Jack Kerouac – “October in the Railroad Earth” (1957)

March 31, 2016 at 7:44 pm (Jack Kerouac, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)

There was a little alley in San Francisco back of the Southern Pacific station at Third and Townsend in redbrick of drowsy lazy afternoons with everybody at work in offices in the air you feel the impending rush of their commuter frenzy as soon they’ll be charging en masse from Market and Sansome buildings on foot and in buses and all well-dressed thru workingman Frisco of Walkup ?? truck drivers and even the poor grime-bemarked Third
Street of lost bums even Negros so hopeless and long left East and meanings of responsibility and try that now all they do is stand there spitting in the broken glass sometimes fifty in one afternoon against one wall at Third and Howard and here’s all
these Millbrae and San Carlos neat-necktied producers and commuters of America and Steel civilization rushing by with San Francisco Chronicles and green Call-Bulletins not even enough time to be disdainful, they’ve got to catch 130, 132, 134, 136 all the way up to 146 till the time of evening supper in homes of the railroad earth when high in the sky the magic stars ride above the following hotshot freight trains–it’s all in California, it’s all a
sea, I swim out of it in afternoons of sun hot meditation in my jeans with head on handkerchief on brakeman’s lantern or (if not working) on book, I look up at blue sky of perfect lostpurity and feel the warp of wood of old America beneath me and I have
insane conversations with Negroes in second-story windows above and everything is pouring in, the switching moves of boxcars in that little alley which is so much like the alleys of Lowell and I hear far off in the sense of coming night that engine calling our
mountains.

But it was that beautiful cut of clouds I could always see above the little S.P. alley, puffs floating by from Oakland or the Gate of Marin to the north or San Jose south, the clarity of Cal to break your heart. It was the fantastic drowse and drum hum of lum mum afternoon nathin’ to do, ole Frisco with end of land sadness–the people–the alley full of trucks and cars of businesses nearabouts and nobody knew or far from cared who I was all my life three thousand five hundred miles from birth-O opened up and at last belonged to me in Great America.

Now it’s night in Third Street the keen little neons and also yellow bulblights of impossible-to-believe flops with dark ruined shadows moving back of tom yellow shades like a degenerate China with no money-the cats in Annie’s Alley, the flop comes on, moans, rolls, the street is loaded with darkness. Blue sky above with stars hanging high over old hotel roofs and blowers of hotels moaning out dusts of interior, the grime inside the word in mouths falling out tooth by tooth, the reading rooms tick tock bigclock with creak chair and slantboards and old faces looking up over rimless spectacles bought in some West Virginia or Florida or Liverpool England pawnshop long before I was born and across rains they’ve come to the end of the land sadness end of the world gladness all you San Franciscos will have to fall eventually and burn again. But I’m walking and one night a bum fell into the hole of the construction job where they’re tearing a sewer by day the husky Pacific & Electric youths in torn jeans who work there often I think of going up to some of ’em like say blond ones with wild hair and tom shirts and say “You oughta apply for the railroad it’s much easier work you don’t stand around the street all day and you get much more pay” but this bum fell in the hole you saw his foot stick out, a British MG also driven by some eccentric once backed into the hole and as I came home from a long Saturday afternoon local to Hollister out of San Jose miles away across verdurous fields of prune and juice joy here’s this British MG backed and legs up wheels up into a pit and bums and cops standing around right outside the coffee shop-it was the way they fenced it
but he never had the nerve to do it due to the fact that he had no money and nowhere to go and O his father was dead and O his mother was dead and O his sister was dead and O his whereabout was dead was dead but and then at that time also I lay in my room on long Saturday afternoons listening to Jumpin’ George with my fifth of tokay no tea and just under the sheets laughed to hear the crazy music “Mama, he treats your daughter mean,” Mama, Papa, and don’t you come in here I’ll kill you etc. getting high by myself in room glooms and all wondrous knowing about the Negro the essential American out there always finding his solace his meaning in the fellaheen street and not in abstract morality ”
and even when he has a church you see the pastor out front bowing to the ladies on the make you hear his great vibrant voice on the sunny Sunday afternoon sidewalk full of sexual vibratos saying “Why yes Mam but de gospel do say that man was born of woman’s womb -” and no and so by that time I come crawling out of my warmsack and hit the street when I see the railroad ain’t gonna call me till 5 AM Sunday morn probably for a
local out of Bay Shore in fact always for a local out of Bay Shore and I go to the wailbar of all the wildbars in the world the one and only Third-and -Howard and there I go in and drink with the madmen and if I get drunk I git.

The whore who come up to me in there the night I was there with Al Buckle and said to me “You wanta play with me tonight Jim, and?” and I didn’t think I had enough money and later told this to Charley Low and he laughed and said “How do you know she wanted money always take the chance that she might be out just for love or just out for love you
know what I mean man don’t be a sucker.” She was a goodlooking doll and said “How would you like to oolyakoo with me mon?” and I stood there like a jerk and in fact bought
drink got drink drunk that night and in the 299 Club I was hit by the proprietor the band breaking up the fight before I had a chance to decide to hit him back which I didn’t do
and out on the street I tried to rush back in but they had locked the door and were looking at me thru the forbidden glass in the door with faces like undersea––I should have
played with her shurrouruuruuruuruuruuruurkdiei.

Jack Kerouac

1 Comment

  1. Beat Company said,

    “When the railroad trains moaned, and river-winds blew, bringing echoes through the vale, it was as if a wild hum of voices, the dear voices of everybody he had known, were crying: “Peter, Peter! Where are you going, Peter?” And a big soft gust of rain came down.
    He put up the collar of his jacket, and bowed his head, and hurried along.”

    The Town and the City

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