From Travels with Charley to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, road trips figure prominently in a host of our favorite books. That’s why we’re teaming up with Greyhound to encourage you to live out some of the most exciting chapters for us. Consider it an exercise in revisionist travel. Reports from the field are not only welcome; they’re expected. First up, one of the classics: Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous voyage from San Francisco to Los Angeles in On the Road.
On The Road brims with free-wheeling prose about women, drugs and driving, and we relish every one of its hedonistic moments. In one chapter, Salvatore “Sal” Paradise (Kerouac) abandons his post in San Francisco as a special policeman at a barracks for overseas workers. He hops a bus to LA, where he meets and falls in love with a young Mexican-American woman named Terry.
The Clifton’s Scene
While in LA, Sal and Terry “[eat] in a cafeteria downtown which was decorated to look like a grotto, with metal tits spurting everywhere and great impersonal stone buttockses belonging to deities and soapy Neptune. People ate lugubrious meals around the waterfalls, their faces green with marine sorrow.” We know of only one place that could fit such a description: the impossibly kitschy Clifton’s Pacific Seas at 618 South Olive Street.
We’re pretty sure we know why Sal and Terry ate at Clifton’s Pacific Seas. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t for the decor. Long before In Rainbows, Clifton’s was letting people pay only what they wanted. It was known as “The Cafeteria of the Golden Rule,” and patrons would give only what they thought was fair, per the neon “Pay What You Wish” sign.
Clifton’s Pacific Seas, which shut down shop in June of 1960, was the founding branch of the Clifton’s Cafeteria franchise. Clifton’s Cafeteria on South Broadway Street, pictured above, is the largest public cafeteria in the world, and the only Clifton’s left standing.
Coldwater Canyon Park
Though not directly mentioned in On the Road, Coldwater Canyon Park is the kind of place we could imagine Terry and Sal “picnicking.” We advise you do the same. A bucolic counterpoint to LA’s sprawling concrete, the park overlooks the San Fernando Valley, and plays host to a weekly summer performance series in the S. Mark Taper Auditorium. Among the performers slated for this summer are Paula Poundstone, Billy Valentine, and the ACE theatre players doing a live table reading of the screenplay from Airplane!
On the Road is purposefully opaque about what real-world locations Sal and Terry visit. Though not directly referenced in the text, Venice Beach probably ranked near the top of the couple’s list of LA squat spots. In the ’50s and ’60s, Venice became known as a hub of the Beat Generation, a warm place where musicians, artists, and hobos could well, be homeless. While in Venice, pop over to the LA Louver Gallery on North Venice Boulevard, where some of the biggest names in the LA arts scene are on display.
Go to Greyhound.com and travel the same SF to LA route that Sal did. Meet the love of your life, eat at Clifton’s, and hang on Venice Beach, but whatever you do, keep a rambling journal.