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Malerie Yolen-Cohen

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Route 6 Has Been Ignored And It's Jack Kerouac's Fault

Posted: 07/19/2012 7:00 am

Though designated a transcontinental highway in 1937, Route 6 was not completely paved until 1952, just about the time that Jack Kerouac put the finishing touches on On the Road. While Route 6 towns in the mid-West and West joyously celebrated a nationally-recognized, straight-arrow connection to both the East and West Coast, Kerouac was busy sounding the death knell for Route 6 exploration.

Apparently, Kerouac didn't intend (through the voice of his protagonist, Sal Paradise) to meander slowly through off-beat America. He wanted to get to California fast and have some experiences along the way. If Kerouac/Paradise hadn't been such a cry-baby near the Bear Mountain Bridge, perhaps US Route 6 would now rival Route 66 in nostalgia.

Here's the passage:

"Five scattered rides took me to the desired Bear Mountain Bridge, where Route 6 arched in from New England. It began to rain in torrents when I was let off there. It was mountainous. Route 6 came over the river, wound around a traffic circle, and disappeared into the wilderness. Not only was there no traffic but the rain come down in buckets and I had no shelter. I had to run under some pines to take cover; this did no good; I began crying and swearing and socking myself on the head for being such a damn fool. I ran a quarter-mile to an abandoned cute English-style filling station and stood under the dripping eaves. High up over my head the great hairy Bear Mountain sent down thunderclaps that put the fear of God in me. All I could see were smoky trees and dismal wilderness rising to the skies. "What the hell am I doing up here?" I cursed. Finally a car stopped at the empty filling station; the man and the two women in it wanted to study a map. I stepped right up and gestured in the rain; they consulted; I looked like a maniac, of course, with my hair all wet, my shoes sopping. But the people let me in and rode me back to Newburgh, which I accepted as a better alternative than being trapped in the Bear Mountain wilderness all night. "Besides," said the man, "there's no traffic passes through 6. If you want to go to Chicago you'd be better going across the Holland Tunnel in New York and head for Pittsburth," and I knew he was right. It was my dream that screwed up, the stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America instead of trying various roads and routes."

The supreme irony, of course, is that if Kerouac had seen the Hudson River and Bear Mountain bridge in bright sunlight, that cursed portion of it might have been one of the most lauded of his whole trip. Kerouac might have found his way into that lush wilderness across the bridge and reveled in its sublimity, thus insuring that future generations would wish to follow the "one great line across America."

It was my dream and my "hearthside idea" to follow that one great line across America (rather than taking various roads and routes). But I had it easy. I took my own car.

Click here to purchase the US Route 6 travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3,652 Miles of Transcontinental US Route 6.

 

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