by Z.S Allen
An existential crisis leads a man to a life on the road searching for meaning.
|I pick up here after having tromped through the city streets of Boston and Chicago, a short stint in upstate Wisconsin with my uncle on his 17 acre property near Lake Michigan, and a week in the perpetual dampness and rain-slicked Seattle streets of hopeless bums and West Coast reverie. I left Seattle in an indescribable daze that left me feeling like I’d glimpsed something ancient and eternal within my bones. I woke up at 7 a.m. on a bright Sunday morning and grabbed the bus down to the Amtrak Station, still slightly confused after waking up one morning 3,000 miles from home after a night of drinking with strangers-turned-friends. I handed a blue-clad attendant my ticket and was off down the Coastal Starlight towards San Francisco, the great city of the West that called to me in my dreams and drug me off arms-flailing against my will across the too-big land out here to this new world of golden eternal sunsets.
What life! The city roared in joyous ecstasy as I stood transfixed on marble legs capturing the purity of the atmosphere! Color, so much color. The sun streamed down, beams of heavenly rays overhead absorbing smiles and warmth and unknowable authenticity. Soft air rolled through the streets from the bay; the smell of the salty Pacific and tourists and marijuana and life.
I got off the subway and walked up steep stairs out onto Montgomery Street and was immediately unexpectedly rocked by a deafening noise carrying such immensity and weight, a feeling that I last encountered in Boston as I arrived at my first destination on an eerie midnight train. An intense vibration rattled through my bones, a sound that can be both heard and felt; the roar of steel civilization, the immensity of the entire city suddenly poured over and through me like an sudden earthquake, nearly crushing me.
I climbed towards the surface from the cavernous station below the streets quietly listening to the escalator creek as I ascended into madness. The sound grew louder and louder until I emerged into the blinding California sunshine and arrived disoriented and lost in the bustling hum of the Frisco chaos. The escalator ride plus three steps was an experience in itself, but an odd churning sensation that crept up from the depths within my gut seemed to alert me to the fact that I hadn’t truly seen anything yet. That the entire trip up until this precise point was just some meager introduction on the path towards a much greater lesson that the road had yet to teach me. I shoveled this unexpected curiosity into some primordial folder in the back of my conscience and continued on into the beautiful chaos in wide-eyed ignorance.
I walked around at noon to feel out the city I so longed to see, and it pushed the boundaries of my expectation with each sweaty October step. It was 85 degrees and girls walked about in short sun dresses with glasses and new heels, clacking through the blaze with pearl teeth. It was a new world for an East Coast kid.
I ended up at the city capital building, its golden roof blinding and shimmering in the great light above while sun-faced San Franciscans with excited steps wandered about, ecstatic and humming with glee. Where has Frisco been all my life? This bustling rainbow city of the west, greeting all with open arms and righteous vibes. Even as I walked through the ghetto I saw people down on their luck but care-free. They reeked of whiskey at noon but they were no problem if you had no change or cigarettes. A vibrant, groovy bunch of rats. They loved the sun with crazy, muttering smiles.
I walked and walked with soar legs but I needed to see more. There was so much, I couldn’t stop now, I had just scrated the surface. I sat and had a cig after emerging from the unstable jungles past 6th and Gough where I prayed I’d make it out without lead or steel embedded in my innocent flesh. I leaped over legs sprawled with alcoholic veins and dodged jabbering addicts fiending for junk.
I wanted to find the Golden Gate Bridge, but after four hours of aimless wandering I had given up and settled for the Port of San Francisco. I got my first salty whiff of air and strolled content with smiles down the pier until I got lost and turned around. By fate I walked up a steep hill, pasing strip clubs and chinese buffets and low and behold I glance up at a sign and see “Beat Museum.” Holy hell, Gold Almighty, what just happened! I moved in, looking frantically around, my head on a swivel. There was so much, too much. Left, right, this book, that poster, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti, Bob Dylan belting in the background. I wanted to buy a book, all the books, I settled for a stroll through the museum, as I couldn’t buy any more books as my pack was already maxed out. How did I find this place? Out of my wandering obscurity I found my place in this city..
Jack Kerouac street signs, pictures, posters, granite block memorials, drink names, Beat poetry, Beat books, Ginsberg, Howl, On the Road, Subterraneans, everything Beat; Beat, Beat, Beat with my heart humming and drumming. Everything is right, everything is right.