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Hitched up with Kerouac: Tim Z. Hernandez examines a literary tryst

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Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 11:49 am, Tue Dec 10, 2013.

One of the great triumphs of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road takes place when the ramblin’ man stays put for once. In this part of the book, the Beat writer — as the character Sal Paradise — meets Terry, a Chicana beauty he encounters on a Greyhound bus entering Los Angeles. She is fleeing her husband, leaving behind two kids and the migrant labor of the San Joaquin Valley’s grape fields. In Kerouac’s rendering, their carry out their tryst in typical bohemian fashion, making love and cavorting through scenes of urban poverty as if inspired by some sort of divine fire.

But then something unusual happens, at least for a footloose road novel devoted to cataloging the pleasures of leaving. Kerouac, or Sal, finds himself bound by the ties of family. Short on cash and needing to rescue the young woman’s two small children, the fledging couple repair to a tent in the migrant camp of Selma, California, where they work picking grapes and cotton to earn cash to run away to New York. But Terry questions whether she can trust the drifter to protect and provide for her family in a city far from home. The two lovers must agree to accept separate fates.

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