'The Sea is My Brother' by Jack Kerouac

14 comments
Review: 'The Sea is My Brother' by Jack Kerouac

A lost novel is a very strange thing. The term implies that the author’s career carries or carried (as is often the case) enough weight to justify the publication of a previously unreleased work, which creates problems for a critic. How should one judge a never-released, not-quite-finished book? Is it fair to judge this “lost” novel through the lens of the author’s legacy, and more importantly, is any alternative even possible?

Jack Kerouac died over forty years ago, in 1969. His last novel was published almost as long ago (Vanity of Duluoz, 1968), yet Kerouac remains, for better worse, in the collective literary consciousness. On the Road, far and away his most popular work, has come to represent not only Kerouac himself, but an entire generation of people who found themselves caught between the worlds of unbridled political and intellectual idealism, and fulfillment in worlds more immediate and tangible. The central question of On the Road is perhaps best summed up by Sal Paradise himself: “Hey now, what’s this thing we’re all doing in this sad brown world?”

This question is certainly revisited (or is it "pre-visited"?) in The Sea is My Brother, which was completed in 1942, a full eight years before The Town and the City, which launched Kerouac’s career, and almost twenty before On the Road, which cemented his place in literary history. At a little over 200 pages, it’s hardly a meaty read, especially compared to the two previously mentioned titles. However, The Sea is My Brother is a fascinating read, both in its own right and as part of Kerouac’s canon.

The novel begins with Wesley Martin, a young merchant marine, wandering the streets of New York City, having blown through most of his pay in a few nights of wild revelry. He stumbles into a bar, spends his last bit of change on a beer, and easily chats up a young woman who drags him over to her table, where he meets Bill Everhart. Through these two characters, the wild-eyed, fiercely intelligent but somewhat cautious and reserved academic (Everhart), and the salt-of-the-earth, wandering everyman (Martin), Kerouac presents the two clashing sides of his own personality. The autobiographical slant continues throughout the book, as Everhart leaves his graduate studies at Columbia behind to join Martin for a tour of duty in the Merchant Marine. The conflicts are almost all internal, as in this passage, in which Everhart ruminates over what it means to truly live a responsible and worthy life:

A confused intellectual, Everhart, the oldest weed in society; beyond that, an intelligent modern minus the social conscience of that class. Further, a son without a conscience--a lover without a wife! A prophet without confidence, a teacher of men without wisdom, a sorry mess of man thereat!

These meditations are abruptly cut short (as the novel ends) when their ship sets out for sea. Fans of Kerouac’s work may find themselves in a quandary when deciding how they feel about The Sea is My Brother. The book is worth a quick read when taken as an origin story of sorts, but almost everything that hits close to the heart is somewhat half-formed, and was refined and executed with greater beauty and precision in Kerouac’s later work. The language is still hauntingly beautiful and lonely; in one chapter, Martin runs into his estranged wife, and Kerouac speaks to the innate tragedy of human relationships, and the failure to maintain them (themes that would propel the bulk of his work):

Edna was weeping…the tears were rolling down the back of Wesley’s hand. He turned up her face and gazed at it in the somber darkness, a pale visage gemmed with tears, a strange face that tore his heart with a tragic, irrefragable sense of change. This was not she! Once more she had drawn his face to hers; a wet mouth was kissing his chin. His cheek, pressed against her feverish brow, could feel a dull throbbing in the furrow of her scar. Who was this woman?

Fans of On the Road or, to a lesser extent, The Dharma Bums, may delight in the genesis of an artist who was constantly searching for the brutal but beautiful truth found in loneliness and heartbreak, but at the end of the day, the narrative jumps around aimlessly, in a way that makes the ramblings of On the Road read like Hemingway. In short, the book brings nothing to a fan of the beats but context and a little more insight into Kerouac’s early life as a writer. Those who find the author’s previous work blandly melodramatic or inconclusive would do well to skip The Sea is my Brother, as Kerouac’s premier novel shows even less restraint than his follow-ups.

The Sea is My Brother is not a great novel, but it is a great tool in understanding the development of one of the most iconic American authors of the 20th century. Perhaps this is the true function of the “lost novel”: as a supplement to an already rich body of work, something to help us understand and appreciate how the art came to fruition. In this endeavor, The Sea is my Brother succeeds handily.


Care to draw your own conclusion? We've got three copies to give away, courtesy of Da Capo Press. All you have to do is (briefly) tell us your best road story in the comments below.

Image of The Sea Is My Brother: The Lost Novel
Author: Jack Kerouac
Price: $25.00
Publisher: Da Capo Press (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 240 pages
John Jarzemsky

Review by John Jarzemsky

John is a freelance writer who has been with LitReactor since the days of its halcyon youth. You can check out John's blog, the poorly titled Super Roller Disco Monkey Hullabaloo!, for other reviews, random musings, and ill-thought out rants. He was recently published in Bushwick Nightz, a collection of short stories about the Brooklyn neighborhood in which he resides.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Lee Crase's picture
Lee Crase from Kennesaw is reading Iron on my Mind March 20, 2012 - 9:50am

A few years ago I went to Tampa to visit my buddy, and together we went to see the original scroll of On the Road, which was on display at the time. Still unsatiated for our Kerouac fix, we tromped around Central Florida looking for all things Kerouac. In Haslam’s Bookstore, we discovered an aging hipster who seemed to have some intrinsic, esoteric knowledge about Kerouac, but was much too cool to share much with us, other than the fact that Kerouac still haunted the bookstore, and frequently knocked books off the shelves, yaddy yaddy, ya ya yah.

Being a fan of Kerouac, and not wanting to disappoint, I rearranged a few of the books on the shelves, giving Kerouac a little more prominence and preference; then we left, imagining that aforementioned aging hipster would have a new story the next time a wayward stranger wandered in asking about Kerouac.

Even more colorful than that guy was Kerouac’s former neighbor, an octogenarian who liked to jab at my ribs and say thinks like, “Yeah, he was a bit queer, if you know what I mean, har, har, har!” in between telling me about his vast orchard of two lemon trees in his back yard. “Not him so much, but some of them fellers who came by a-visiting, you know.” Really, I just wanted to see the house where he wrote The Dharma Bums and maybe find an unlocked window or door, or something. Instead, I found an old sentry who finally admitted after almost two hours, “No, I didn’t really know him all that well.”

Who really does, mister?


 

Kim Pierce's picture
Kim Pierce March 20, 2012 - 11:29am

Long before I'd ever heard of Kerouac, but longer still after he'd made his impression on the world, I was sailing back and forth across the I-80 plain in the backseat of my parents' station wagon. With home in Colorado and family in Chicago, we made the trip several times a year, with the giddy pull of excitement leading us east, and the dread of homecoming dragging us back west again.

In later years, my mother alone carted the three of us on a single seventeen-hour haul, assisted only by Jackson Browne on the stereo and mini boxes of cereal lined up on the dashboard for nourishment.

We were unlikely companions of the road warriors we met along the way, but in the plot line still. This was our small-town family's exposure to the world-at-large, and we soaked it in, albeit from behind the fingerprinted windows of our Chevy Caprice. I like to think, in retrospect, that Kerouac would have smiled upon us, upon our naivete, upon our raw representation of this broad country, and upon our blissful oblivion of the trip he'd made himself time and time again.

Joss Berrett's picture
Joss Berrett from Minnesota is reading Last Man in Tower March 24, 2012 - 12:12pm

As a child, I moved from Toowoomba to Batlow,  driving along the spine of  east-coast Australia. This was a frantic trip, squeezed inside two nine hour frames, with my mother driving and us kids and a fading dachshund in a line along the backseat of her Corolla. We stopped so that my mother could smoke while we stretched and tried to find a not-to-distant patch of the prickly Pilliga Scrub to piss on. Our mother looked angry while she smoked; it may have been the pursed lips around the butt of her dirty cigarette or maybe she was trying to work out how much money she could save by doing things one particular way over another. When she ran out of time on the first day, we found an L-shaped motel and my brothers and I whined for dinner. There was French Toast, a few strips each, devoured before mom could draw from her cuppa. We were boys, ferocious and eternally hungry.

The next day we rose along the crack of dawn and found the highway south. Mom, keen to beat the truckers, handled the car with aggression, hitting one hundred and twenty clicks while over-taking. A truck nearly ran her off the road near Dubbo and she grabbed the handset of her CB radio and scared the grease from his face with an acidic tirade. Us boys held hands and wondered if we'd make it to Batlow alive. Privately I wonder why we had to take the highway so quickly. What were we running from in Toowoomba and what was so good about Batlow, that justified the hop we were making, with the sand-blasted monotony of our hometown slipping away behind us? By the end of the second day we had struggled through a rainstorm in Gundagai, run through eleven different cassetes amd ran stopsign, nearly destroying the car. At the end, mom was silent. We found a rutted driveway, gouged into the side of a steephill. There was an apple orchid, sheep and an old hut where nothing worked and we huddled around a sulky fire that my mother had managed to conjour.

As a diciple of Kerouac, I have jumped many roads since then, in pursuit of endless sunsets and what ever the night might gift me. While my mind is full of half-formed scenery, smiling faces and the spirit of jive, nothing that I have done envokes the spirit of Neal Cassady like my mother did in her screaming flight towards a new life in the belly of rural Australia. This wasn't a pretty trip, or a good time. It was an ugly leap for whatever it is that lies at the end of another highway and a comfirmation that life is never stable.

Supdugs's picture
Supdugs from MA is reading Eating Animals March 20, 2012 - 5:09pm

Just before the 4th of July, some years ago, I took a flight to LA and spent 3 days there in Hollywood's land of broken dreams & drove from Santa Monica in a minivan with my long lost cousin Kell, spending 2 weeks on the road, hitting the Grand Canyon on the back roads, dusty, and winding, and lined with mountain kingdoms and Joshua trees and weird cattle that stared at us through the brush.  We pushed on to old town in Vegas for a night at the Sahara, may she rest in peace, filled with Jager and penny slots and the best worst burger in town.  Driving non-stop through the night we made it to Silver City, NM in a matter of hours to meet with a few of Kell's friends, living on a mountain ridge over the city. Merchants were selling fireworks in the parking lot of the supermarket, setting them off by night.  We were deep in NM you could look straight into the endless desert to Mexico where lightning blasted down, silent, and sharp.  Next day we went up to the Gila Mt. National Forest to wade in the river, and got caught in a thunder and rain storm that barrelled over us, booming down the wrath of God, a group of boy scouts were going in while we were running out. Took shelter in a little rustic bar on a hill and ate burgers by candle light with a buffalo bust perched over head.  After another night on the floor of their friends camper, no house yet, but a basement where I broke a flip flop, we took the scenic route out, camped in edge of NM, straight through the pan handle, TX next day into green pastures & more friends of OK, next day St. Louis for a Gateway Grizzlies baseball game & job interview, saw the magic arches and the reek of the mighty Miss. Stayed at another pal of Kel's on futon, finally charged phone, next on to PA, saw fireworks along highway in Ohio. In PA met more friends, talked some Kerouac & apple pie tour of America & their adventures following Widespread Panic, later, set off fireworks by lake idlewild in complete loud darkness of valley and celebration of freedom 4th of July.  Next day long drive to Boston & home, and back to normalcy.  Most life lived in 2 weeks on the road in my life.

jamescarney's picture
jamescarney March 20, 2012 - 5:20pm

‘No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. Learning for instance, to eat when he's hungry and sleep when he's sleepy.’

These words, written by Jack Kerouac in 1960, stirred me. Even before reading them, I had always been haunted by the romantic idea that one must get lost before one can find oneself. Unfortunately, being weighed down by what I believed to be my parent’s empty expectations for me to study, the philosophical revolution of the self that I craved was not going to happen in one big bang. It was going to have to come little by little. An early starter in the world of rebellion, I would choose to replace my breakfast croissants with Jaffa Cakes, at the tenderly immature age of 10. The most productive days of my insubordination came in the mid teenage years, with an abundance of forbidden sex and consumption of contraband tending to make up the majority of them. Still, no matter how hard I kicked out against the world, I couldn’t help feel like an anarchic fish in a conservative pond.

Fast forward to the near past, I was preparing to embark upon an adventure with two old friends. One had been travelling for two years, having decided to take an eternal gap year, with nothing but his guitar and 24 spare strings, he told us. Harbouring a hatred for Facebook, he would refuse his picture being taken, just in case said pictures were to be abused when he became famous. The other, slightly more grounded in life, had been working at a Marseille hospital, accumulating work experience for a medical school application. He owned a Peugeot 308. Do not ask me for her specifications, for I know as much about cars as the Pope does about anal stimulation. All I know is that we felt G-force whenever Peugeot touched 60 and that Peugeot wasn’t actually called Peugeot at all.

‘Elle s'appelle Moulin’, I was told. She had a strange looking windmill attached to the top, a sort of touristy souvenir; ‘of course’, I said, ‘that explains the windmill.’ He smiled at me, returning, ‘Mulan, not Moulin. She came from China and they told me she was a he.’

We were to hit the road, destination unknown. Admittedly, it wasn’t going to be the solitary wandering of the wilderness I had desired, but it allowed me a taste of independence. We left behind our watches, our mobile phones and credit cards. Armed with 300 Euros between us, five empty bottles of sprite filled with petrol, a plethora of musical pleasures and a bag of Dylan’s finest muse; we wrote the first sentence of our own bildungsroman; fear and loathing on the road.

We headed south, as most trippers do. The conversation was frivolously deep, ranging from alcoholic masturbation to the meaning of life. We met people along the way. Strangers we had once not known, we now knew, but they did not change our lives, and we did not change theirs. We each had our own reasons for travelling. We knew that the nature of these reasons rested somewhere in our minds, but we could not articulate them to anyone but ourselves.

One pivotal night, to the sound of our musician reciting Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna, we debated the existence of the stars. He believed they were eternal, I believed they were finite and would fade away. Apparently, we were both wrong. As our mutual friend took great pleasure in highlighting his scientific superiority over us, he gave an open air lecture, loaded with mundane jargon, on the nature of the light year and the creation of the star. What he was telling us, I think, was that what we see is not what exists. Select a star in the sky; we see it, but it is not actually there. It once burned bright, but the light had so far to travel that the star actually died out by the time it reached us. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was under the hypnotic influence of what had entered my system that night that I began to feel so overwhelmed. I told myself that looking to the sky is practically the same as looking into the past. I climbed to the top of the car and sat. I wrote, ‘How curious it is that you need light to see most things, but you can only see the stars when everything else is dark.’ Looking back, I don’t know what that means, it’s just a sentence of self indulgent pomposity, but I love that I wrote it. The three of us are all writers in our own way. One writes his words, the other writes his music, the third rights our wrongs.

I didn’t find myself on that trip, but I found something more important. I found a personal philosophy, a way to live my life the way I want to live it. I formed the opinion that meaning, which I originally sought, is just a shadow I will spend life chasing, never to catch. The trip seemed insignificant up until this point. We had not changed the lives of others and we had failed to do anything constructive other than drink, smoke and talk. Then again, Gandhi did say that everything that we do seems insignificant, but it is significant that we do it. How right he was.

France is a beautiful country that I know all too well. She is spoiled with splendid treasures, but I did not enter one museum, nor did I take one photograph. For, laid on top of Mulan, beside the touristy windmill, I came to realise that life isn’t about where we come from or where we go, it’s about what we do in between. The fact that we were in a country we each knew so well made no difference to the experience, for we could have been anywhere at all. It didn’t matter where we were, but rather how we existed there, if we existed at all. The beauty of that road trip lied in the fact that we were free of time, free of commitment, free of the burdens of life. For we had no final destination we had to reach; we were just travelling.

IMGlorious's picture
IMGlorious March 20, 2012 - 5:32pm

I like to think I know myself. All I really know is that I'm young and stupid.

Recently, I hit the road with four of my good friends, making our way toward DC for what our handy-dandy GPS projected to be a 10 hour drive. It was 11.5 in the end.

Either way, the highway stretched before us and we drove with our windows down despite the irresponsible speeds we were driving at. And then we had an idea - a true stroke of genius. We wanted to interact more with the other Priuses and Hondas and Dodge Caravans cruising past us. The first few times we got truckers to honk at us we felt thrilled! Eventually, we wanted to push our limits. We waved to little kids in cars, and they'd wave back. And then we decided to go for a more racy approach to our road-entertainment.

I wrote on a piece of paper "Moon Us and We'll Moon You back." The "O"s were drawn with little half-moons. I though it was clever.

We began to hold it up to cars. Less hits, more misses among the weary travelers on route I-495. We giggled and clapped as bold boys in cars sped up alongside our Hyundai. A guy even got as far as unbuckling his seat belt in the passenger seat, but was discouraged by the minivan filled with little kids that was slowing down in front of us.

Then we saw them. A car with three young guys, maybe our age? We flashed the sign, all hopeful-like. We could see them laughing as we lost them in traffic, but then they caught up again. Half an hour later, we see their silver car flash by on the lane to our right. On  a piece of Bounty paper towel they had written "You 1st."

Challenge accepted.

Nothing like flashing your behind and acting like there are no consequences. Well, when you're young and stupid, wouldn't you do it too?

Laramore Black's picture
Laramore Black from Joplin, Missouri is reading Mario Kart 8 March 20, 2012 - 5:50pm

Awhile back some friends and I went on a road trip to Chicago.

We’ll say their names are James, Cody, and Austin due to the nature of the events that took place. It was during a very dark/strange time of my life following a divorce. I had become the king of local parties more or less with having an apartment paid off for six months and seven grand in the bank. And by bank I mean my front left pocket. I would estimate that over those months there was close to 4k spent on beer and liquor alone.

One night I have this get together at my place, pretty big turnout for a weekday. Upwards of twenty people at one point, I’d say. The menu was a forty-ounce of Mickey’s, three twelve packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and two fifths of Segrum’s whiskey. Of course every now and then somebody walked through the door with their own supply or contribution. Long story short, we were wasted, the house was trashed, and the night was calm by around three in the morning.

There was a drunken moment between my friend Cody and me, talking about big cities we would like to venture to someday. I went on and on about going to New Orleans. We were even talking about going that instant, but New Orleans was a twelve hour drive without stops from us. Then Cody began to explain his time spent in Chicago. Drunken minds became interested and Google maps said it was only an 8 hour drive. We were GOING, right then, or else we wouldn’t.

I ate probably half a loaf of bread and drank a pot of coffee; followed with the packing of clothes in a suitcase. Then we were out the door. Usually I am deeply against drinking and driving, but when drunk it is rather easy to talk me into anything. I obeyed the speed limit and had them watch my driving while in city limits, because highway driving is far less tedious without lights and what not.

Skipping ahead it took roughly ten hours to make it and was rather uneventful other than the random McDonalds we ate at that was full of “biblical scholars” and hillbillies that stared at us like aliens. I let my friend Cody drive into the city, where he gladly rams my car over some medieval speed bump. I think nothing of it; park my car in a hotel garage. Get the hotel, go to the liquor store and buy necessities for after a nap. I nap while they go out for awhile.

Even longer story short: We peed on buildings, got eyed by cops with genitals out, got hit on by a local comedian lady, went to the wrong side of town on the el train where some gang-banger acted like he wanted to mug us (I had a couple grand in my pocket), drank all night at the hotel, broke into the pantry, got a death threat from a Jamaican parking garage guy for losing my parking permit, and explored Chicago the whole next day. The trip was cut short when my ex-wife called me and said the apartment manager stopped by, seeing the apartment wrecked. She used the words, “you’re kicked out.” So I got stuck driving back home drunk, but at a more careless mile per hour. The real kicker is that the bump Cody hit knocked the tension bracket off my alternator. The car bogged down, the lights wouldn’t work, and I even had to buy a new battery on the way home to make it.

Good times, man. Hope this was brief enough.
 

Potter's picture
Potter March 20, 2012 - 8:08pm

(Changing names just in case)
It was 1999 and I was a Junior at a small college in Virginia. I had just come back from an incredible Mardi Gras trip with one of my best friends, Chris, and two other buddies. I knew it was a trip that would never be duplicated and possibly never surpassed (and it still holds as one of my favorite Road trips ever, but that is another story.) It was a mild night for late spring in the mountains and I remember being comfortable in the light flannel I had on. Chris and I were driving our way back from one of the few bars in town and were feeling good still being on a high from our recent trip and having made some successful small talk with cute coeds. As we pull up to a stop light, Chris notices a girl in a gold Corolla and that he thought she was pretty cute. I beeped my horn lightly and when she looked over, I told Chris to roll down his window. After some awkward head bobbing, (back then, not many of the cars had automatic windows or at least the ones I drove) I yelled over and asked if she wanted to race. She flashed a smile and revved all four of her cylinders. When the light turned green, we raced our two junkers down one of the many windy empty roads that stitched the small town together. At the next light about two miles down we asked the girl (Sarah) if she wanted to hang out. Surprisingly she followed us to one of my buddies Ryan’s house. We walked in, introduced everyone, had a few beers, and told our great road story. Around midnight on Monday, with us still itching for another adventure and Ryan wanting one of his own we decided that we were driving to Atlantic City. Sarah called bullshit and said we’d probably never make it out of Virginia let alone all the way to Atlantic City. With the challenged laid on the table, we excused ourselves and jumped in my green Dodge. We figured ten Milwaukee’s Best cans and a ten-year-old Rand McNally guide was enough to get us there safely. Ryan ran inside last minute and grabbed his coat. Well, ten hours, some new roads that weren’t on the map, and a lot of bad directions later we end up in Atlantic City on a five below day. The city looked like a moonscape and we already knew this was a bad idea. Exiting out car was painful due to the sheer wind ripping the warmth from our bodies. Ryan looked rather comfortable bundled in his coat as Chris and I were jammed our hands deep in our pockets trying to find an inkling of warmth. We figured gambling and cocktails would cheer us up. I won about $165 at the coin slots and several hours later found myself clutching frozen sand on the beach puking my guts out as Ryan and Chris threw empty cans at me and told me what shame I was to my parents. An hour or two later slugging free diner coffee for warmth we got back into my car and cursed the trip, though it wasn’t done with us yet. On the way, back my car’s heat gauge kept spiking to the molten level and so our trip consisted of driving 20 minutes and stopping on the side of the road for 20 minutes. My meager earnings at the slots were disappearing quickly through the unlimited toll roads and my car was slugging gas faster than we had the free cocktails (turned out to be a blown head gasket, which was around $800). My car sputtered close enough to the campus where we decided to leave it until I could get money for a tow truck. Ryan dropped Chris off and through clenched teeth and bleary eyes, we said our goodbyes. Before Ryan drove me home, I asked him to stop at a payphone. I called the crumpled number of Sarah in my pocket and asked her in what dorm she lived. She gave me her address and I told Ryan he had to make a quick stop on campus. I knocked on her door and when she answered, I handed the three plastic coin cups from Caesar’s, Tropicana, and Trump casinos. I said, “I told ya we’d make it. Now, I got to go to sleep for three days and find out if my car will ever run again. We should go out some time. I’ll call you later.” The expression on her face was almost worth the trip, and would have been if the date I went on a few days later wasn’t so damn bad. The morale of the story: The House always wins.
 

ashleysimpson's picture
ashleysimpson from Brooklyn, NY March 20, 2012 - 10:41pm

It was nearing dawn when Adrienne and I stood on the cobblestone streets of Hvar Town, on the island of Hvar off the coast of Croatia.  Behind us, out of hearing range, stood the two Bosnian men we had met at a night club sometime around midnight.  It was supposed to be our last night in Hvar and as such we had decided that sleep was unnecessary, our ferry was set to leave at 7 AM to take us back to the mainland and the city of Dubrovnik, where we would spend the final two days of our vacation before returning back home to New York and the responsibilities of being fresh college graduates.  But meeting these two men changed those plans.  They had tagged along with us to our rented room and waited downstairs while we packed our bags and settled our bill, stumbling and drunk on Red Bull and vodka.  They followed us as we ran down the street to buy our ferry tickets, quickly learning that wheeled suitcases and cobblestones don’t mix.  And all the while they begged us not to go yet.  They begged us to go to Sarajevo with them; they said it wouldn’t take long to get there.  This is what led to our hushed conversation, our questions regarding safety, which of us could find a knife in the mess of our hastily repacked suitcases, and if push came to shove, could we really over power these men?  Perhaps stupidly, we decided we could and that after roughly 6 hours in their acquaintance spent dancing and drinking, we trusted them.  We made only one call to let our trusted friend Genc know where we would be.  He was in Kosovo visiting his parents at the time, so we figured at least he was sort of close by.  When he finally woke up and answered his phone, I described the situation.  The first thing he asked me was if I had seen the movie “Hostel.”  When I told him that I hadn’t he responded that he would tell me all about it once I was safely home.

Thus it was that our plan changed and while the men stowed our luggage in the trunk I tried to be sneaky about texting their license plate number to Genc.  As we drove we got to know one another, Adrienne and I also saw a great deal more of the island than we had in the previous two weeks of our stay.  Once on the ferry, we found a couch and ended up napping in a pile together.  When we awoke the drive really began.  The “short trip” ended up being almost twelve hours straight on the road, cramped into a small car with no air conditioning at the peak of the summer.  On the way to Sarajevo we stopped in Mostar, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen to this day.  It was also clearly one of the most divided, both by the river that ran through the city, and the religions separated by the same river.  We watched men jump off the bridge that joined to two sides in order to obtain tips from the tourists and my stomach dropped every single time; unable to comprehend they would be safe.

Once we arrived in Sarajevo it was almost sunset, but we didn’t want to miss the only time we could spend in the city, so with only our nap on the ferry to tide us over, we dropped off our luggage at one of the men’s apartment and headed back out.  Through the evening and night we walked around the city, listening to its history from these men who had lived through its most recent war and infused each story with their love of their country and culture.  We stood on the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated; a small plaque marks the spot.  We visited the oldest mosque in Sarajevo, almost 450 years old.  We saw the eternal flame memorializing the victims of WWII.  We passed buildings still riddled with the marks of thousands of bullets.  We drank from the Sebilj fountain, and thus, according to local folklore, guaranteed we would return someday.

By the time we collapsed into bed for a couple hours sleep, Adrienne and I had both fallen in love with the city and longed to stay, but we still wanted one day in Dubrovnik so the next morning we boarded the train to take us back to Croatia, sad to leave our new friends, but with promises to return some day.  Once safely home we were able to call our families and friends to inform them of our detour, knowing we were back on American soil tempered their anger at our risk, though it certainly didn’t disappear completely.  I was also able to look up “Hostel” and stare dumbfounded at the computer screen.  However nothing could make us regret our road trip through Bosnia.  Adrienne and I have seen a great deal of the world together, but we still look back on those 24 hours as one of the best moments in our lives.  In the six years since our trip we have returned to Sarajevo to reunite with our friends twice, proving the Sebilj fountain correct, and also that sometimes you can trust a stranger... or two.

SeventyNine's picture
SeventyNine March 22, 2012 - 6:48am

I was still just a kid and I’d already done the road trip to the coast once before, for the same reasons I was doing it this time.  The first trip had been unique and special.  Nothing can ever be the exact same way twice, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be an evolving mystery about things.  How does a person fall in love?  It takes just as long to get over someone, and the mountains we had to drive through to get where we were going seemed to reveal different bends in the road, some of them more winding than others, in another year when the people I was driving with were a whole new group of possibilities.  The girl I left in the city had stayed behind both times I departed, but it wasn’t until the second go around that either of us knew it, or cared.  And where we were going had many secrets yet to be whispered into my ear just when I was starting to feel at home.

When we got there we partied as hard as we could because being in that foreign city meant there was no consequence.  We were free of all the burdens we chose not to bring along—for some of us, that meant everything.  And the nights were warm all the way through to morning; and the next day, even though we knew we had places to be, none of us could be bothered; no one was in any hurry to get anywhere.  I remember having my photo taken standing next to a totem pole on the beach in the sunshine, and I wondered how many other endless people had stood for a photo next to this piece of carved wood that was so near to the surf its sharp edges had been gradually buffed smooth by the tide and the blowing water, but I’d been down that beach the first time around and I doubt very much that totem pole was there even then, even just a year or two before.  It was too big and too integral not to notice.

Eventually it was time to go back.  It was late in the season and people in that city were winding down, and we’d come there with a time limit.  We’d done what we could.  She was waiting and I’d made my promises and that was all still unresolved.  I had to depart the coast again.  And so we headed the way we came and it was strange to see all of the landmarks and curiosities we’d seen on the way out when we were still excited and everything was ahead not behind.  Everything on the road back looked sleepy and almost tragic.  For my part I wished I had left myself something in the reserve for the return trip.  But it was the second time I’d done this and the sadness I felt going home the first time was more devastating the second time.  How many more times did I have left in me?  That was so long ago now; how recent do some of the feelings and emotions yet seem.  I don’t think I have any more answers today than I did then.  I’m still just a kid.

Heyget's picture
Heyget March 24, 2012 - 9:34am

Ten years ago we followed a now-defunct band for a short while.  An overnight stop just south of the Great Lakes had us staying in a hotel reeking of over chlorinated pool and booked with special needs children entering the Michigan Special Olympics.  The next morning, hung over and enjoying a complimentary continental breakfast, we were as enthusiastically approached and surrounded by bronze, silver and gold medalists as the cheesy lead singer had been by boozy, scantily clad girls the night before.  They were very proud of their accomplishments and shared them in deliberate sentences with unwavering eyes.  I admit I shrank away overwhelmed by their number and disabilities only to lean forward still chewing, listening.  I've since traded in the bands CD.         

Chris Johnson's picture
Chris Johnson from Burlington NC is reading The Proud Highway March 24, 2012 - 9:44am

We'd ran out of money for dope so my ex and I decided to make a tour of the state, see if there were any stores we could hit. I went to high school with a fellow who was working at the pawn shop near my apartment and he'd buy items under the table, give me half price for them.

We rode 40 west until Statesville, got onto 77 going south. I figured Concord would be a good target, plus all the towns on the way like Lake Norman, Morrisville. Ten minutes in the store and I'd be back on the highway. Ten minutes of work for a couple hundred dollars.

The highway wasn't exactly clogged but it seemed to be living a sedentary lifestyle. The southbound side I mean. Northbound there was nothing, not one vehicle. It was like we were all running from some huge disaster.

Over a hill and I see why there's no traffic on the other side. There's a huge fire, three lanes for about a hundred yards. A gas tanker. People have pulled to the side of the road and they're taking pictures with their phones. The fire was a physical structure, a chemical dragon on a sharp early winter night. Like fireworks. A really big show. I have to creep the car through throngs of people staring at the barbecue to my left. I could feel the heat through the closed doors.

Concord was a total loss. Nothing. Mall cops. Paranoia on my part. The hag I loved in the car screeching like a crow. I pick my friend up, he's on his way to prison and doesn't really care, he's good for it.

We go to a department store and he comes out running with an industrial kitchen mixer. My ex is driving. The loss prevention/store dick comes out and follows us into traffic. At the light, we're waiting to turn left. A cop in the straight lane. The store dick pulls beside the cop in the turn-right lane. All three of us are looking at the guy from the store talking to the cop when we bump into the car in front of us.

My ex. She took her foot off the brake and we hit the ass of the Explorer in front of us. The lady driving the SUV gets out and says no harm done, leaves. The cop tells us to pull into a parking lot ahead.

She calls her sergeant. He comes out. Charges my friend with misdemeanor larceny. We leave.

And the man got us well for free because of this story. A happy ending, if you needed one.

Llamatown's picture
Llamatown from Prince Lake is reading Monsters of men March 24, 2012 - 10:08am

This is how it happened for me. This is how it could happen for you:

Catch a bus from Rwanda to Bunyonyi, Uganda. Start with a moto-taxi into the Nyabugogo bus depot while the sun finds dust on the hills across Kigali. You can lick the dust from the streets like icing sugar...it doesn't taste very good though. There‘ll be a breeze if you leave early enough and you’ll feel like you are about to take off into the Volcanos Mountains where God is said to come home to sleep. Weave your way through the hundreds of buses that rest in Nyabugogo and find the international ticket offices; they’re thrown against the back of a half-finished storm drain and if you fall in there you’re going to need a ladder and a life-jacket to find your way out.

Locate a ticket. You need to go as far as Kabale and it will only cost you 5000 RWF for a six hour road trip. Joke about the Muzungu price with the young bloke on the counter and wish him a good day. All of the prices are fair here but be sure to get your ticket. The bus won’t be where you think it is and you'll have to meet it somewhere nearby. It has trawled the long route from Bujumbura and has the swagger of a dog with sharp teeth and big balls. It will disregard everything in its way and lurch into a gas station while Rwandans scramble to throw their luggage on board. There is no logic here and you should count yourself lucky to have chatted with a pretty young Rwanda lady who shrugged her shoulders and smiled a lazy smile while explaining the racket.

Befriend a passenger if you can. He’ll trade English with your Kinyarwanda and pretend not to notice when you pronounce everything as if you have a flank of beef in your mouth. Don’t sit near the front of the bus. You don’t need to see the windshields of other vehicles as the bus driver flirts with the mathematics of mountain corners. Anything on the road is considered opposition. You probably shouldn’t look into ravines either. Other passengers have been burnt up on the way down. There are wreckages lingering amongst the plantation branches under the half-burnt sunset.

Assert yourself in the custom’s line on the border. Be respectful of the Rwandans officials and laugh at the jokes of the Ugandans. Weave amongst the trucks on the bridge over neutral territory and smile when you can. By now it will almost be dark. Don’t fall into the creek and avoid the temptation to flee into Uganda without paying. Share a few shillings and buy a chapatti; avoid the beef steak and chips in a bag. It is exactly what it is.


Get ready to be thrown from the bus in Kabale. They won’t stop for you to get off. This isn’t personal; it is simply that they are involved in a race with other buses and they’ll be flying until they kill somebody or reach Kampala. Once you’ve negotiated a taxi, prepare to relax by the lake in Bunyonyi. At night, the hippos become likely and maybe the crocodiles too. Watch a thunderstorm and drink a Tusker.

Use the internet if you need to know where any of these places are. Get out there and discover the beauty of everything that isn’t you. Be humble and stay rad. Cheers!
 

VicJeju's picture
VicJeju from Austin is reading Oryx & Crake October 19, 2012 - 7:18am

The older I get the less I like him