Why would anyone speak cruel words,
Having observed the happiness that kind words confer?
To utter harsh words when sweet ones would serve
Is like eating unripe fruits when ripe ones are at hand.
-Anonymous Hindu quote
How the Australian Open Ruined My Image As a Father.
The first of every year, the Australian Open Tennis Tournament is on TV. It’s a big deal - the first major tourney of the season. When my daughter Vicki was a junior in high school, she shot a movie for class. She turned the garage into a 7-11 and shot the whole thing with my video camera. She popped the VHS into our living room player, watched it, then left it there. No label. I came in. Saw an empty cassette in the VHS and recorded three hours of the Open, on top of her movie. Vicki realized what I had done, went (slightly) nuts and came after me with dull scissors. I immediately called all of the friends who had helped in the movie and explained my f**kup. They all rushed over to our house to rescue me. Vicki reshot the whole movie - over the top of my recording of the Aussie Open. It was actually much better the second time around, but I couldn’t say that.
Fathers. We’re f**kups, but thankfully, you keep loving us.
Amazon lists over four thousand “Road Stories” within its Literature and Fiction section. These are stories that Ronald Primeau has sorted out and analyzed in his book: Romance of the Road. His more dignified term for Road Stories is “American Road Narratives.” This term has evidently stuck, and probably existed before him, because Google lists nearly four million hits for “American Road Narratives,” and the term “Road Narrative” by itself collects eight million.
So what are road narratives? Primeau says they are, “"fiction and non fiction books by [travelers] on a quest or simply to get away. [. . .] Protagonist take to the road for a variety of reasons, and when goals are
[. . .] frustrated, the irresolution makes telling the story more urgent." More importantly, he says, "The narration of events is not just a record of what happened but a way of trying to understand experiences."
I’m asking myself, “isn’t the Bible itself a road story?” Yea, verily. And for those who haven’t picked up a Bible lately, can I just suggest that every single reader in the US might “understand” their common American “experience” because of road story?
After Dubya Dubja Too, American kids by the carload were bouncing on their veteran daddy’s knee. Looking askance at this phenomenon was a group of Columbia University ne'er-do-well’s, the founding fathers of the Beat Generation. One of these, Jack Kerouac, might well be considered the official historiographer. Wikipedia says, “On the Road portrays the story of a fierce personal quest for meaning and belonging. This comes at an interesting point in American history when conformity was praised and outsiders were suspect. The Beat Generation arose out of a time of intense conflict, both internally and externally.” On the Road was its national anthem.
It marked the end of the Modern period and the beginning of duh, the postmodern. Out of your left eye you see a ticky-tacky house with a finned Chevrolet in the drive. Out of your right eye you see a group of hippies in a May Pole dance during the Summer of Love. Kerouac’s road trip set the wheels in motion for today’s split screen society.
So, give it up for the road story. Huzzah.
As for my own road trip. The writing life began for me with Travels with Charlie remains by Steinbeck. First thing that I remembered was, “When I was young, the urge to be someplace else was on me.”
I couldn’t wait to be anywhere else. So as soon as I graduated, I was gone.
More importantly, Steinbeck’s style soaked in deep. I didn’t know it, but I began singing his tune. When he wrote, “Morning came, with the tawny look of autumn,” A decade later, I wrote, “This chair was built by Perigrin Tilly. The last person to sit in it was the richest, and the best loved. So no one has sat in it again.”
I am a copycat.
When I was young, barely in my teens, I geeked my way into a radio station job. Sweeping up, running odd jobs, but after a year of practice, I made myself into the DJ for “Teen Beat.” By the time I graduated, I sounded good enough to get a job in an albeit small, major market. Then came Vietnam. I joined the Marines, and wonder of wonders, ended up in Japan. Playing rock’n’roll.
I turned this story into a novel, Tang of Plum Wine, and guess what, it’s a road story. And again, I’m a copycat. The road story/archetype I used as a model is yellow, and brick. See you after the final revision.