Did Kerouac have a role model?

Recently this columnist has been doing some fact-checking (not enough to jeopardize his standing as the World’s Laziest Journalist – just enough to keep himself amused on a quiet Summer afternoon) when we stumbled across the story of Will Parker contained in the October 16, 1939, issue of LIFE magazine.  The story (lest you forget) tells about the young man’s hitchhiking journey from San Francisco to New York City.  His travel pal, Hart Preston, took the photos used to illustrate the story of the pioneering hitchhiker.

Did Jack Kerouac read and become influenced by this pre-war adventure story?  He would have been about 17 years old in October of 1939.  Did he happen to read that particular issue of LIFE magazine?  Did Neal Cassidy?

This columnist, who was greatly influenced by Kerouac, recalls reading the Will Parker story in LIFE while doing some recreational reading during his college years, in the University library.  Was it as great an influence as the reading of “On the Road” and/or “Death in the Afternoon”?  Doesn’t it at least seem likely that Will Parker was one of the contributing factors?

Now matters get even murkier for the columnist because this information would be a very great topic for the readers at the Digihitch website, but previous attempts to jump through the digital hoops necessary to be able to cross post this column on that particular site, have proven to be an insurmountable obstacle.  Dang!  Woldn’t it have been marvelous to cross post some of the dispatches from Australia on that travel oriented site?

Which brings up this bit of insight:  when railroads were in the formative stage some brilliant planner advised them to facilitate the industry’s growth by adopting industry standards so that one company’s locomotives and passenger cars and box cars could avail themselves of travel opportunities on other firm’s right of way.  Universal standards gave them the bases for unlimited growth in the United States.   Is the fact that cross posting one column on three different sites causes some formatting challenges with each new venue, be a hint that the Internets still hasn’t learned the railroaders’ secret?  Could individual firms that want to have clients pay for their own unique scripting, be causing a “tower of babble” type delay in the growth of the Internets?

The Beat Museum in San Francisco, would probably find that a copy of this particular LIFE magazine would be a worthy addition to their library and or exhibition.  As luck would have it, while this installment of the Saturday Column was being written, we wandered into Hodgson’s Antiques in South Pasadena and found that they had copies of various issues of LIFE for sale, but, unfortunately, not the particular one with the Will Parker story in it.
Getting back to Will Parker (of the LIFE magazine fame), bloggers can find information and topics that haven’t been subjected to “overkill” on the Internet if they make an effort.   

Commenting on what paid pundits have just said, isn’t journalism and, quite often, it isn’t full of stunning insights and perceptive comments, but it is easier to do than actually going out and scrounging up original material. 

Take, for example, the topic of car-spotting.  If a columnist wants to use his own time and his own (or the one at the Pasadena Public Library?) computer for a bus-man’s holiday (15 yard penalty bad “on the road” pun!) and put some photos on his blog for Jersey Bill and a few other friends to see, then he has to go out and shoot some pictures.  Some of the pictures are not examples of Ansel Adams like technical perfection, but is there a market for sarcastic critical comments about car-spotting photos?  The only logical reaction to seeing photos on a car-spotting blog would be to go out in your own neighbor hood (such as Alameda?) and take and post your own photographs.  . 

What ever happened to Will Parker?  That question brings up a rather disturbing possibility and subsequent topic.  In 1939, what were the odds that a healthy young man of 21 would live to see his thirtieth birthday?  Did Darwin take into consideration for his “survival of the fittest” theory the fact that quite often humans send only their very best off to war leaving the home front to cope with survival of the species by providing the women with an available assortment of queers, former prisoners, mental defectives, and physically impaired men.  If Will Parker died in action, shouldn’t Jack Kerouac have, at least, mentioned him in the acknowledgements section of “On the Road”?

British Sci-fi writer John Christopher wrote about the intergalactic adventures of a young man named Will Parker, but we’ll leave it up to some future doctoral candidate in literature to assertain if there is a cause and effect link here or just a co-inky-dink.

Will Parker may have been a hitchhiking pioneer but he seems to disappear without a subsequent trace while the likes of Kerouac, Cassidey, and Alan Ginsburg were left to thrive and prosper among the hordes of lonely affection starved women in the United States.

The Will Parker issue of LIFE also had “mug shots” of the various new 1940 brands of cars in the Speaking of Pictures segment and featured a promotional story for the film titled “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

One of the “selling points” Parker used to help himself get rides was the fact that good current events chats were assured because he was carrying a portable radio on the journey that took 12 days and cost the traveler $23.60.

The photographer’s existence was basically ignored, which gives the story a bit of an “unrealistic” spin to it.
It’s obvious that this column isn’t an astounding example of the potential of the citizen journalist movement on the internet, but did you really want or need a columnist to add his voice to the chorus of disapproval the pundits have showered upon the Iranian elections and the American President’s response to it?  You do?  OK!  How about this:  Iran, that wasn’t very nice.  Shame on you.  Feel better now?

In summing up Will Parker’s adventure, the writer noted that Will Parker had by talking to the various 29 good Samaritans, who had given him a lift, conducted his own public opinion poll on the country’s mood.  On page 52, it was noted:  “Most were in favor of Social Security and keeping out of war.”  My how times have turned things around, since then, eh?

[Note:  does society change?  Wasn’t one of the few (only) newspapers which ran the death of Elvis Presley as the headline story on page one, the Santa Monica Evening Outlook?  Back then most newspapers didn’t want to compete with People magazine.]

Now, the disk jockey will play the Michael Jackson – Mick Jagger duet titled “State of Shock”  We’ll take a break.  Have a “moonwalk” type week.


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