Cyclists get on the road for Kerouac in St. Pete

click to enlarge Riders gather to register for the Kerouac in Paradise Bike Tour. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
Riders gather to register for the Kerouac in Paradise Bike Tour.

On Sunday, more than 100 Jack Kerouac fans, Beat-nuts, lit geeks, cyclists and assorted beautiful-day aficionados gathered outside dive bar The Flamingo to take part in a cycling tour of the author/tragic figure's St. Pete haunts. Organized by Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival executive director and all-around community arts force Margaret Murray and friends, the first-ever Kerouac in Paradise Bike Tour exceeded all expectations.

Considering the number of participants, a couple of flat tires and broken bike chains, and the ire of a few impatient, asinine motorists, the three-hour, ten-mile tour flowed surprisingly smoothly from downtown St. Pete west across U.S. 19 to Kerouac's last Pinellas abode at 5169 10th Avenue North and back again. Other stops included the St. Petersburg Police Department (where Kerouac spent a drunken Thanksgiving for the crime of public urination), a stretch of Central Avenue between 21st and 23rd Streets where some of the writer's favorite bars once stood, and St. Anthony's Hospital, where Kerouac died.

click to enlarge Kerouac's St. Petersburg home. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
Kerouac's St. Petersburg home.
At each stop, Murray — who conceived the tour as part of her masters thesis for Savannah College of Art & Design — gave a brief and informative recounting of the location's relevance to Kerouac's life, including funny anecdotes and resonant details. While the crowd rested and poked around Kerouac's home, Friends of Kerouac's House VP and WMNF personality Pete Gallagher read a brief note to the author he'd found in the mailbox that morning (one of hundreds left over the years), written on a receipt and saying simply, "Dear Jack, you make the sky less empty — Steve."
click to enlarge Margaret Murray gives some background at Kerouac's house. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
Margaret Murray gives some background at Kerouac's house.
The tour ended on a down note at St. Anthony's, where Murray played audio of Kerouac's close friend (and former Bay area musician) Ron Lowe recounting the night Kerouac passed away in grisly, emotional detail.

The mood lightened back at The Flamingo, however, as the drinks flowed, including Kerouac's own beloved "shot and a wash" — a bolt of whiskey with a half-beer chaser — and WMNF provided tunes and a raffle. Mitzi Gordon's Bluebird Book Bus was on hand with a number of titles by the Beats, and Pitas on the Run's food truck served up killer falafel, among other wraps.

Given the overwhelming success of Sunday's ride, Murray is already considering another Kerouac in Paradise Bike Tour for some time in the fall.

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