The downside of missing your stop on a New Jersey Transit train? A surly conductor who responds to the innocent question, “How many stops to Paterson?” by yelling, “This train is going to Trenton!” As if the person who asked the question should know that Paterson is not on the way to Trenton. But neither the questioner, me, nor my travel companion, the lovely Stephanie Nikolopoulos, are intimately familiar with the geography of New Jersey, and thus our 45-minute trip to Paterson turns into a one-hour-45-minute trip, with a course correction that involves a lengthy layover at Newark International before a nerve-wracking sprint up and down the out-of-order escalators of Secaucus.
But therein lies the upside of missing your stop on a New Jersey Transit train: an extra hour to talk with Stephanie—whose book, Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, co-written with Paul Maher, Jr. is imminent (and eminent!)—about writing, editing, research, reviews, publishing, promotion and everything else that an author can only discuss with another author without eyes glazing over. By the time we reached our final destination, the Paterson Museum, Stephanie and I were beat travellers in more ways than one, but that was perfect because we were there to celebrate the opening of an exhibit by our artist friend Jonathan Collins titled, coincidentally, Beat Traveller: New Landscapes.
Stephanie and I had connected on Facebook through our mutual interest in Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation. We met Jonathan, who shares our interest, at a David Amram concert at the Cornelia Street Café in the West Village, where Stephanie was reading an excerpt from her forthcoming book, backed by Amram’s Quartet. Stephanie and I had seen small prints of Jonathan’s watercolors but not the actual paintings and the first thing that blew us both away at his exhibit was seeing them full-size. As amazing as they were in a notebook, they were exponentially so four or five times larger on a wall—the detail, the color, the light, the luminosity.
Beat Traveller is a collection of alternately moody and radiant watercolors inspired by the journeys and places that figure in the lives and works of the Beats, all infused with the sensibility that propelled the Beat wanderlust. The paintings illuminate—and celebrate—the sometimes hidden beauty and “mystical qualities” often overlooked in the ordinary, the everyday and even the dreary. From Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, home of the famed City Lights Bookstore, to 9 Lupine Road in Lowell, Mass., Kerouac’s birthplace, to the Great Falls of Paterson, Jonathan uncovers a subject’s unseen essence.
Paterson holds a special significance: not only is it the launch pad for Sal and Dean’s adventures in On the Road, it’s the birthplace of Jonathan’s mother (who first met Jonathan’s father at the foot of the Great Falls) as well as Allen Ginsberg. The Paterson Museum itself is equally and serendipitously significant: in 1991, Jonathan attended a reading by Ginsberg, and chatted with Ginsberg’s life partner, poet Peter Orlovsky, in the very gallery where his exhibit is on display.
After an hour of catching up and enjoying an incredible selection of sweets, wine and cheeses, Stephanie and I bid Jonathan goodbye and headed back to New York aboard what turned out to be an extremely loud and extremely lubricated party train. We parted ways with the revelers in Secaucus, however, as they headed to Hoboken, looking for the heart of Saturday night, and Stephanie and I headed to Manhattan, knowing we’d already found it in Paterson.
Beat Traveller: New Landscapes by Jonathan Collins runs through October 6 at the Paterson Museum, 2 Market Street, Paterson, NJ. Telephone: 973.321.1260.