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Further Down the Road

Dec. 18, 2022

Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

I went for a hike last Sunday with a new acquaintance, P., who recently moved here from Guatemala; "The food in Mexico is so much better." An avid hiker, P. wanted to get out into nature. With that as our goal, mid-morning, we stopped on our way out of town to pick up my best friend, Veronica's dog, Canela. The truth be told, as much as I miss Vero since our relationship ended, in a simpler, more innocent way, I miss Canela more.

A remarkably short way out of town, off the road to Celaya, on the other side of Las Cabras, the vast open space that marks the edge of the Picacho Mountains is the place I go when I want to bathe in nature. The top of the last foothill is an extended grassy plateau punctuated by mesquite trees. It, and hundreds of acres on the slope skirting it, is ejido land, collectively-owned. Cows and horses graze there. The views only get better with each step up the hill.

P., a former wilderness guide, took our ascent slowly because of a recent back operation. I took it slow because that's how I take it. Still, climbing up to the plateau, we were both too winded for much talking. Once up and on the more or less level ground of the plateau, by way of making conversation, I mentioned two articles I wrote and published the last two weeks about beatnik and hippie, Neal Cassady. The second article followed upon a reaction I received after publishing the first; just as this, dear reader, the third, comes now from a reaction I got after publishing the second.

That later reaction came in the early afternoon of Saturday, the day before our hike, the day after publishing my second Cassady article on my Friday newsletter. I was riding my bicycle home from the rabbi's house, with a good meal and a few tequilas in me. I had just finished summiting Calle Refugio norte and crossed Orizaba when I saw my old friend Kami. I stopped to chat, to catch up and to catch my breath.

There on Refugio sur, right after our quick hellos, Kami began our conversation, volunteering, "I sent your article to Cassady's daughter," adding, "I'm not sure she'll like it." She continued:

"I met Cathy when we both volunteered for the Writers' Conference. She invited me to sit next to her at the volunteer meeting and in an extraordinary way we found out about each other in a few sentences. When she told me, 'My dad died in San Miguel,' I blurted out, 'Just like Neal Cassady.' Well, not like Neal Cassady, but exactly Neal Cassady.

"My on the road experiences going overland to India and Nepal, was similar to the Beats, while Cathy has led a rather more conservative life. I saw Allen Ginsburg in a pub in London when I was 18, I also saw him several times in Vancouver."

Kami having been on the road herself, a friendship ensued. Over the course of their relationship Cathy Cassady told of the difficulties her mother, a poet, suffered trying to get published as a woman, back in those truly misogynist times. There, on the narrow sidewalk of Refugio, Kami didn't reveal any confidences. But, anticipating Cathy's response to my article, she cautioned, "I'm not sure that she'll like it."

It's hard to live with anyone, let alone a larger than life figure like Neal Cassady. The difficult relationship between ego and leadership had been a main theme of my articles on Cassady; my conclusion being summed up by the observation that you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Having related most of this to P. on the plateau above Las Cabras with panoramic views of the region extending in every direction, he made reference to the dark side of the Sixties, one of its dark sides: "I read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test when I was twelve years old. I idolized the Merry Pranksters. But later I read about how they visited Dylan at Big Pink, and I got a different picture. They sponged and grubbed and wouldn't help with anything. They took all they could get and moved on."

P. went on to note the legendary physical prowess of the legendary entertainer: "Cassady could flip a short-handled sledge hammer twenty feet up into the air and catch it behind his back." He also made reference to a movie version of On the Road that got very little publicity and cast Cassady in a negative light, apparently including an incident of homosexual rape.

I don't know. High profile, out-of-the-box people always have their detractors. I tend to agree with the person who said, "If you don't have any enemies, you're not trying hard enough." I can only speak for myself, and I have, this light-dark tension being a central theme of my articles about the man. Recklessness is the other side of daring. Confidence slips easily into arrogance. Freedom is cousin to disorder.

I loved the Cassady-figure in my life, my buddy Chris in Vermont. A lot of people loved him. And a lot of us who did had problems with his arrogance. He was self-involved, riding over anyone who got, or didn't get out of his way. But his self, like Cassady's, was big and interesting, one that we all wanted to be involved with. I've always made allowance for the egos of artists. They have to believe in themselves. Chris, like Cassady, was an artist of life; the world was his canvas.

Monday, the day after my hike with P. above Las Cabras, Cathy Cassady wrote me:

Hi David, This is Cathy Cassady, Neal and Carolyn Cassady's oldest. I read with interest your two posts that included info about Dad in SMA. (I ADORE SMA! I got to spend two glorious weex there in Feb. 2017 when I volunteered at their annual writers' conference... thankfully before COVID.) I see someone already corrected you when you said Dad was drinking with Kerouac the night Dad died. I am surprised that you didn't research your info before you wrote. The facts are easy to find. For example, Dad was walking to Celaya to retrieve some items he'd left there the night he was found adjacent to the RR trax (pg. 316 in NEAL CASSADY; THE FAST LIFE OF A BEAT HERO; and pgs. 424-427 in Mom's memoir OFF THE ROAD). And Tom Wolfe write Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, not Kesey. Just FYI.

Otherwise, I'm intrigued by your pieces. 😁

A little short of research material, I didn't get all my facts straight. But, having intrigued his daughter, I must have been dead on with the spirit. And, anyway, in some close-by, alternate universe, Cassady was drinking with Kerouac that fateful night... and still is.

It's impossible to understand Cassady, and certainly not the Sixties, without taking into account LSD. Recently revitalized research into LSD's therapeutic efficacy corroborates what anecdotally we've known all along: LSD ties It all together, the big It, the whole, holistic shebang. Allowing normally repressed neural synapses to fire free, LSD reveals connections, the meta-completion, the gestalt of gestalts, God. Seeing the Divine Essence is too much for some folks; they never come down, never reconstitute as an Earthling. But in the right dose, for the right patient, the effects are liberating, ultimately reassuring.

These articles have been a meditation on what I've learned from Chris, a making the lessons more fully my own. I've imagined that in writing this series I've been incarnating, taking in, planting more deeply that which perhaps had only rubbed off, somewhat superficially, during the years I spent close in his company. Chief among his gifts to me was his reassuring, can-do attitude, his conviction that everything will work out. But it's dawned on me, writing this trio of double eulogies, three articles to Chris and Cassady, that I've been getting the tense of this reassuring wrong. It's not a future event, Everything is already okay. It's good, and It's now. The work is accomplished. I'm in position. All I have to do is stand up on the board and surf the wave. Cowabunga!

P. loved the outing. Next time he wants to go deeper into the Picachos, around the next rise, where we saw three people hiking out. Sure. Why not? If Cassady walked back and forth to Comonfort, I can at least walk over the next mountain.

Canela also loved our trek, comporting herself perfectly throughout. When we returned her to Vero's at day's end, and I gave her a meaty bone on parting, P. confessed, "I'm really not a dog person, but this is a great dog."


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