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'On the Road' with Jack Kerouac

On the Road 50 Years Later
When rural America was chronicled 50 years ago by Jack Kerouac in his autobiographical novel "On the Road", it was an America full of promise and economic potential, where the majestic openness of the land was entwined with the cult of the automobile. Today, partly due to the loss of the independent family farm, rural America is a state of economic and demographic decline. Despite these changes since Kerouac and his friends sped across the vast American night, much of the visual landscape of the rural United States has remained the same.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Beat writer Jack Kerouac usually set out without a map, plan or even a purpose. So tracking exactly where the author stopped off in his travels wouldn't be encouraged by the man who disliked the title "King of the Beats."

However, there are more than a few places where the author and his friends set down their knapsacks for more than a day and now is a good time to trace Kerouac's road. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece "On the Road," and chances are your local bookstore is stocking the just-published "scroll" version of "On the Road" from Viking Press, which is the book in its raw manuscript form.

Anyone looking to travel in Kerouac's footsteps should start in the Northeast, in his hometown of Lowell, Mass., where he was a football star at Lowell High School. The town frequently appears in his work. His character Doctor Sax lurked around Lowell's old textile mills — now part of the National Park system — and the city served as the backdrop for Kerouac's books "Vanity of Duluoz" and "Visions of Gerard."

It took Lowell awhile to embrace Kerouac, but the town now readily promotes their most famous son. Don't miss the 20th anniversary of "Lowell Celebrates Kerouac," Oct. 4-7. Or take your own walking tour of Kerouac's Lowell.

New York was a Beat hub and Kerouac haunt. Here the young Kerouac chased his writing dreams at Columbia University and hung around Times Square and Greenwich Village. He also lived for a time in the borough of Queens. A weekly newspaper, the Queens Tribune, describes a tour of places connected to him.

The New York Public Library has an archive of Kerouac's work, and will be putting the original scroll manuscript of "On the Road" on display along with diaries, snapshots and other personal items from Nov. 9-March 16 in an exhibit called "Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road".

Now head west, to Denver, an important stop on the Kerouac trail. This is where Kerouac's traveling companion Neal Cassady grew up. The city's Colburn Hotel is among their hangouts, listed on a tour of Beat spots.

California is packed with all things Beat and Kerouac-related, including City Lights book store, which faced obscenity charges for publishing poet Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Generations later it is still owned by another Beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Drink a beer next door at Vesuvio — a favorite Beat watering hole that is covered with photos of Kerouac and others. On a lucky day, you'll catch Ferlinghetti - now in his late 80s — sipping a beer after work.

Walk down the street in North Beach and visit the recently opened Beat Museum. Displays include old books, photos, artwork and even a check signed by Kerouac. It keeps the Beat literary tradition alive by holding poetry contests and readings.

Then travel up the California coast to beautiful Big Sur where Kerouac once stayed in Ferlinghetti's cabin. Kerouac later wrote the eponymous "Big Sur."

Now point your car back east. After years of struggling with alcoholism, Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he reclusively lived with his mother. The St. Petersburg Times has documented those final years and the fight over Kerouac's estate here.