Being on the road in the sixties was not the same Kerouac experience that many people expected. Times had changed – although not as much as they were going to in the late seventies. The west coast trips still offered the bite that more local experiences lacked. But even within a close gyre of five hundred miles from home, you could find yourself walking off the edge of the maps. And for those looking for map edges this was what it was all about.
To be clear, It’s not a sort of Carl Sandberg road less traveled sort of thing. And no, we never came across any Stepford Connecticut’s. But it was the sixties, and there were pockets of derelict communities still set in times decades past where you could sense just the right sort of reality distortion. Places where nobody had been as far as the state capital or the mill, was the only place to work.
Strangers were either treats from the outside world or threats. We got shuffled out of town fast and back onto the main road if viewed as the latter. On the other hand, we were almost always treated with a modicum of respect, even where they didn’t want us. I’ve tried to find some of those locale’s again, never with much luck.
The world we were exploring was a result of neglect and isolation. I wouldn’t want to attempt it these days. Too many communities have sunk into a sort of social disfunction not out of carelessness or physical isolation but as a deliberate response to their rejection of social, political, economic, or public health trends in the world. Two mustachioed and bearded Folkies with guitars might not make it safely to the next town over. I certainly wouldn’t want to put my thumb out in one and I would never think of having a political discussion there.
The Cordon Sanitair around these locales is not for the prevention of plague but for preventing ideas, information, and unfiltered news from trickling in. I’d have felt safer discussing civil rights in Alabama in 1965 than spending too much time in these communities.
The actual Stepford communities didn’t exist when the book was published, but whole swaths of the country seem to be hell-bent on creating them now.