Louis Seaman and his friend, Joseph Polacek, Perth Amboy, NJ.

Louis Seaman and his friend, Joseph Polacek, Perth Amboy, NJ.
I took this photo of my uncle Joe and his friend Louie with a Holga.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lookin for the highway

What is it about a car that makes a man strike a macho pose? Like most Americans, cars have always had a significant place in my life. My mother took both of these pictures, and I remember each time choosing exactly where I wanted to stand. The white car is a 1964 Studebaker Lark, one sweet, safe, modest middle class car, which I remember having tons of room inside and a pretty noisy ride. How I wish now that she had kept it for me to drive instead of trading it in for a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle. Trading it in, however, was the only logical thing to do since I would not be old enough to drive for several more years, and the second picture shows where my mind was headed by then.

The 1977 Camaro, whose color was described in the catalog as “Firethorn Red,” had a small-block 305 and an automatic transmission on the column, proving I was not a hardcore motorhead. I had just finished washing it this summer evening and probably had beer on my mind. Equally important, I had recently discovered Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and was to read it several times in short order over the following months.

On an April evening a year later, two days after they got the reactor at Three Mile Island under control, I started out from this very spot and drove 1100 miles straight through to West Bend, Iowa. After a night’s rest, I drove 1100 more miles straight through to Logan, Utah. When I say “straight through” I mean stopping only for gas, bathroom and food, not sleep. Unlike Neal Cassady, who along with Kerouac was my hero at the time, I used only legal substances to stay awake. It’s amazing what a combination of youth, coffee, and inspiration can accomplish. Of course in another sense, I accomplished nothing, but that’s pretty much what youth is about. From Logan, it was a mere 800 more miles to San Francisco, and I would have knocked that off in one final session, save for a snowfall in the high Sierras that forced me to take refuge. Not being very socially adept at that age, I walked all over San Francisco alone for four or five days, hopped in the car and headed back East.

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