, of regret, of dreams, of life.

“Hey, you ever heard of a guy named Kerouac?” Will asked me in a loud, harsh whisper.


“Kerouac? Jack Kerouac? He’s a writer. He published his book last fall called On the Road. It’s fantastic, really, completely superb. You ought to read it, you really ought to. It’ll change you for sure.” Will divulged, nodding his head sagely like some ancient Greek philosopher enlightening his naïve pupil to the wonders of the heavenly bodies or the mysteriousness of a thing called an atom. I listened. I spoke.

“What’s it about?”


“That book you just mentioned, what’s it about?”

“Well, it’s about this guy on the road, you know. I mean, you just sort of have to read it. I can’t explain it good.” Will waved the invisible question away with his mighty hand of imagined superiority and slipped out of the dim room as swiftly as a fox escaping from a watching eye. I couldn’t tell if Will wanted me to follow him or not. Sometimes he got in these strange moods where he couldn’t understand himself and talked a lot about ambiguous things like destiny, love, and happiness, and if you tried too hard to keep up with him he would get very upset. But I followed him outside anyway. He wasn’t in one of those moods that night. He and I were on very similar pages. We were too restless to sit, too excited to walk, we had to run, and run, and run, and do something. Anything.

Eventually, after much running and much coffee, we found ourselves in Central Park, screaming to the unseen stars and laughing at ridiculous jokes. We valiantly jumped over benches, daringly stole kisses from attractive yet unfortunately unsuspecting lady bystanders, and schemed up great plans to drive across the nation, no plan, no money, no expectations, to our promised land of San Francisco. “If this isn’t life,” I remember thinking, “then I don’t know what is.” I even began to wonder if Will had not spiked our coffee with something of his own, for that night I felt such a thrill I’d never before experienced. Such a surge of adrenaline and sheer risk had never before been thrust through my veins like heroin as it did that night. I remember lying on my back with Will in the green counting the number of grass blades I could feel pushing on the surface of my skin. I didn’t reach 20 before I was hooked by some supernatural creature of the night and dragged through the layers of reality into a deep and peaceful slumber.

It is a strange feeling, waking up alone in an unknown location with couples of peoples ogling you with a bizarre mixture of concern and disgust painted on their plastic faces. The chilly dew had settled in my clothes and hair and I rose only to feel every muscle in my depleted body scream in agony. They protested loudly and persistently the whole walk to the subway. How I found my way back to Time Square I will never really know. I guess I just felt some new sense of intuition about this city of mine, as if New York really wasn’t so big. Perhaps it was just one of many disturbed ant hills in the great plains of Earth. Perhaps there was more to life than cities and sneaking out. Perhaps the far and distance West held the secrets to living well.
And as I stared at my disheveled reflection on the outside of the metallic subway door, an exhilarating thought passed into my brain, reviving my entire being and making me feel warm. Something about the word “California” whispered hope into the deepest corridors of my heart, and suddenly the idea of my nondescript hometown seemed so sickeningly impossible I almost wept just to think of the poor souls still trapped there by the nonexistent bonds of logical thinking and maturity. So I said to myself, “Maybe I’ll call Will, wherever he is, and we’ll go see what the West has to offer, in all her beauty.”

I was already halfway to Seventh before I finished the thought.

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