That’s what they call them around here – Kerouac Hunters. These are the people who stop by the Jack Kerouac House here in Orlando unannounced and excited they have found the place where their favorite writer, their literary and cultural hero lived and wrote. The Hunters arrive regularly and today – there was yet another knock at my door.
A gentlemen from Alabama, traveling with his wife, came up the porch steps in mid-afternoon and stopped to look around. I could hear him talking to his wife.
“This is the place. There’s a sign on the door. Wow. This is it.”
He had heard about the house and its history – the apartment in the back, the small room – 10-x-10 – where Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums, where he entertained a Time Magazine photographer after On the Road made him famous, where Jack was living meagerly, nearly broke, writing at night when it was coolest. The neighbors could hear his typing until the dawn.
I answered the door.
“Hello,” he said. “Is this the place?”
Obviously I knew exactly what he was asking, and I knew he already knew the answer.
“Yes it is,” I said. “This is the place.”
“Wow. And you? Are the you writer living here now?”
We talked for 15 minutes about the house and Kerouac, and although I was working and didn’t offer to allow him inside, I did encourage him to look around the back of the house near the apartment entrance.
“So this is where he laid down on the ground to try to sweat out the flu?”
Kerouac came back from a road trip to Mexico and was ill. He slept on the ground in the Florida heat, hoping to rid his body of the sickness.
“And those steps there,” I said, gesturing with my hand, “that’s where he sat with a stack of oranges and his cat in his lap. There’s a famous photo of that moment.”
“Right there?” he said, pointing.
“Right there,” I replied.
He smiled, shook his head imagining Kerouac life here, and in awe of where he was standing.
There are few places in the world where American literary ghosts remain: Hemingway’s homes in Key West and in Cuba, and the Steinbeck House in California. But here in Orlando – there is something more. The Kerouac House is NOT a museum, not a pristine place where you can’t touch the history. No. Here you can live with the ghost, experience the lingering muse, and let it all sink into your soul.
“Are you feeling a little of Jack?” he asked.
“Every single day,” I said, “every single day.”