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lundi 6 août 2012

Tribute of Al Hinkle, San Jose, CA, USA.

I love the idea of this community scroll, honoring the life, works and
influence of my friend, Jack Kerouac.

I want to tell everyone about my time with Jack. A small part of it you
already know; that trip in the Hudson in ’49 with Jack, Neal and Luanne
Cassady, myself and my new wife Helen (for a bit of the trip, anyway) – or
Sal, Dean and Marylou, and Big Ed and Galatea.  The first time I read On
the Road – no, I didn’t so much read it as hear it in my head like a cool
jazz number, just tumbling and flowing around and pulling me along for the
trip – I realized that Jack had a unique way of seeing things. He had a
great shyness and a quiet intensity about him, but I think that was
because he constantly observed and internally recorded everything he
experienced, filtering it all through his own unique lens. On the Road
really blew my mind. It was amazing, and I am honored that Jack included
me, Big Ed Dunkel.

But that was three weeks out of a lifetime of friendship. Jack and I
shared more than that. When I think of Jack, more often than not isn’t as
a world famous author, but as a railroad brakeman, a job I happily helped
him get, as I had helped Neal Cassady do a few years before. I loved my
job, so much I would have done it for free, and selfishly, I wanted my
buddies close around me, enjoying it as much as I did. I was lucky in that
Jack did spend a few months in two different years. Too bad – it was only
for a very short time in his all too short life.

This last week, August 2, 2102, I had breakfast with a group of retired
brakemen and conductors. One of the fellas asked, “Say, Al, when is that
movie about Jack coming out?”, and he reminded me that he worked with Jack
as a brakeman on “Sherman’s Local” (Jack’s nickname for Conductor Papa
Herman’s Local) back in the early 1950’s.

“Sherman’s Local” was a local freight which spent all day, every day
switching cars in and out of the industrial tracks. Jack didn’t enjoy this
monotonous work. No, what Jack really loved was riding in the caboose, looking
out the window on the through freight trains, or riding up on the engine,
feeling the clickety-clack of the rails under him. Another rhythm of life
to enjoy. More quiet time to observe, record and interpret. And to write
“October in the Railroad Earth”, 3500 miles from birth-o.

For most of Jack’s time on the railroad, he chose to live in a really
cheap hotel close to the railroad depot. He bought his work clothes from
the Salvation Army or Goodwill. He ate in the cheap beaneries, and
especially liked the cheap but good food in Chinatown. Jack’s goal was to
save as much money as possible, so that when he was laid off the railroad,
he could go to México and write, and write, and write. And this he did
very well. It’s why we’re all here today, writing these tributes.

After his second season, Jack told me he had only cashed two of his nine
paychecks. He saved the others seven and upon being laid off, bought
American Express traveler’s checks, and headed to México. Bill Burroughs
was down there, and it was very cheap living, as he said.

But the real reason for going to México was to get away from distractions
– too many people, too much noise, too many demands on his time. México
offered a quiet paradise that allowed Jack to let it all out the way he
knew it should be. For that, we are all grateful.

Jack, Neal and I had a lot of good buddy times together in North Beach.
And I often wished Jack could have come back and spent a third or fourth
season on the railroad with Neal and I. But the New York area was home,
and fame was calling for him to hurry up – a much stronger call than the
clickety-clack of the rails. Thanks for the memories, Jack. I miss you, my

Al Hinkle
Age 85
San Jose, CA

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