S A R I S H A K U R U P
It is nearly impossible, I think, to embark on a road trip these days and not think of Jack Kerouac. Even before I was in the actual car, I was thinking of Sal and Dean's romps across America with some misty-eyed vision of my own impending trip. The Beats have always written so thrillingly about the idea of America, the idea of youth, essentially linking the two. Since I began reading them when I started high school, I let them guide my visions of what makes a young life worth living, and one thing I knew I needed was some sort of red-eyed, adrenaline-fueled journey across American roads.
I arrived in the New York City on a Saturday evening, the sky turning pink as my cab rolled over the Robert F. Kennedy bridge into Manhattan. Arriving in the city at sunset is one of the most enchanting things, when everything seems to be coming to an end and restarting at the same time. Simon and Garfunkel's The Only Living Boy in New York drifted through my headphones and I felt something of a homecoming, though I have never really lived in New York. Nevertheless, throughout the years and countless visits it has developed a particular kind of comfort for me, something in between a shining vision of the future and a particular thrill of the present contained in one decadent metropolis.
Nathan greeted me was the door, and we spent the evening smoking in tiled bathrooms and wandering the Upper East Side looking for food, ultimately ending up in one of those fast-disappearing New York City diners, lingering way too long, talking impossibly slowly and savoring the taste of chocolate chip pancakes. Afterwards we found ourselves some of the only people at a late-night screening of the Death of Stalin, an absurd, fantastic film that colored my dreams that night.
The next day we made our way to the Lower East Side to a restaurant that seemed almost a parody of brunch culture and then flitted from bookstore to bookstore, and the occasional thrift shop. I have always loved bookstores in the city not only for the books themselves, but because of all the specific memories they hold for me--that time I visited Strand with my parents for the first time, the time I took Andrew to the Rare Books Room on the third floor and his face lit up, the time Maya's mother picked me up there. So many little bookstores around Manhattan seem to trap memories--East Village Books where Maya and I collected a stack of radical literature only to find out it was cash-only. BookCulture, where I heard Columbia grad students irately discussing their strike. McNally Jackson, a bookstore I have taken almost everyone I love.
That night we tromped around the East Side looking for sushi as we waiting for Ben's bus to arrive. We had only this night with him before we left and we anticipated staying up into the early hours. When he bounded in later with two backpacks, we lingered in the apartment for a little while before deciding to sneak into Central Park. The park was closed for the night so we ran in swiftly, backs crouched, only a little out of our minds, pausing on hilltops as we made our way to the water to Nathan's favorite spot. He directed us as though we were his battalion in some 20th century war, gesturing over his shoulder and thrilling at the moments of real danger, as we attempted to escape being caught by the police. It was a muddle and a rush and nothing I will ever forget.
I hardly slept at all but the next day we were on the train to Cold Spring where Brooke picked us up in the car that we would inhabit for the next week. As she drove us through the town she had grown up in I could not help but startle at how differently we had grown up. All those beautiful, small brick buildings with personal histories, the one school that everyone attended, and their parents attended. When we drove up from there to Hudson, to David's farm, it was a similar. What it must be like, to grow up on acres and acres of land, surrounded by your extended family, born into a business your family has had since the turn of the century. It was like slipping into a short story--witnessing the inner corners of someone else's life.
After a late afternoon lunch in Hudson, we set off for the Adirondacks, racing past the last of New York's snow and her delicate trees, Bob Dylan wafting in background, just a little too loud to be good for our ears. Half way there we stopped at a grocery store and bought far more food than we would ever need--we knew it, too, but it felt wonderfully irresponsible--youthful--to buy any awful food we wanted. By the time we arrived at David's house in Raquette Lake the sky had slipped into night. The following few days in the house were some of the best ones I've had a long time. So simple--hours spent around the dining table, playing board games I hadn't seen in years, no idea where our phones were. We spent evenings cooking dinners and playing the guitar and smoking and talking late into the evenings about things that seemed to really matter in the grand scheme of things. In the days we hiked, or trudged across the silent, frozen lake. We were comfortable in our own silence as well, perfectly happy to all be in the same room reading our own books or doing our own crosswords, or hiking to the sounds of the trees and wind.
When it came time to leave there was less sadness, more anticipation. We planned to drive to New Hampshire, stop somewhere for a night, and then make our way to Bar Harbor. But once we arrived, skating to top of the White Mountains, we were only energized. The journey was as exhilarating, I think, as the Beats told me it would be, all 70s music, open windows, vast, poetic landscapes. There are images from those drives that will forever be printed on the backs of my eyelids--the blue of the White Mountains against the pink of the sky, the way Lake Champlain rolls at high afternoon, the titanium white of the frozen Adirondack lakes, as if right out of the oil paint tube.
We decided to forge on, and by dinner we were scarfing down pizza in Augusta, and by midnight we had managed to find a place to stay in Bar Harbor. The next day we took to Acadia, all rocky waters' edges and lighthouses, wooded hikes. I was reminded, so distinctly, that particular call of the ocean--how I cannot imagine ever living somewhere without the immediate presence of a body of water, to put everything into perspective, a reminder of the tradition of time, of possibility. I have always adored water, and written about it obsessively since I was a little girl. It was the reason I wanted to come to Maine in the first place, the reason I would consider not leaving.
The day we drove back was clear and sunny and we left the windows of the car down, speeding down Route 1 while listening to the songs we thought had defined the trip, fading in and out of conversation and content silence. We were both ready to go back to school and sad to be dispersing, to be giving up the freedom of the past week. It was little consolation but at least we all had giant, matching, purple Acadia National Park t-shirts to remind us of the trip.