Comparison Paper- Brian Bove

After reading the novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac, I am able to compare the travels of the protagonist to mine own semester abroad. In this novel, Sal Paradise, a young writer from New York City, obsesses over the idea of traveling west, where he has never been. In his head, the two coasts are opposite; the East is intellectual, dull, and stagnant, while the West is young, exuberant, and wild. With fifty dollars to his name and no real plan, he catches a bus to Chicago and proceeds to hitchhike from there.

In comparison to my trip, I did start out with several goals, both academic and personal. I understand completely the way the narrator thinks of his present location when he wants to leave west. After spending a lifetime in one place, it is understandable that that place becomes somewhat dull and stagnant, and one finds themselves stuck in a daily monotonous routine with a desperate need for a change of scenery. I definitely succeeded in finding my change of scenery, and although my outlooks of what a semester in Europe would be like may not have been as thrilling as Sal’s, what I was most excited about was living somewhere new.

Continuing his voyage, Sal hitches rides from several truckers on his way to Denver. He meets Eddie, another hitcher, and they decide to continue together. They go out drinking a few times, try to pick up girls, visit a few small towns and a carnival while traveling together. Finally, they end up splitting up when the next ride has only room for one and Eddie takes it. Sal then catches a ride with two young farmers who are heading towards Los Angeles and picking up every hitcher along the way. The back of the truck has a bunch of other travels in it, and they all have a good time together drinking and making jokes until Sal and another man, Montana Slim, get off in Cheyenne. The two go out, and Sal, desperate to go home with one of the girls at the bar, spends all but his last two dollars. He sleeps on the front porch of a gas station, and then hitches a ride to Longmont, Colorado, then Denver.

This is the start of Sal’s adventure west, and the mix of landscapes and people are incredible every step of the way for him. I can relate to most everything Sal felt along the way to Denver; settling in to a new way of life, new friends, and new experiences. There wasn’t much of my every day life that I brought with me and continued in Europe; the food, the classes, the style of living, the language, and the culture were all different, though I adapted quickly. On a trip like this, it’s impossible to expect to live in the same fashion that one lives in at home, and complete lifestyle changes are needed, though this is part of the adventure. My encounters abroad seemed very different than here, but I think it’s because of that lifestyle change. When it’s possible to meet people who may have had nothing in common with oneself, neither country, language, nor culture, every encounter with another person is a veritable learning experience.

After Denver, Sal continues to San Francisco, the promised land of the West. He spends some time with friends there, but after a falling-out, he moves on to Los Angeles. Before leaving for L.A., there’s a scene where Sal climbs a hill to a point that looks out over San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean, and he reflects about being at the other end of the continent. Sal meets a girl in L.A., Terry, and he spends a lot of time with her while trying to make money to return home. He is thrust back into the “real world” of labor and hardships. He works on a farm and plays somewhat of a husband/father role in Terry’s family. When Sal decides to head back east, Terry has made plans to visit New York, though they are both doubtful of it happening. Sal makes it to Pittsburg by bus, but then has to hitch the rest of the way back to New York, and during a short stint in the Allegheny Mountains, Sal realizes that there’s wilderness in the East as well.

Sal’s time in California and his journey home also include many aspects that I experienced. The scene when Sal is looking upon the Pacific Ocean reminds me of the many times I would stop and look at something; whether it be a monument, the Atlantic, or old German bunkers, and I would reflect on my current whereabouts, and realize that I was halfway around the world seeing and doing things I had only read about in textbooks. Of course, just like Sal, I had my wakeup calls where I would remember that although I was enjoying new experiences abroad, I was still a broke college student who needed to work, conserve money, and have somewhat of a plan for my time. The incident with Terry and her plans to come to New York reminded me of the many friends that I made while there who, although we’d promised each other to meet again, I will not likely see them another time. Sal’s return back to the East prompts him to see that many things exist in the East that he set out originally to find in the West. Though I’m not sure I agree with the lesson in that, I found that when I returned home, it was still possible to find aspects of French culture, language, and society here at home.

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