“Tucson is situated in beautiful mesquite riverbed country, overlooked by the snowy Catalina range. The city was one big construction job; the people transient, wild, ambitious, busy, gay; washlines, trailers; bustling downtown streets with banners; altogether very Californian. Fort Lowell Road, out where Hingham lived, wound along lovely riverbed trees in the flat desert.”1
In Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical On the Road, Dean Moriarty, Neal Cassidy in real life, and the narrator Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouac himself, crisscross the country from New York to San Francisco and many points in between while they explore the freedom of the open road, listening to jazz, chasing women, drinking, and searching for meaning in a post-World War II America. Their iconic Beat adventure only pivots upon Tucson for a brief moment, just long enough to borrow five dollars from Hal Hingman (Alan Harrington). The above description is a glimpse of the developing city through the eyes of one of America’s most beloved authors.
The visit to Tucson takes place in January of 1949, just before a population boom completely altered the face of Tucson. In 1950 the city’s population stood at 120,000. In 1960 it had jumped to 220,000. When Kerouac and Cassidy passed through the city, most of the east side of the modern city would have not been developed yet. A small area west of Craycroft along Fort Lowell, however, had become an enclave for artists when Pete, Nan, and Charles Bolsius transformed some of the buildings from the old Fort Lowell into beautiful residences, which attracted other artists. Near here Alan Harrington’s mother built a home, where he often stayed. Unlike the rest of the Fort Lowell corridor this area has remained relatively free of modern development and one wonders if any of the trees in the surrounding mesquite bosque are the same ones that Kerouac looked on more than sixty years ago.
Another detail that probably draws the notice of modern Tucsonans is Kerouac’s description of the snowy Catalina range. While any view of the Catalinas capped with snow is beautiful, those days seem to pass quickly. One wonders if Kerouac happened to buzz through Tucson within a couple days of a winter storm or if snow capped the mountains more often sixty years ago. Any Tucsonans remember there being more snow on the Catalinas in the past?
1Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin, 1976. 165. Print.
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