Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ followed on the road via Google Maps
Gregor Weichbrodt’s “On the Road for 17527 Miles” traces Beat classic’s progress in precise geographical details
“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream,” wrote Jack Kerouac, famously, in On the Road. “Head northwest on W 47th St toward 7th Ave. Take the 1st left onto 7th Ave. Turn right onto W 39th St,” writes Gregor Weichbrodt, less poetically but more accurately, in On the Road for 17527 Miles, a new book tracing the Beat writer’s famous journey across America – with the aid of Google Map
Going through On the Road with a fine toothcomb, Weichbrodt took the “exact and approximate” spots to which the author – via his alter ego Sal Paradise – travelled, and entered them into Google’s Direction Service. “The result is a huge direction instruction of 55 pages,” says the German student. “All in all, as Google shows, the journey takes 272.26 hours (for 17,527 miles).”
Weichbrodt’s chapters match those of Kerouac’s original. He has now self-published the book, which is also part of the current exhibition Poetry Will Be Made By All! in Zurich, and has, he says, sold six copies so far.
“To me it’s a concept, an idea. It’s odd in which rational ways we discover, travel the world,” he said. “If Kerouac had a GPS system, he would have probably felt less free. I find it rather discouraging to go on self-discovery with a bunch of route directions.” On the Road, he added, “fitted the idea of the concept I had in mind, but I’m not a beatnik groupie”.
Weichbrodt has always, he said, been “curious about words and language”, and has experimented with text in the past, turning the transcript from the final of the live television show Germany’s Next Top Model into classic drama layout, including stage directions and commercial breaks.
In 2011, a software developer came up with an algorithm enabling him to find a pub-free route through the streets of Dublin – just as Leopold Bloom once dreamed in James Joyce’s most famous novel Ulysses. (“Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub.”)
And in 2009, a Stephen King fan released a version of the manuscript written by the character Jack Torrance in The Shining, repeating the words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” for 80 pages, in different formats.
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