Letters from the Road:
From Ann Charters' Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956


To Caroline and Paul Blake:

March 20, '47
[Ozone Park, N.Y.]

Dear Nin & Paul--
    ...Incidentally I may not go by N.C. in June on my proposed Western trip--gotta get back East for our summer vacation a month later.

To Hal Chase:

Sat. afternoon April 19, '47
[Ozone Park, N.Y.]

Prince Hal--
    ...My subject as a writer is of course America, and simply, I must know everything about it. What does a thorough investigation of the "history of thought" yield to a man of purpose? What does the study of thought amount to if you yourself don't think new thoughts?--and how are you going to think new thoughts if you don't at first fire yourself with a new purpose? Well, my purpose is Balzacian in scope--to conquer knowledge of the U.S.A. (the center of the world for me just as Paris was the center of the world for Balzac)--my purpose is to know it as I know the palm of my hand.

To William S. Burroughs:

July 14, 1947
[Ozone Park, N.Y.]

Dear Bill--
    ...My old friend Henri Cru recently blew into N.Y. with a couple of steeazicks from Panama as big as your thumb: however this is not the purpose of this letter. It seems that we are going to ship out together, he is now in San Francisco arranging for rather good jobs on a ship (Chief & Assistant Electricians), and I am going out there in three days, hitchhiking from New York.

To Gabrielle Kerouac:

[July 14, 1947
postmarked Shelton, Neb.]

Dear Ma--
    I've been eating apple pie & ice cream all over Iowa & Nebraska, where the food is so good. Will be in Colorado tonight--and I'll write you a letter from Denver.  Everything fine, money holding out.

To Gabrielle Kerouac:

[July 24, 1947
Cheyenne, Wy.]

Dear Ma--
    Sending this card the same day as the Nebraska card, from Wyoming--Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they're now having "Wild West Week." Travelled 600 miles today...am now 2/3 of the way to California, money holding out. Having great trip.

To Gabrielle Kerouac:

[July 28, 1947
Denver, Colo.]

Dear Ma--
    Just arrived in Denver. I'll rest here at my friends' houses for a few days and then go on to California. You should see the beautiful mountains out here. The climate is clear and cool and sunny. I'll write a letter tomorrow.

To Gabrielle Kerouac:

July 29, '47

Dear Ma--
    My friends were all wonderful to me here, feeding me and giving me places to sleep, but now I want to get on to San Francisco and make some money. I haven't a cent left and I'll need $25 to take a bus to California from here, because hitch-hiking is impossible across the desert and the mountains. And Henri Cru will be expecting me by Monday....
    Boy, it's been a lot of fun around here. When I get Alan Temko's typewriter tomorrow (he's that boy from Richmond Hill) I'll write and tell you all about it. I had about ten girlfriends; went up to the mountains; saw an opera; ate swell food, venison steak, at Hal's house; the weather is nice--and I'm staying in a swanky apartment with showers and food and everything. But I want to get going so I can make a lot of money sailing in the Pacific and come home in the Fall and finish my book.

To Neal Cassady:

Aug. 26, 1947
Marin City, Calif.

Dear Neal--
    This would be "one of those big mad beer-drinking" letters except that I ain't drinking no beer--but it will be a long letter. Could you possibly imagine the circumstances under which I write this letter?--wearing a badge of the local police department, with a blue hat on my head, blue pants, gray shirt, a club on the desk, a .32 automatic on my belt? Yes, Neal, I am a cop--it is one of the funniest things ever to happen to me. I can hardly wait to tell Burroughs about it. But anyway, I'm not drinking beer as I write this, but I have all night to myself and a wonderful silencer typewriter and a whole office and the stationery this is written on. It would be a huge, unbelievable letter, full of subconscious scribblings and mad thoughts, except for the fact that I also want to write to Burroughs, Allen, and Lucien as well as you tonight: four very important characters. And whatever you do, don't think ill of me for being a cop, if only temporarily. I do not do my duty. I am a cop looking like some fugitive from Charley Ventura's Sextet. I stare at the women on the grounds, fingering my genitilia, and move on shuffling my feet like a Dostoevsky character. See me that way, not as a cop....
    Now to get down to real matters, not merely practical, but real. In Denver, when you and Allen held that long rapport on Logan street, I wasn't hostile to you, but simply in the dark as to what you were both talking both [sic]. You were high, you were using private terms, you spoke swiftly, incessantly--and I was sober, confused, sad, and meditative. You understand that already anyway I think. But one thing that really disappointed me was that you and I didn't once have a chance to talk. The night we picked up the Colombian girl and the Scott Fitzgerald decadent flapper from Dallas (with the languid eyelids), I really would have preferred eating that pork chop alone with you, and conversing over several beers. But we will get around to it again.

To Caroline and Paul Blake:

Aug. 27, '47
Marin City, Calif.

Dear Nin and Paul--
    Well here I am in California, after a long hitch-hiking, freight-hopping trip across the country--and I stopped in Chicago, Des Moines, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, and am now in San Francisco, working as a police guard in a settlement for overseas construction workers, while waiting for a good 'round-the world ship....
    While I'm here this Fall, I'm going to see some California U. and Stanford games. Also I'm going to take a run down to Hollywood to try to see a 40,000 word movie story I wrote last week. And, when there, a little run-down to Tijuana Mexico won't hurt. And on my way back home in December I'm going through Orego, Washington, Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin--great states I have to see.

To Caroline Kerouac Blake:

Thurs. Sept. 25 [1947]
[Marin City, Calif.]

Dear Nin--
    I've got a few minutes to myself tonight so I thought I'd write you a letter on this typewriter. I'll be leaving for Hollywood Oct. 6, where I'll just place my story in the right hands, and then continue on home via Tijuana Mexico and Texas and then all the way up to Minnesota and Wisconsin, just to see the country. Before that I might take a run up to Seattle Washington, just to see the place. If I do all this, and I'll certainly do 90% of it, I'll have seen 41 states in all. Is that enough for an American novelist?
    So, I'll be home the last week of October and I'll be glad, because I haven't had much time or privacy to write out here in San Francisco. That's all right though, it was interesting to be here and see what the people and things are like. My conclusion is that California stinks. Really. I think Iowa and Kansas and Michigan and places like that have it all beat, not to mention, of course, great states like Nawth Calina and New York and Colorado. But the thing about California is this: everybody is on their high horse trying to imitate Eastern high society, and that includes everybody; all the girls are debutantes and all the men are out for nothing but the "best." Of course, they're all Okies, and terribly conscious of it. Not that there's anything wrong with Okies. But it's really funny to watch these Californians trying to put on the dog....
    However, I'm not saying anything against the West, just California. Colorado is wonderful, and Texas too, I imagine. I'm going there on the way home.


To Neal Cassady:

Sunday mignight
June 27, 1948
[Ozone Park, N.Y.]

Dear Neal--
    ...Originally, by the way, I intended to move to Colorado someday, but northern California is the greatest country, especially for ranching or farming due to the climate. And San Francisco, I finally admit, is "my city, my Parisian city across the desert." When I was there last year I was very lonesome...but how I was hungry! how I prowled by Trantino's and the Fisherman's Wharf and smelled the food and teh fog so Boston-like. And how amazing it was that you had to cross Wyoming, and Utah, and the Nevada wastelands, to get to this secret white city on hills, at night, and all the mysterious women in doorways, and foghorns blowing. Man, and the little jazz places on Broadway. It's really much more than Denver, of that there's no doubt. And there are just as many wranglers in Frisco as in Denver...and where you find wranglers, I say, you find real country and real people.


To Allen Ginsburg:

[postmarked February 7, 1949]
Butte, Montana
Return address: "The Bitterroot Mountains--Root of Rivers & Rainy Nights..."

Dear Sweet Levinsky--
    Here I am at the sources of the rainy night, where the Missouri River starts--and the Powder Snake Yellowstone and the Big Horn & others--to roll in the tidal midland night down to Algiers bearing Montana logs past the house where Old Bill sits. The rainy night is a river (NO LAKE)--The rain is the sea coming back--and waters so fluid flow in their appointed serene beds with satisfaction & eternity (like men really do) to the Gulf of the Night. There are the hooded mountains & the caped rivers, etc.

To Hal Chase:

Sunday May 15, 1949

Dear Hal--
    Just arrived in Denver this afternoon, spending a total of 90c on the trip, with the intention of making my home out here come hell or high water, and practicing the ascetism that is necessary to accomplish this, ahead of time....
    Coming towards Denver this afternoon on the plains I had the definite feeling of...finding my world at last. Somewhere near Deertrail Colo. the sun was blushing through storm clouds upon a territorial area of brown plains where only one single farmhouse stood...so that the farmhouse, as I conceived it, was receiving the blush of God Himself. Come what may, mush or whatever they call it, my idea of life is that it's at least not the way it's lived in the East.
    And the East is really effete. When a cowhand got on the bus at Hugo, and smiled at all of us in there, a whole busload of people, I knew that he was more interested in mankind than 10,000,000 New School and Columbia professors and academicians. Say anything you want, I like my people joy-hearted. It is the sickly-heartedness of the East that has finally driven me away from there.
    I feel very happy. I'll make it allright....On June 15 I'm returning to N.Y. to attend a cocktail party by the Book of the Month Club, and may be selected by that worthy cause, and may make mints.
    If not I don't care...so long as I'm where I want to be, which is the west.

Return to Main Menu