Tag Archives: freedom

Americana Roar

We two-stepped in
the dawn of America,
across dusty dance floors
to the shrill of Patsy Cline,
we grape-vined in our broken bones
and our black and blue hearts,
casting wanting glances
across the sweaty sticky bar room floor,
we cheered for Johnny Cash,
the dream of white washed America he held,
and we hollered for all those
early nineties trashy honky tonk
country songs that brought back
memories of car trips with windows down
and fast tobacco fields flying by.
We picked cotton in our dreams,
or the dreams of our ancestors,
we apologized for what we’ve done wrong,
we held dirty hands
we nursed dirty hearts,
we wrapped our regrets to rest
in retired American flags.
Freedom is messy, let the fireworks roar.

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Switch blade suckers

Shotgunning silver bullet beers into
a trash can
hovering over that waste
at the corner of 14th and U
close to midnight on a Saturday night.
It’s freezing cold
gusty, blustery January.

Is that what freedom feels like?
Is that what it’s like to be an American?
Growing up? Staying young?

Dolling out scowls like bubble gum
because you’ve got better things to do.
Carrying a switch blade pocket knife
in your right hand
thumb on the trigger
ready
just in case. Glancing back
over your shoulder every few minutes.

Don’t catch yourself too happy.
Don’t ditch your dreams
for desolation angels.
Happiness is for suckers.
For people who shotgun beers on the sidewalk in the freezing cold.

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Fearlessness

Be fearless.

That’s a good mantra. It’s inspiring. It makes you want to be a better person. And when it comes down to it, I feel like it’s fairly easy to be fearless about many things: exploring new cities, jumping off cliffs, running through the woods with wild abandon. For some people it’s abusing drugs and getting lost on a trip. Moving across the country by yourself and starting over. Fearlessness comes in different forms for different people. 

I’d like to think I’m fearless in the adventures I take, the way I educate myself through diving into and getting lost in literature that others don’t even know about, and even the way I so innocently and greatly dream. 

Why can’t I be fearless with love? Why is it so hard for me to love fearlessly?

That’s a question I can’t answer, or at least I’m not prepared to answer admitting it to myself, Kerouac, and everyone else. Maybe that’s a post for another day. It’s easy to love your family, love your friends, love God, love the beauty of Nature, cities, food, books, film, music, poetry. But it’s terrifying to fearlessly love someone and to give them your heart.

What made me thing of FEARLESSNESS was Chris McCandless. I’m watching Into the Wild and flipping back through the book by Jon Krakauer in remembrance of Chris McCandless, who’s body was found in the Alaskan wilderness twenty-two years ago today.

For some reason, many people don’t seem to understand why he did what he did- leaving society like that. Many people call him selfless, stupid, reckless, crazy… But I think he was brave, smarter than most people, and lived his life with fearlessness, and that’s admirable.

He wrote in his journal:

I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly.

I very much admire Chris’s fearlessness towards life. But he was young when he fled society to live off the land. He had just graduate from college. I don’t think he really ever experienced fearless love, at least his actions and his journals don’t reflect any love of another person. But Chris did fearlessly love life, his existence, nature, and exploration. 

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Hobo dreams

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I’VE NEVER HITCHHIKED BUT once when I was driving home from Washington, DC to Oak Ridge, North Carolina I took the back way and pulled off the highway in Buena Vista, Virginia to look for a gas station, a bathroom and a bite to eat.

IMG_3274Two or three miles down a two lane windy road beside a creek I found a Shell gas station with a Burger King. I filled up the jeep and got a vegie burger, yes, Burger King is the only fast food joint on the east coast that carries vegie burgers, and I walked across the street to this swinging bridge. I think it may have been an old railroad pass, or maybe if I remember it correctly, when I walked across those wooden boards suspended high above the creek, it lead to a railway.

It was all so green. Evergreen trees. Other trees. Bright green trees with bright green leaves. That’s how I remember it. That spot has become one of my favorites. I’ve gone back there a few times.

When I finished my meal and headed back to the jeep, a gang of four or five kids, some folks my age, actually called over to me and asked where I was headed. Said they were camping a few miles up the road just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They had walked down here to the gas station to pick a 24 pack of cheap beer and now heading back to their campsite. They wanted a ride.

I turned them away, blaming my full car. Which was true. My back seat and trunk area was full. I probably could have moved it around, or even taken them two at a time, someone sitting on another’s lap in the front seat next to me. But they were strangers. I should have done it though. I’ve always regretted that.

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Next time, if I’m ever asked for a ride and the person or persons look reputable and unharming, I’ll surely say yes. That would make for a great story.

Footwalking freedom. These kids were reviving the hobo dream. Kerouac talked about “footwalking freedom” in “the Vanishing American Hobo” from Lonesome Traveler.

“There’s nothing nobler than to put up with a few inconveniences like snakes and dust for the sake of absolute freedom.”

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When I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, I dressed up as a hobo for Halloween. I wore muddy old baggy pants. A torn flannel shirt. I had the classic hobo stick with a bandanna full of stuff slung over my shoulder. I think I may have even rubbed mud on my face or drawn on a scruffy beard with my mother’s eyeliner. I know, a bit weird, right. But HEY! That’s because the American Hobo, in all his glory, is still to this day idolized by kids, young and old, who dream about traveling the country, road trips with friendly strangers, this sense of complete freedom and extraction from worldly desires. This footwalking freedom.

 

“Benjamin Franklin was like a hobo in Pennsylvania; he walked through Philly with three big rolls under hi arms and a Massachusetts halfpenny on his hat. John Muir was a hobo who went off into the mountains with a pocketful of dried bread, which he soaked in creeks.”

But for me, now, that hobo dream is far gone. Hobos are only out in the wilderness, because that’s where the freedom is.

Here in the city, it’s all bums. Instead of dreaming about walking and sleeping for days among the red wood trees, it traipsing around city streets, face craned up to the sky. It’s still beautiful though, for me. Sunshine, rain, snowflakes, dust. City parks, city blocks, bums on stoops shaking cups at you outside your store. I guess it’s hard to see the beauty in that though. These city bums don’t have it well off at all. In these cold winter months the government opens up extra homeless shelters and something called warming buses to try to keep them freezing. I don’t like calling them bums; it’s offensive. Just homeless folks who are down on their luck.

These folks are nothing like the cherished, honored hobos that Kerouac spoke of. Einstein and Beethoven. Johnny Appleseed.

Those are more like folks such as Chris McCandless, West Virginia hicks, even some salty mountain bikers. The kids that had asked me for a ride with them and their beer just back up the mountain road. Wandering spirits. Dreamers just passing through.

Both these hobo dreamers and the city bums. As Kerouac wrote: Le passant. “He who passes through.”

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Hey Hey Woody

“HEY  HEY Woody Guthrie I wrote you a song…”

I just stumbled across this very lovely song Bob Dylan sang. It has a melody that just takes you gently by the hands and swings you around so your skirt sways out wide and swishes and flows in the breeze created by your movement. A gentle muscular shadow on your jawline cowboy boots a flask of whiskey and me with my skirt boots and probably a yellow flower in my hair. That’s how it would be.

Jack Kerouac probably would have been grande buddies with Woody if they had ever come across each other, and maybe they did. They sure had close acquaintances.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott knew Kerouac.

I actually had the pleasure of seeing Ramblin’ Jack perform at the Library of Congress during a tribute concert to Woody Guthrie last year or the year prior. It was beautiful: the old men and their guitars and harmonicas and everyone in the audience UP UP on their feet singing THIS TRAIN is bound for glory THIS TRAIN…I’m sure I had tears in my eyes.

And that worn warm smile. It STILL shines. Even after all these years and all his travels.

Ramblin’ Jack said in an interview: “like when I went to visit Woody. We just started playing music together and one day led to another. It got to be a good thing and I ended up staying at his house for a year and a half. When I left there, I rode all over Europe on a Vespa motorbike, 5,000 miles in the rain every day with British writer Herb Green, and all over the rural U.S. That was a great time in my life. Then I landed in Greenwich Village, where I was friends with Bob Dylan and met Jack Kerouac. Jack had just finished writing On the Road, and he read me the entire manuscript over three days, sitting on a floor on Bleecker Street.”

When Kerouac was, say 35 years old, that would have made Woody somewhere around 45 years old, ten years older ten years wiser quite a gap there. They may have met. I’ve not been able to track it down. I don’t think they did.

But if they had: Woody in his flannel shirts with an old brass Hohner in his pocket would have surely been like a big brother to Kerouac. Both crazy.

I can just picture it…

Kerouac and Woody would have met along a dirt road somewhere in the Midwest, sun raging no water no rain, just a lot of hot dry dust. Woody was spending some time in that town, writing songs, talking to woman and Kerouac was just passing through, probably heard from Ramblin’ Jack after his visit to New York that Woody lived there and he should stop in and ask for him at the nickel dime store where he should also buy some strawberry ice cream because it was the best that side if the Mississippi.

But Kerouac didn’t even have to call around. He walked from the old gas station down Main Street, past the bar past the bank past children running and playing and there Woody was. He was singing the blues, with a cigarette perched on his left knee almost burning a hole in his trousers.

“You must be Woody.”

“That I am, kid.” Woody looked him up and down, the little beat up dirty railroad bag thrown over his shoulder. Almost a younger version of himself.

“Kerouac.” He said and reached out his hand for a shake.

“Ah, Kerouac! The Great Jack Keruac, lord of the road, of the trains, and a ladies man at that.”

Hmph. Kerouac humble chuckled and would have blushed if he wasn’t already red from the heat. “Thank you sir.”

“Let’s sing a song!,” Woody bellowed.

So Kerouac plopped down next to him, dust rising into the yellow sky and they sang and they talked about their travels, time spent in New York, love for the California and the sea.

“What do you believe in kid?”

Kerouac sat looked up at the yellow dust filled sky with no clouds in sight just yellow air the bright sun burning the back of his neck and a little bit of sweat ever so often trickling down the crease in the middle of his back. He looked up and thought and responded, “I believe in adventure and freedom, spending time with people I GET,” he pounded his fist into the dirt as he said that last word,” close calls and no calls and always, always running after it till I get it and even then some…” He paused. Stood up slowly because his lower back was beginning to ache and creak, brushed off the dust from his pants, kicked his shoes, brushed down the front of his white t-shirt, and looked right at Woody. “That’s what I believe in.”

Woody just smiled back, picked up his harmonica and pulled off a joyous exuberant riff.

Yehaw!

…………..

Now, I know this didn’t happen. Sadly around the time that On the Road was published, Woody’s health was bad and he was likely in the hospital in New Jersey and we know there’s no dust there, only soot and salt.

But I do think, with their shared deep deep love of traveling and people and trying so so hard to get life right, that they would have been dear friends.

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