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“On the Road”

Third day on the Trans-American Railroad. I ran to the cafeteria in the lower deck of the observation car for a breakfast of straight black coffee and toasted bagel with cream cheese. “What are you reading, sir?” It was a soft voice, but there was something peremptory in the tone, like a cop’s trying to sound nice but not necessarily meaning it.

It had come from a short man with bushy mustache who had his eyes fixed on me. He wore a red baseball cap, a legend embroidered in white:

is my boss

“On the Road,” I responded. It was such a self-conscious choice that I was feeling embarrassed. But the man shook his head, in a gesture indicating he did not know Kerouac’s book.  “I’ll tell you what,” said the cafeteria attendant, “no kid reads these days but my seven-year-old boy just loves books.”

Then I grabbed my cardboard tray with the coffee and the bagel, and went up to the observation deck. As the arid landscape of Colorado ran past us, I turned to look what the girl a few seats down from me was reading: “On the Road.” But it was a different edition.

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Next on the Trans-American Railroad: Where Trains and Cars Come To Die

This is the sixteenth part of The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron, a travel diary. Please see the previous stories below:

The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron
The Trans-American Railroad (Part II)
Penn Station: The Journey Begins
Suburbia and the Ruins Outside Philadelphia
The Flies, the Blue Whale, and the Boatman on the Potomac
Descent into West Virginia
The Grain Express: How Tomorrow Moves
The Amish Travelers of the Old Order
The Color-Blind Passenger
To the Sides of the Railways
Away from Cincinnati, and the Sun
Chicago: Four Blocks Around Union Station
The Southwest Chief
The Crossing of the Mississippi
“Next Official Smoke Break: The Paris of the Prairies”

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