“On The Sea” with Ben Harrison
Jack Kerouac is the name that comes to mind when speaking about ‘life on the road.’ He wrote about friends, places, and people he met along the way, and his mannerisms have been described as everything from dark to poetic jazz; a man who simply propelled his words on a sheet of paper that lingered in readers’ minds long after they’d moved on.
For many weeks we have been speaking about a man by the name of Ben Harrison. From musician to writer to art gallery owner – the one thing that has always stood out about Mr. Harrison is his ability to tell a tale, and lead readers or listeners into another world for a while. And, yes, his words are remembered long after the book or the CD is put down, as well.
Two weeks ago I brought to everyone’s attention a new book that Ben Harrison has been writing, a book about a journey through life. This is a book that follows the author and his family as they hit – in this case, the sea – and travel to unknown places while meeting up with friends and enemies along the way. From excitement to thrills to humor to hardship, Ben Harrison offers up the mental photographs of all he and his family had been a part of during their Costa Rican Adventure, and the story is much like Kerouac’s in the fact that the reader is brought along on a brilliant ride.
Recently I received the full copy of this book and it brought about all those emotions I’ve described. Why is that? Because it was real. This is the very real adventure of Ben Harrison’s life. The journey that was taken at sea, after building his own boat and setting sail with his wife and Irish setter, draws readers in as much as Kerouac’s books did. In fact, as a writer I was completely attracted to the writing style, and his capacity to transform everyday events into sacred moments of beauty. The writing is honest, and conveys stories with a style that employs spontaneity.
For a brief recap, it was in 1974 that Ben Harrison, his wife, Helen and Ralph, their Irish setter, left San Francisco and drove to Costa Rica in a ‘67 Pontiac Executive. Upon arrival, they took on the extraordinary job of constructing a thirty-eight-foot sailboat that became their home for the next eleven years.
From the very beginning I felt as if I was in the car with Ben Harrison and family when he brought me to the “Border Crossing.” I was driving down Highway 1 in California wearing my own jacket, as I watched the seagulls soaring against a backdrop of the deep, blue Pacific Ocean foaming and surging hundreds of feet below. This is when they were headed to their final visit with marine architect W.I.B. “Bill” Crealock. I could almost see this man in my mind’s eye, the impeccable British accent, and the skill and talent that he owned in spades when it came to everything from hull extensions to an aft-cockpit cutter with a hull extension of two feet.
As a reader, I truly felt that I was in:
The night of a new moon, the only illumination on this dark, dark night came from fluorescent light that spilled from the open doors of two stark one-room cantinas and the glow of outdoor fires. Spanish music from speakers set out in front of one of the bars played loudly.
Encircled by smiling Mexicans speaking rapidly trying to sell us something, it was impossible for me not to imagine what had to be going through Helen’s mind because the same thoughts were going through mine. It’s one thing to conjure up exotic images of foreign lands and romantic Latin American moonlit nights in a cozy living room in California, and quite another to experience it close up. Not far from us was a rat, almost as big as some of the scrawny dogs begging for food, who waddled nonchalantly into a pile of garbage.
Writing is an art; it’s a form of beauty that can either be stunning, terrifying, seductive, or everything all at the same time. And early on with Costa Rican Adventure I learned that Ben Harrison was a man who owned that beauty and the ability to make note of all things around him – even the most miniscule detail that would go unnoticed by many.
But the ‘travel’ is not all that this book will be remembered for after it has its ‘time in the sun’ one day soon. Ben Harrison does a brilliant job of allowing each and every reader to stay by his side during the most personal moments of his journey. From Chapter Two where he speaks about his wedding and how they were indeed, on top of the world; to bringing the Royal Irish Ralph into readers’ sights and making them feel so at home with the ever-vigilant guard that they feel as if they are sitting beside him in the back seat keeping watch over the family and eyeing the scenery rolling on by.
Every step of the journey is highlighted with memorable words, as well as emotions that many will place in their personal Hall of Fame for years to come. Places once completely unfamiliar to me, such as Costa Rica, now feel as if they’re locations I was born in. When I went with Ben Harrison to Panama for a stamp I, too, felt the temperature change from the seventy-degree mountainous to the brutal ninety-degree tropical weather. I could feel the boat that had once overlooked Alajuela, steady as a rock, begin rocking with the waves, and I could hear the water slapping against the hull at night in anchorages where disaster seemed always to be lurking. Isla Providencia, Colombia, Roatán, Honduras, up the Río Dulce in Guatemala, and on to Cozumel…I was there.
For a long time Kerouac was kept hidden in the subterranean catacombs of American Literature, until it was slowly realized that his creative force – whether you liked it or not – was up into the realms of Capote. On The Road is now listed among the top one hundred notable books of all time, and people flocked to see the near mythical “On The Road Scroll” that toured the country. Using a manual typewriter in a New York City loft, Jack Kerouac produced the original manuscript of On the Road during a three-week period in the spring of 1951. Kerouac produced this continuous scroll by taping pages of semi-translucent paper together to feed the typewriter in order to write without interruption.
Thankfully, when it comes to Ben Harrison and his work, Costa Rican Adventure, technology has improved a great deal. What no one will ever be able to debate is the fact that both of the men I refer to in this article were committed to telling their story – and both are truly unforgettable. Writing commitment is seen, heard and felt – and Ben Harrison’s very own “On The Road” could well be the masterpiece that’s noted when the next committed scribe comes along.
Until Next Time, Everybody.
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