I had an overnight guest last week at the Kerouac House.
His name was Adam, and he was traveling.
Not on vacation, not on a trip.
Just. . . traveling.
He didn’t have anywhere to be, he just wanted to keep moving.
So I took him in because he was living the Jack Kerouac life. And I knew if I didn’t, I’d kick myself for years to come.
I met Adam at the Short Attention Span Storytelling Hour. . . Or Thereabouts, a monthly literary reading event at Stardust Video & Coffee in Winter Park. He was one of the last readers of the evening, and he opened with a series of long wolf howls, which had us all looking at each other.
“Who is this weird dude?” we asked other telepathically. No one knew.
Then he said, “That’s the first track from my new album,” which made us all laugh. He was a short, skinny white guy with short hair, and wearing a bandana. He stood up and applauded for every performer. I liked that he did that.
Adam told us he liked to attend open mic nights, and perform pieces from a musical he had written. He recited the lyrics of a song he wrote, hummed another one, and encouraged us to hum with him. The theme of his recitation was to be alive in the moment. His performance was so unusual and captivating, the people who followed seemed a little. . . well, dead.
He also told us he had a heavy backpack, because it had a tent in it, and would anyone be willing to let him pitch his tent for the night in their backyard? That’s it. Just a place to camp for the night.
Whenever I hear requests for help, my first instinct is usually to offer it. I’m a helper. I’ve also been told this is not always a good thing, and so I’m a little cautious when I do so. Especially when it involves my family.
But as I was spending the night at the Kerouac House, I figured I was the only one at risk. I met Adam after the night ended, while I was talking with a friend outside, and offered him a room.
He seemed to hem and haw a bit, so I said, “You have to stay! It’s the Jack Kerouac House! It’s where Jack stayed after he wrote On The Road, his book about an epic road trip. Since you’re on one, you can sleep in his bed, maybe pick up some of his mojo.”
He accepted and went off to get his guitar and his backpack with the tent in it. I turned to my friend, Jessica. “If I’m dead tomorrow, you know who did it.” I promised to text her in the morning to let her know I wasn’t actually dead.
(Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.)
The rest of the night was very meditative. Adam did what he could to stay in the moment, to avoid labels and defining things, and to avoid talking a lot. He thought carefully about his answers before he gave them. His plan was to head to Mobile, Alabama the next morning, but when I asked him where he was heading after that, he didn’t know.
“Are you waiting for something in Mobile to inspire you?”
(2 second pause) “Yes,” he said.
Later, I asked him what he used to do. He said (4 second pause) he had been an in-house copywriter, working at a corporation in New York.
“What made you stop?”
(2 seconds)”I had a transformative personal experience,” was all he said. He didn’t elaborate any further. I didn’t push.
“Have you been writing about your travel experiences, or putting them online?”
(5 seconds) “I’d rather focus on being in the moment than worrying about remembering everything to tell it later. That detracts from my focus.” It was the longest thing he said to me all night.
Truth be told, it was a bit frustrating. I practice brevity in my writing, but only after I have a lot of information to build a story on. But Adam had this brevity thing down like a boss! Talking with him was like hearing a story with a Magnetic Poetry kit with some of the words missing.
The next morning, I made us a big breakfast. I didn’t want him to be hungry, since he had said on stage that his credit card was nearly maxed out. So I filled him up with eggs, sausage, and toast to at least get him through the day.
After breakfast, he asked for directions to Infusion Tea. It’s only two blocks from the Kerouac House, so he walked there, contacted Kris, one of the other writers in last night’s event, and spent a good part of the day with her, before catching the bus to Mobile, and the rest of his journey.
I remember a story in Outside magazine in 1993, about Chris McCandless, the young man who died in Alaska, after an adventure very much like Adam’s. Chris would set out for a city, guided by a final destination, but never planned the actual route or schedule.
He entered each new city as a stranger, and was fed and sheltered by people he met along the way. Sometimes, he would work in a restaurant kitchen in exchange for some food. It was an amazing nomadic existence, relying on the goodness and trust of other people. I wondered if Adam was going to be another Chris McCandless — albeit without the depressing end — and I didn’t want that opportunity to pass me by.
McCandless seemed like such a magical guy, like people loved him the moment they met him. Adam had some of that fire, and I wanted to warm my hands on it, even if it was only for a short time. I’ll never live Adam’s spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants life — the closest I get is going to bed at 3:00 am and getting up when I feel like — but I wanted to see what it looked like.
I’ve looked Adam up online, trying to find him, but no luck. It’s like he either erased himself, or his name really isn’t Adam Guthman.
If you meet him on one of his travels — because I think he’s going to have many more — give him a place to stay. Fill him with food. Be prepared for the slowest conversation you’ve ever had. And stay in the moment with him for as long as you can.