Somewhere in the pages of Kerouac’s great On the Road, (or maybe in one of the other works, sometimes all Kerouac runs together for me) as they are headed down the Western side of the Continental Divide somewhere in the Rockies, Jack and Neal decide to cut the engine on their car and just coast down so as to save money on gas. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I remember the awe with which Jack watched his friend control the careening vehicle (a Buick, in my mind) with the slightest of touches of his fingers on the wheel, screaming around corners and passing cars, topping out at 70 mph on roads you should barely drive at a walking pace.
What a revolutionary idea for today’s times! Gas costs a fortune, the engine spews crap into the air that is choking our planet, why not save the earth and a few bucks while going downhill? In Levanto, I have the advantage of very steep grades on which to try the theory out, and when I noticed the dangerously low fuel gauge on my car today as I loaded it back up with weed-whacker and chainsaw, grand old Jack came to mind. I had to try it.
Well, smack me in the arse if they weren’t right. From my lands to my house, it is a straight downhill shot. The engine idled along at the lowest of hums (a sound I am not usually familiar with since the muffler gave out) as I just put it in neutral and let her go. I got down as fast as I would have otherwise, but in so doing I had to train myself not to want to accelerate around the curves. With a little patience, the car picks up speed again quite nicely. It’s a strangely calming way to drive.
Jack and Neal did everything with great style. That’s why we have all been imitating them for generations. And once in a while, we can almost match them.