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An E-Book of Turn-By-Turn Directions Lets You Literally Follow Jack Kerouac 'On the Road'

The only people for this Google e-book are the mad ones.
February 10, 2014, 7:20pm

Image: Double Feature/Flickr

How do you venerate the irreverent? Like, if you really admire someone who forges his or her own path, isn’t the best homage really no homage whatsoever? For instance, if you really admire the bravery of Jack Kerouac and his devil-may-care attitude, one could argue that a road trip that follows On the Road turn-by-turn is really the antithesis of the whole point of that novel.

But then, maybe the postmodern—by which I mean, most Tumblr-esque—thing to do is to get over yourself and acknowledge that someone came before you. There are definitely better ways to do a 17,527 mile road trip, but if you want to copy Kerouac pace for pace, there’s now a Google eBook that you can follow across America and back again. All you need to provide are your own Levis and mescaline, I guess.

A German college student named Gregor Weichbrodt took every geographic point mentioned in On the Road, plugged them into Google Maps, and produced a 45-page manual of driving directions that theoretically traces the paths taken by Sal Paradise across post-war America down into Mexico.

The prose is a lot more propulsive and focused than On the Road—“Parts of this road are closed Mon-Fri 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Entering New Jersey. Continue onto NJ-495 W”—but lacks the more lyrical passages and memorable characters. Well, it lacks lyricism and characters completely. If it’s possible to get a TomTom that says “Yes yes,” in between directions, that might be worth the investment, as the trip takes 272 hours.

At first glance this seems like something that would have taken a long time commitment and a lot of careful, meticulous work, which sounds like the least Kerouacian endeavor possible, but Weichbrodt told PRI that the project “was pretty easy and it took me a half an hour or so.”

He wrote a little bit of code that allowed him to put in a bunch of routes into Google, entered all the locations mentioned, and hit enter. No scrolls necessary. Weichbrodt told PRI that his book is conceptual, to be taken as an idea, but if you want a physical copy of On the Road for 17,527 miles it’s available via Lulu, in addition to the ebook. As we all learned from avant-garde poet Kenneth Goldsmith's attempt to print the internet, for the trees, conceptual art is rarely completely conceptual. It should come as no surprise that the project is part of an exhibition called "Poetry Will Be Made By All," which is partnered in association with the Goldsmith-founded Ubuweb.

"I'm not really a fan of Jack Kerouac, I have to admit,” Weichbrodt said. “I don't even ... I haven’t read the whole book.” Which, as any undergraduate can tell you, shouldn’t get in the way of describing yourself as a fan.

So if you’re not up for a continent-wide Bloomsday celebration, or if you’re tired of giving Infinite Jest tours of Boston, here’s yet another way to make literature come to life without reading. As for me, I’ll be in Spain, recovering from my “drink all the drinks mentioned in The Sun Also Rises”​ project.