On the Road
Part I, Chapters 13-14
Sal is with Terry for the next fifteen days: they want to go to New York together (Sal envisions her being "his girl" among the group in New York), but Sal only has twenty dollars. They try to make some money in Los Angeles, without success, so they decide to hitch to Bakersfield to work picking grapes. In Bakersfield, asking among the community in Mexican town, there is no work. Terry suggests that they go to her hometown, Sabinal, where they can at least live in her brother's garage.
In Sabinal, Sal meets Terry's happy-go-lucky brother Rickey, their friend Ponzo, and Johnny, Terry's seven-year-old son. They go out drinking together, and then Sal and Terry, with Johnny too now, stay in a cheap hotel for the night. Everyone is always talking about manana: tomorrow there will be work, tomorrow things will be better.
The next morning, Sal, Terry and Johnny go to the vineyards and cotton fields and rent a tent for a dollar a day. Their neighbors in the next tent are a whole family of "Okies." Sal goes to work picking cotton; he is slower than the other workers, and envies their ease and speed. Terry and Rickey help him. He earns just enough every day to buy basic groceries for his temporary family. For awhile, he enjoys the roles of husband, father and field laborer; after exhausting days of work, they spend peaceful evenings under the night sky. It gets too cold for them to stay, though, so Terry goes back to her family and sets Sal up in a neighbor's barn. She brings him meals and they make love a few last times, but Sal feels his life--the East--calling him back. On the road again, they say goodbye. Terry is resigned. She plans to come to New York next month, but they both know she won't make it. Sal hitches to Los Angeles, and then gets on the bus to Pittsburgh--as far as he can afford.
He watches the landscape as they pass through the Southwest, feeling an unidentifiable longing. He meets a girl on the bus, who buys him meals, and they make out casually until she gets off in Ohio. In Pittsburgh, with no money, Sal starts hitching. Walking along the road in the Allegheny Mountains, he meets "the Ghost of the Susquehanna," a senile old walking hobo, and realizes that there is wilderness in the East too. He hears saxophone blues in a roadhouse and feels lonely, hungry and tired. He sleeps in the Harrisburg railroad station, and is thrown out by the station masters in the morning. His final ride is with a stick-thin plumbing fixtures salesman who believes in controlled starvation for health. Sal is starving-the salesman relents and gives him some bread and butter. Sal, devouring the bread and butter while the salesman does business, starts laughing at his situation.
The salesman drops him off in New York, and suddenly Sal is back in the hubbub of Times Square. He has to panhandle for bus fare to Paterson, and people regard his haggard appearance with suspicion. When he finally gets home, he eats everything in the refrigerator, and his aunt pities how thin he is. It is October, and Sal is home again. His aunt tells him that Dean came looking for him, and left only two days ago, for San Francisco--where Camille has just gotten an apartment. Sal regrets that he didn't look her up when he was there, and that he missed Dean.
In Los Angeles, Sal finds a darker side to his visions of the West--"the loneliest and most brutal" of cities, "a jungle." Also here, mainstream youth intrude for the first time in the form of the groups of teenagers in cars, who yell at and make fun of Sal and Terry. What Sal and Terry have in common is that "anything was all right: with Sal, and that anything Sal does is all right with Terry. These words are often repeated in this section. Also, the idea that everyone was in "it" together is important. Sal, despite all differences of background, feels kinship with Rickey and Ponzo. None of them accomplish anything: what is there to accomplish? It is a shared sense of hopelessness, meaninglessness, out of which comes not bitterness, but a warm fellowship.
Sal speculates that the much repeated promise, manana-meaning "tomorrow"- probably means "heaven." This is symbolic of his entire attitude at this time: he tries to live solely in the present, content with the apparent surface of things. He can do the motions and suddenly be a laborer, a husband, a father. A telling moment occurs when Terry asks if Sal wants to make love to her, in the tent with Johnny there. Sal is concerned about Johnny. Even though Terry says Johnny's asleep, Sal sees that isn't--but goes ahead anyway. Though Sal is still perceptive and compassionate, he never resists the course of events. He describes people's actions clearly, but suspends any judgment-judgment is for manana. Similarly, Terry is resigned when Sal leaves. They both know that this was temporary, playing roles, but there is neither malice nor longing. This goes through to the farewell, Sal says he will see her New York but, even in that moment, they both know it won't happen. Suspension of judgment--of Dean, his friends, the people he meets--gives Sal the freedom of perspective necessary to finding joy in his adventures, if only temporarily.
Landscape, again, is important. In a beautiful passage, Sal looks out of the window of the bus as they cross the Southwest. He has a book, but "preferred reading the American landscape: feeling a "mystified" longing. He refers to disillusionment as the natural path of "nightmare life," describing the day of disillusionment as the "day of Lystergonians" (a monstrous people encountered by Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey). His tone has matured considerably--not the child-like exuberance of his journey west, but a slower, melancholy tone, though just as laden with description. Now it feels as though Sal is still while the landscape moves around him, not the reverse. This idea is epitomized in a moment when Sal, broke and tired in New York City, tries to get the nerve to pick up a cigarette butt to smoke, but is completely inundated by the crowd, and loses his chance.
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