98 - 'On the Road' Map: Kerouac Traces His Trip

map-otr.jpg

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Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell (MA) Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, and in spite of his fancy name, his French-Canadian parents had to emigrate to Massachusetts to find work. When he died in St Petersburg (FL) 47 years later, Kerouac’s total estate amounted to under 100 dollars. Yet he’ll be immortal as long as books are read, if mainly for just one of his several works: ‘On the Road’, based on his hitchhiking trips around the US.


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Kerouac went to study at Columbia in New York on an athletics scholarship, but he quickly joined a group of iconoclastic young poets who later became known as the Beat Generation. Kerouac’s ‘Spontaneous Prose’, an improvised, almost jazz-like style of writing later better known as ‘Stream of Consciousness’, inspired other writers and artists such as Bob Dylan (although Truman Capote famously dissed the technique by saying "That’s not writing, that’s typing.")

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His desire to break free of social mores and restrictions intertwined with his experimentation with drugs – as an ‘expert’ in both, he became some sort of spiritual guru to the 1960s counterculture. He is both referred to as ‘King of the Beats’ as well as Father of the Hippies.

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In 1942, Kerouac joined the Merchant Marine and a year later, the US Navy. After the war, he was discharged on psychiatric grounds. He took to ‘drifting’ around the country, alternated with homely periods at home with his mom at Ozone Park in Queens, NYC.

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In three weeks in April 1951, Kerouac wrote ‘On the Road’, the book that would make him famous. But only belatedly: the book was first published six years later, and only after severe revisions demanded by the publisher, Viking Press. To mark the 50th anniversary of first publishing, an uncensored edition will be published this year.

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In ‘On the Road’, Kerouac tells the thinly veiled autobiographical tale of his trips through the US and Mexico with his friend Neal Cassady (‘Dean Moriarty’ in the book; Kerouacs narrator is called ‘Sal Paradise’). Interestingly, Kerouac never had a driver’s licence until he was 34 (in 1956), meaning that in the time of the ‘On the Road’ trips – to quote the title of a song by the band Guided by Voices – ‘Kerouac Never Drove, So He Never Drove Alone’.

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This map was found at the Kerouac Corner of a website called www.wordsareimportant.com. This map , apparently from one of Kerouac’s own diaries, shows the itinerary of a trip from July to October 1947, much of which would later serve as the backdrop for ‘On the Road’:

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New York City
\nChicago
\nDavenport
\nDes Moines
\nNorth Platte
\nCheyenne
\n(Denver
\nCentral City)
\nLaramie
\nSalt Lake
\nReno
\nSan Francisco
\nMadera
\nFresno
\nSelma
\nLos Angeles
\nPrescott
\nAlbuquerque
\nDalhart
\nKansas City
\nSt Louis
\nIndianapolis
\nColumbus
\nPittsburgh
\nWashington DC
\nNew York City

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.