I’m in an elevator in a bookstore with a middle-aged woman who’s carrying a Nora Roberts book, a student in a ‘clones T-shirt and pajama pants who’s looking at his phone, and a tall blond man in a tight herringbone sportscoat over tight faded jeans who is reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
I wonder if he knows the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.
That’s what Jack Kerouac said; I didn’t say it.
I’m a white-haired middle-aged woman who’s muddy from bicycling in the rain and my bicycle helmet is balanced on my basket of books.
“I hope we don’t get stuck in the elevator,” says the other middle-aged woman tossing her hair, staring at the blond man.
He says nothing.
“It’s a short ride,” I say.
She glares at me.
If you’re waiting for a punch line, there isn’t one.
Banter. I am not that friendly. I don’t often speak in elevators. Her banter was aimed at him; my banter was a aimed at covering up her banter.
I am so glad the top book in my basket is Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick–let’s go with the science fiction if we’re in an elevator watching a plump middle-aged woman hitting on a beautiful younger man. As the other middle-aged woman, I understand what she doesn’t want to understand: he is seeing her/us as maternal.
As a bicyclist, I have chatted with, and let’s face it, lived with men who read On the Road and who, like Kerouac’s Sal, take cross-country trips to San Francisco, only on bicycles instead of cars, and with a bit more than $50 in their pocket. They want you to take their picture at the beginning and end of their trips. They courteously fix your flat tire and then insist you ride fifty more miles. You camp and the bugs get in the tent while they update their Crazy Guy on a Bike page on their iPad, and then they say they’re too tired to ride back to the diner and isn’t there a can of soup? And then you have to explain that you will ride back to the diner in the dark by yourself if you have to because you are not heating up a can of soup when what you want is a hamburger.
The other middle-aged woman makes a desperate move and sidles closer to him . “What are you reading?”
DING. The elevator door opens.
Kerouac wrote, “I was surprised, as always, at how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
And, “They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there – and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see.”
No worries. The Beat women had to worry a little harder.