Sal, Dean, Marylou, and Ed all felt good getting on the road again. Sal felt as though they were “performing our one and noble function of the time, move.” Dean told everyone that what happened in New York was behind them, and everyone agreed, happy with “the purity of the road.”
The whole group is happy to be traveling again. Sal feels happiest when on the move and gets a sense of purity from the open road.
As they drove toward New Orleans, Dean told Marylou that they had to live together in San Francisco, where he’d be home “every two days and for twelve hours at a stretch,” while spending the rest of the time living with Camille. Sal had thought that Marylou was going to “switch” to him, and so began to worry that he would be left alone if Marylou and Dean stayed together.
Dean’s ideal arrangement in San Francisco is good for him, but extremely selfish. He essentially wants Marylou and Camille both to wait around for him while he does as he likes, seeing each of them as it pleases him.
Sal and everyone arrived in Washington D.C. at dawn on the day of Truman’s inauguration for his second term. They saw “great displays of war might...lined along Pennsylvania Avenue.” Ed drove and sped past a policeman, so they were stopped and questioned by the police, who were suspicious of everyone.
The “displays of war might” represent the public, political America rejected by Sal and his friends. The police are also an example of the conformity imposed by mainstream society that Sal and his friends resist.
The police charged Dean a 25 dollar fee. When Dean protested, they threatened to take him to jail. Dean was so mad he wanted to get a gun and shoot the cop who gave him the speeding ticket. Sal says that “the American police are involved in psychological warfare against those Americans who don’t frighten them with imposing papers and threats.”
Sal hates the police both for disrupting their free travels and because they represent the upholding of social norms and codes that Sal, Dean, and others are acting out against.
Dean picked up a bum in Virginia named Hyman Solomon, who said he went around to Jewish houses and asked them to give him money since he was a Jew, as well. He was reading a book that he didn’t know the title of, “as though he had found the real Torah where it belonged, in the wilderness.” Dean was delighted with Solomon’s eccentricity.
Solomon is even more of a wanderer than Sal, and Sal is interested in his eccentricity. His narration almost paints Solomon like a prophet.
In Testament, Virginia, Solomon said that he could “hustle up a few dollars,” and then join Dean and everyone for a ride to Alabama. But, when Solomon left to go get some money, he never came back, so Dean drove off. Dean said that their being stopped in Testament again, with its biblical name, and the “Biblical character” of Solomon proved God’s existence.
Solomon’s eccentricity has the downside of his being unreliable. The biblical symbolism suggested by Dean heightens the importance of their road trip, bringing up latent similarities to episodes of wandering in the Bible (Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt, for example).
Dean picked up another hitchhiker and then dropped him off in North Carolina. Sal drove along “the holy road,” through South Carolina at night while everyone else slept. Dean and Sal were overjoyed to be in the south at last. Dean pulled into a gas station and filled up the car without paying.
Sal finds a kind of spirituality in the road, which he calls holy. As usual, Dean doesn’t feel the need to pay for things like gas when he can get away with stealing it.
Dean began “telling his life story,” and told everyone how he lost his virginity at age nine. Ed talked to himself in the back of the car, repeatedly talking about he was a ghost that one night in Times Square. The car radio blared jazz as they approached New Orleans. Dean confidently said, “Now we’re going to get our kicks!”
Ed continues with his strange madness. Dean is excitedly certain that they will get their “kicks” in New Orleans. But, like anywhere else, does Dean and Sal’s time in New Orleans come with an expiration date, before they must get back to the road?
As they drove into the city, Dean pointed at various women and yelled, “Oh I love, love, love women!” He saw “Negroes...working in the hot afternoon,” and “dug them, hopping up and down in the heat.” They went to Old Bull Lee’s house outside of town.
Again, Dean superficially “digs” marginalized black people without considering their plight, as they labor in the hot afternoon.
Old Bull Lee wasn’t home, but Sal saw Jane Lee there, who used to live with Sal’s wife and him in New York. Galatea saw Ed and was upset, asking him, “Where have you been? Why did you do this to me?” Bull came home and was pleased to see Sal. Sal notes that Bull and his wife had an expensive drug habit and hardly ate. Their two children hardly ate either.
Galatea gives voice to all the frustrated people left behind by Ed, Dean, and Sal in their reckless obsession with their own freedom. Bull and Jane are examples of Sal’s eccentric, countercultural friends, though the fact that their children don’t eat much suggests there may be real and profound consequences to their wild behavior.
Sal gives a quick synopsis of Bull’s life. He travelled all around the world, reading and getting caught up in various drug trades. In New Orleans, Bull spent much of his time reading Shakespeare and the Mayan Codices. He had chains in his room that he used with his psychoanalyst, who had discovered that Bull had seven personalities. Sal describes Bull as a teacher: he, Dean, and Carlo had all learned from him.
Participating in drug trades, reading literature and mysticism, dabbling in psychoanalysis, and accepting his seven personalities, Bull is a prime example of the countercultural Beat eccentricities that Sal loves.
Bull asked Sal what he was doing traveling across the country, and Sal didn’t have much of an answer. Bull said that it wasn’t safe traveling around America without a gun and showed Sal his extensive gun collection, including a “German Scheintoth gas gun,” that could “knock out a hundred men.”
Sal doesn’t really have a reason for traveling. He simply likes the feeling of being on the road. Bull’s character gets stranger and stranger, as he reveals his dangerous gun collection.
Sal and Dean wanted to go out for a night on the town in New Orleans, but Bull said that New Orleans was dull. Sal said that there had to be “some ideal bars in town,” but Bull told him that the ideal bar didn’t exist in America. Bull finally agreed to take them to bars, and they went into New Orleans, leaving Jane at home with the kids.
Bull laments the present state of things in America, claiming the country has no ideal bars. Nonetheless, Bull, Sal and all their friends go out to have a good time in the city. Jane, however, stays home to be responsible for the children.
Sal, Dean, and Bull took a ferry into New Orleans. Sal watched as “the river poured down from mid-America by starlight,” and felt like everything in the world was one. He notes that they later found out a girl on the ferry had jumped off the boat that night and committed suicide. After going to some bars, they returned to Bull’s house, where Marylou took all sorts of different drugs together.
Going out with his friends and in transit, Sal feels at one with everything, and sees the river as important because it runs its course across so much of middle America. Not to be outdone by Bull or Jane, Marylou indulges in a variety of drugs herself.
Everyone drank and took drugs, playing out their “sad drama in the American night.” Sal wanted to go for a walk and look at the Mississippi River, but had to look at it through a fence. Bull complained about bureaucracy and unions.
Sal sees the experiences of his friends as epitomizing the “sad drama” of his generation’s America. The fence could represent the boundaries imposed by society that keep people from truly experiencing life.