I don't like Jack Kerouac, and I especially don't enjoy comparisons to him. I was never a fan of Beat writing, though I admired the angst and oddity peculiar to that iteration of one of America's many Lost Generations.
(I've lost count, but I think my generation and I are fifth or sixth wave Lost, at this point. Keep the wars and recessions coming, boys!)
My life was satisfactorily Beat-free until I started reading Richard Brautigan when I was 17. I'd been reading Nabokov, Miller, and Robbins on rotation and snatched up an anthology of Brautigan's short stories one day by chance.
"Revenge of the Lawn" was the first work of his I'd read, and would later read volumes of his poetry and his most famous book, Troutfishing in America.
I love Brautigan because, if the post-suicide tellings of his life can be trusted, he grew up destitute and neglected in the shabbier parts of Washington and Oregon before moving to San Francisco in the 1950's.
He wasn't just Beat, he was Beat Down. He was an original San Francisco weirdo before teenagers left their homes in Petaluma and Roanoke to become San Francisco Weirdos™.
I don't like historical fiction, and my admiration of Brautigan doesn't authorize me to leaf through his life making suppositions and inferences. While I don't romanticize his life in San Francisco, I do hold it a bit sacred. And when I visit there, I like to try and be where he was.
One of those places is City Lights Bookstore, all books and wood and narrow stairways befitting a place where people go to select something to read without distraction.
Up the block from City Lights is a newer art installation called "Language of the Birds." Above the sidewalk, books are suspended by wires like headless gulls; below, their words and letters have tumbled out onto the sidewalk, inlaid into the cement with more permanence than what's on paper a just few steps southeast on Columbus Ave.
"Language of the Birds."
It was an apt harbinger of how upended and disassembled I would feel by the end of my two-week run through Yosemite and down, down, down the Pacific Coast Highway.
My travel research told me how to cope with road hazards, bears, and other mundane disasters. But none told me what ripcord to pull in case I'd be traveling with someone who decided -- suddenly, silently, somewhere between the airplane tires and the tarmac -- that they were no longer in love with me.
It took two grueling weeks for the words to come tumbling down.