It is Christmas, 1948, and Sal is celebrating the holidays with his Southern relatives in Testament, Virginia, when Dean arrives on the doorstep with Marylou and Ed Dunkel. Dean is madder than ever. He left Camille and a new baby daughter in San Francisco, and with Ed and Galatea Dunkel (a woman Ed recently married, hoping she would fund their trip--but she was uncooperative, and they left her in Arizona), zoomed across the country, stopping in Denver where he hooked up with Marylou again and brought her along. Dean is more frenetic than ever.
Meanwhile, Sal has been going to school on the G.I. Bill, and met Lucille, whom he wants to marry. Dean offers to deliver some furniture to Sal's aunt's house for the relatives: two trips back and forth from Virginia to New Jersey, on the second bringing Sal's aunt back to New Jersey. Sal joins them; he's on the road again. After they get to Paterson, Bull Lee calls from New Orleans to tell them that Galatea Dunkel has arrived there, looking for Ed. Camille calls too. Then they call Carlo Marx, in Long Island, who comes over. Carlo has spent some time in Dakar and is quieter, more serious and somewhat disapproving of Dean's reckless movement.
On the drive back to Virginia, Dean talks continuously, describing to Sal his newfound mysticism: he believes in God and that everything will work out. What he says doesn't make any sense, but Sal feels like he understands anyway. They get back to Testament in the middle of the night, and immediately start out for New Jersey on the second trip, this time with Sal's aunt and more furniture. Dean describes to them the details of his new job as a railroad brakeman. Around 4 am, they are pulled over by a cop and given a speeding ticket, even though Dean was going only 30 mph at the time. Dean will have to spend the night in jail if they can't pay the fine; neither Dean nor Sal have any money, so Sal's aunt pays. The cops are confused: what is a respectable middle-aged lady doing with these vagrants?
On their way again, Sal tells Dean about a dream he had of "the Shrouded Traveler": a strange Arabian figure is pursuing him across the desert, and overtakes him just before he reaches "the Protective City." Dean instantly identifies the figure as death, and the dream as longing for death. He says he wouldn't have anything to do with it, and Sal agrees.
Dean and Sal are re-united with their New York friends, and there are big parties all through the New Year's weekend. Sal brings Lucille to the biggest one; she doesn't like Dean and Marylou much, or how Sal acts around them. Marylou starts flirting with Sal to make Lucille jealous, and though Sal won't respond, he enjoys it. In retaliation, Lucille goes out with Dean to his car, but they just drink and talk. Bop music playing everywhere, they go from party to party, and then spend a night at their maniacal friend Rollo Greb's house in Long Island.
Dean and Sal go to Birdland to see George Shearing, a blind jazz pianist, play. The crowd, and Dean, are ecstatic at Shearing's passionate, sweaty performance. Dean says Shearing is God. After the concert, it is raining. Dean is still awed; Sal feels crazy and confused, and then realizes that this is probably because of the marijuana they are smoking.
Dean comes back and shakes up Sal's life again, but Sal is slightly more reluctant this time. He reiterates to Dean his dream of finding a woman to marry and settling down forever, and adds that "this can't on"--their restlessness. Dean admires Sal's intentions, but doesn't have the same feelings himself. All of the men in this section are wronging a woman: Dean has left Camille in San Francisco with their baby daughter; Ed Dunkel--who will do anything for Dean, according to Sal--married Galatea for her money, and then ditched her in Tucson; and Sal, under Dean's influence again, feels his affair with Lucille ending when she disapproves of his friends. Sal is more sympathetic to women than his friends-at one point, he repeats something his aunt said, that the world will never find peace until men beg their women for forgiveness. But he can't seem to follow through in his actions. When Marylou flirts with him while Lucille is watching, he enjoys the attention of a "luscious blonde"; he claims that he wouldn't respond, but he doesn't resist either.
However, in Sal's case, his inability to fall in love is linked with his opinion of himself; he can't imagine anyone loving him. He says that he has nothing to offer anyone except for his own confusion; he is fickle, constantly running from one thing to another.
Sal's group of friends aren't the only ones experiencing this sense of recklessness and meaningless. In a two-page paragraph (Chapter 4), Sal describes an enormous New Year's party scene where "everything happened." Rollo Greb is just as frenetic as Dean is, and doesn't "give a damn about anything." The spirit of reckless excitement, to Sal, is embodied throughout the novel by the innovative bop music which is sweeping across the country at this time-- music made of syncopated beats and constant improvisation.
Now, when Sal is with Dean, the tone often shifts to one with more distance and perspective, like when Sal recounts his dream of the Shrouded Traveler to Dean. Dean doesn't want anything to think about death at all--to him, there is only life--and Sal says that he agreed then. He doesn't agree any longer. This more sober, realistic tone also appears after the George Shearing concert, when Sal feels "madness" and confusion. Instead of attributing his mood to a greater, abstract cause, he realizes that it is only because of the marijuana they are smoking.