I just returned to Anchorage after three weeks seeing America, mostly by rail. The trip began in Portland and continued through Spokane, Minneapolis, New York and Boston.
There were sweet moments to savor. Daybreak over Whitefish, Mont. Nightfall in the prairie of western North Dakota. Approaching Chicago on a crystal clear afternoon, sky scrapers shimmering in the distance.
But the sweetest moment occurred before my wife and I boarded Amtrak.
My brother-in-law and I were in a Portland book store browsing through fiction. In the "B" section, there was Samuel Beckett. In the "M," Henry Miller and Norman Mailer. Other writers interested us too but in passing.
My brother-in-law David Brown and I met in September 1963, our first day of college. We have visited bookstores together ever since. The visits are episodic because we live far apart. But they continue.
When we were young, Beckett, Miller, Mailer invited us into the future. Beckett the pure artist unbowed by the indifference and absurdity of the universe. Miller the expatriate whose sexual conquests inflamed hope and irreverence provoked laughter. And Norman Mailer? The writer with the courage to reveal himself nakedly to the world - and make literary war on the American Establishment.
We weren't going to follow directly in their path -- nobody could -- but they provided inspiration to young men wondering what might lie ahead. When I visited Paris, I immediately thought of Henry Miller.
Now that David and I are more than 60, what do Beckett, Miller and Mailer mean to us? They're old friends who have been with us all the way. Their words resonate not because of what's in front of us but because of what's behind us. What we have seen, done, learned -- with their help. It's a lucky man with friends like this to guide him through life. And a lucky man with a friend for almost half a century like David Brown.
Michael Carey is a former editorial page editor of the Daily News.