This has been a summer on the road for me, for I have abandoned my Portland (Maine) apartment, stored everything of value in a storage locker, gave away my desktop computer and headed for the open roads, fields and forests on my bicycle. It’s been quite a learning experience, but more about that later, for after spending two weeks enjoying the June hostel scene in Boston I quietly left Beantown one night on a 11 0’clock train bound with a one way ticket for Fitchburg.
Actually, I got off the train near Acton and spent the remainder of the night underneath an interstate bridge trying to get some sleep. Sleep did not come easy thanks to the hum of overhead traffic and my stony bed. By some quirk of chance I found myself nestled near a deer trail, for I glimpsed several of the creatures during the course of the night. In the glare of the streetlights they appeared like strange silhouettes.
Sunrise had me up and on the road and around 6 A.M. to see what I could learn about the great writer of the road from a visit to his hometown. But first things first – I had to stop at the Lowell McDonald’s for a large coffee and two Egg McMuffins. I imagine the Beats might have done the same thing – but that is merely speculation on my part.
Then came the bike tour of the city. No pretty tour guides to leave a group of tourists around, just me on my bike with a knapsack full of personal items on a summer Sunday morning that was about to turn into a scorcher.
Next came the big factory buildings. I have scene a few of the old New England factory buildings in my day but this one takes the cake. The sheer size of these brick structures was mindboggling. If I was looking for an explanation of why Jack had left town – but the truth was I just wanted to visit the place. I spent the next hour or so cruising beside the giant structures, like I was a shadow in a DeChico painting.
Finally, I discovered the canals and the Merrimack River. That added a little humanity and natural scenery to the picture but not much. Still, the canals were the nicest part of the whole visit – not including the Egg McMuffins – I enjoyed riding past and stopping to look at the waterways that once powered this industrial dynamo.
And when I finally departed Lowell, I think I understood a little bit better the process the put Kerouac in motion and launched his writing career.