Day 3: Where Kerouac lunched
East High School, Denver. Did Kerouac attend a civic luncheon here?
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you're ever struck with the notion of taking a detour from your relatively straight-line shot across the continent to visit Denver and hunt down the known haunts of Jack Kerouac. The first is that Denver is invariably larger than you expect. Yes, we all know it's a big city, with sports teams and industry and restaurants, etc. But the last thing you expect to see as you drive south from Wyoming, next to fields reeking of manure and mountains jutting in the distance is to suddenly find skyscrapers looming dead ahead. But when you get downtown and are driving in between said skyscrapers, you notice that the city still has a western feel. I can't say why that is, but if you happened to, say, see a horse tied up in front of a bank, it wouldn't seem all that out of place.
The second thing you should prepare yourself for is anticlimax. It might go something like this: you drive into Denver, pull the car over and plug an intersection into the navigation computer. You are looking for the corner of York and Colefax, where yo u expect to find East High where Kerouac's road/drinking buddy Neal Cassidy went to high school and where Kerouac allegedly attended a civic luncheon on June 10, 1949. You arrive at York and Colefax and find nothing. So you drive up and down the various streets and comment on how nice the old brick houses are and how ripe a candidate the area would seem to be for gentrification. It isn't long before you start guessing at the price of one of the houses, and then mutter, "But does it need a new roof?" Finally, you spot what looks like a high school, a block or two east of York. You snap a photo of it and wonder, "Did Kerouac attend a civic luncheon here?" A civic luncheon, you think to yourself, sounds like the kind of event that would be very boring.
My Brother's Bar in Denver
You then drive back downtown and eventually track down a terrific little bar called My Brother's Bar, where Cassidy used to drink as a teenager, and where, pinned to the wall next to the payphone, is a letter from Cassidy written while he was in juvenile detention asking a friend to pay his bar tab. You sit, order a serving of chicken tenders with honey mustard sauce, and think to yourself, "And?"
But it really wasn't a big deal. The big deal happened 45 minutes later when we took I-70 west out of Denver and then got the bright idea to cut up highway 40 to get back to I-80. Highway 40, we immediately observed, is a two-lane meandering secondary route, but we figured the Rocky Mountain scenery would be worth it. And it was, for about the first eight or nine minutes. At the top of the first mountain, we got stuck behind a truck carrying an excavator and moving the breakneck speed of 10 miles per hour down a switchback road with no passing lane.
Graham, being from the mountains himself, was in a position to criticize the truck driver's technique, which was terrible. ("This guy would get shot in Smithers.") The problem is that the driver wasn't pulling over in the sidings to let the considerable snake of traffic behind him zoom by. He just kept going 10 or less. Half way down the mountain, it hit us: we might not make Napa. We might have to head straight for San Francisco and avoid wine country. At this point, I began examining the fact that, though I like On the Road just fine-loved it when I first read it in high school, mainly because it made me realize for the first time that respectable people actually party--I can't stand beatnik poetry.
In Steamboat Springs, we got stuck behind ski moms in big white SUVs who didn't seem to know if they wanted to pull into the Indian jewelry boutique or the supermarket to load up on tortilla chips. Between Steamboat Springs and the town of Craig, we got stuck behind a tanker. Eventually, we got to Highway 13, a beautifully deserted stretch of asphalt where I cranked the speed up to 90 and prayed there were no police. (The praying seemed to work.) By 7:30pm, we were back on I-80, a disgusting two hours west of Cheyenne.
I hope the civic luncheon was worth it, Jack.