After the opening event for my new book at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City on September 15, the Jack Kerouac tribute of the Sweet Chariot Tour finally got underway.
Earlier I posted about a high school classmate, Mark Kline, who owns an automotive shop in Pennsylvania. For the start of the Kerouac tribute, I was joined by another classmate, Al Kesler, whom I’ve known since grade school. He took a train from his home in Boston and met me at the Intrepid museum on the 15th. Al has always been a car guy. During high school he bought a 1965 Mustang coupe from another mutual friend, Chris Riley, who had hot-rodded the Mustang’s 289. That was decades ago. Al is now a partner in Deloitte, one of the top auditing firms in the US. His latest ride is a 1964 Corvette roadster custom built by Chris. A childhood friend as well as a high school classmate, Chris owns Centre Cycle Works in Bellefonte, PA. We had hoped he would accompany us in one of the cool cars he owns, but his work schedule prevented him from joining us.
I had driven the convertible into the city for the Intrepid event, and Al and I made it back out of Manhattan without mishap to our hotel in Secaucus, NJ. The next morning, we drove out of the urban sprawl and picked up the route that Jack Kerouac took by bus in 1947. The roadways have been heavily developed and modified in the past 65 years, so our path was initially an approximation. But I had received excellent research assistance from Doc Rushing, a vintage bus line expert, and was confident that Kerouac’s bus—almost certainly a Greyhound—went from New York to Scranton, then west across northern Pennsylvania on US 6, one of the earliest highways across America.
In describing his ride to Chicago in On the Road, Kerouac provided only a few clues:
It was an ordinary bus trip with crying babies and hot sun, and countryfolk getting on at one Penn town after another, till we got on the plain of Ohio and really rolled, up by Ashtabula and straight across Indiana in the night. I arrived at Chi quite early in the morning, got a room at the Y, and went to bed with a very few dollars in my pocket. I dug Chicago after a good day’s sleep.
On the first day of our run, Al and I enjoyed spectacular late summer weather on the scenic old Rt. 6, which took us past numerous tidy farms and small towns. We made a couple of worthwhile stops, including Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. The world-class museum features an impressive array of trains and technological displays—definitely worth a visit.
We stopped for the night In Coudersport, PA. While checking into a local hotel, we met three bikers from Allentown, several hours distant. They were digging the Mustang, and we shared a mutual admiration for cruising the famous old highway.
Not many restaurants are open on a Sunday evening in Coudersport, but we found Mosch’s Tavern, a mile or so out of town, to be everything we wanted. The food was great, the beer cold, and the Steelers were on TV (with a big win over the Jets). Best of all, the three bikers were there. We all talked for about an hour about our enjoyment of highway travel. They had ridden extensively together and planned a trip to Alaska in a year or two.
Monday was cool and foggy as Al and I continued west. We grooved to a lot of our favorite music from the ‘70s (the Mustang has a great aftermarket stereo with iPod connectivity) and reminisced about high school friends—several of whom have passed away. We talked so much that we didn’t pay close attention to the Garmin, and thus found ourselves missing a couple of key turns on Rt. 6 in Pennsylvania towns. The alternative route gave us a chance to see Lake Chautauqua, where I had enjoyed some sailing as a teen, so the errors were serendipitous.
By noon we had plenty of sunshine. Al drove the Mustang from Erie along the shores of the great lake until we reached our destination, the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio. The setting is sublime and we enjoyed a superb meal in the lodge restaurant.
Tuesday the 18th found us sloshing through rain squalls and high winds. Except for a drop or two of rainwater that squeezed through a vent window frame at 70 mph, the Mustang was perfectly dry inside—pretty good for a 45-year-old-convertible. I dropped off my friend at the South Bend Regional Airport so that he could return to Boston, and spent the night in a downtown hotel. I finally reached Chicago at about noon on Wednesday, and decided to cruise along Lakeshore Drive headed north.
It took Kerouac about 24 hours to get from New York ago in City to Chicago by bus in July, 1947. By design, Al and I spent three days following the same route. We had a blast, and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Sometimes the best things are done slowly, and savored.