‘On The Road’ and the Lasting Impact of Beat Style

Jack Kerouac On The Radio

Read on esquire.com

Drive all night, stopping only for gas or bottomless black drip. Hear the cruck of a cream cup against a cracked saucer, a greasy spoon clinking on cold formica, the shhhhh of granulated sugar pouring out of a Domino packet like an overturned hourglass. The murmur of conversation two tables over from people you’ll never know talking about things you’ll never know. A soft pack of Camels poking out of the left breast pocket of your jean jacket, a triple-thick plaid underneath. A pair of 501’s cuffed above suede chukka boots under the table, probably rubbing against a pair of heels on the other side of the booth.

This could be 1957, or it could be today. The world that Jack Kerouac mythologized in On The Road—and the influential style of the Beats with whom he roamed—has remained in the American consciousness since it first crashed in, swinging to Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman.

Viking Press published On The Road 57 years ago today. Take a walk through New York, Chicago, Denver, or San Francisco to see the Beats’ lasting impact. It’s there, and it’s not leaving anytime soon.

We still drape ourselves in denim and chambray. We still wear tweed sport coats and throw billowy plaid scarves around our necks. We still go to bars in chinos and relaxed cotton oxfords. We still own wayfarers and corduroys and dark rimmed glasses and cocked back beanies and boxy sweaters and bold, thick, plaid shirts that feel better than almost anything else on any given evening.

And most of us, most days, still want to quit our jobs and drive all night, just to see where we end up. Happy birthday, On The Road. Thanks for all you taught us.