Thursday, January 26, 2017
*****The Big Sur Café- With The “King Of The Beats” Jeanbon Kerouac In Mind
*****The Big Sur Café- With The “King Of The Beats” Jeanbon Kerouac In Mind
From The Pen Of Zack James
Josh Breslin, as he drove in the pitch black night up California Highway 156 to connect with U.S. 101 and the San Francisco Airport back to Boston. On arrival there then from there up to his old hometown of Olde Saco to which he had recently returned after long years of what he called “shaking the dust of the old town” off his shoes like many a guy before him, and after too, thought that it had been a long time since he had gotten up this early to head, well, to head anywhere. He had in an excess of caution decided to leave at three o’clock in the morning from the hotel he had been staying at in downtown Monterrey near famous Cannery Row (romantically and literarily famous as a scene in some of John Steinbeck’s novels from the 1920s and 1930s, as a site of some of the stop-off 1950s “beat” stuff if for no other reason than the bus stopped there before you took a taxi to Big Sur or thumbed depending on your finances and as famed 1960s Pops musical locale where the likes of Jimi Hendricks and Janis Joplin roe to the cream on top although now just another tourist magnet complete with Steinbeck this and that for sullen shoppers and diners who found their way east of Eden) and head up to the airport in order to avoid the traffic jams that he had inevitably encountered on previous trips around farm country Gilroy (the garlic or onion capital of the world, maybe both, but you got that strong smell in any case), and high tech Silicon Valley where the workers are as wedded to their automobiles as any other place in America which he would pass on the way up.
This excess of caution not a mere expression of an old man who is mired in a whole cycle of cautions from doctors to lawyers to ex-wives to current flame (Lana Malloy by name) since his flight was not to leave to fly Boston until about noon and even giving the most unusual hold-ups and delays in processing at the airport he would not need to arrive there to return his rented car until about ten. So getting up some seven hours plus early on a trip of about one hundred miles or so and normally without traffic snarls about a two hour drive did seem an excess of caution.
But something else was going on in Josh’s mind that pitch black night (complete with a period of dense fog about thirty miles up as he hit a seashore belt and the fog just rolled in without warnings) for he had had the opportunity to have avoided both getting up early and getting snarled in hideous California highway traffic by the expedient of heading to the airport the previous day and taken refuge in a motel that was within a short distance of the airport, maybe five miles when he checked on his loyalty program hotel site. Josh though had gone down to Monterey after a writers’ conference in San Francisco which had ended a couple of days before in order travel to Big Sur and some ancient memories there had stirred something in him that he did not want to leave the area until the last possible moment so he had decided to stay in Monterrey and leave early in the morning for the airport.
That scheduled departure plan set Josh then got an idea in his head, an idea that had driven him many times before when he had first gone out to California in the summer of love, 1967 version, that he would dash to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun came up and then head to the airport. He had to laugh, as he threw an aspirin down his throat and then some water to wash the tablet down in order to ward off a coming migraine headache that the trip, that this little trip to Big Sur that he had finished the day before, the first time in maybe forty years he had been there had him acting like a young wild kid again.
Funny as well that only a few days before he had been tired, very tired a condition that came on him more often of late as one of the six billion “growing old sucks” symptoms of that process, after the conference. Now he was blazing trails again, at least in his mind. The conference on the fate of post-modern writing in the age of the Internet with the usual crowd of literary critics and other hangers-on in tow to drink the free liquor and eat the free food had been sponsored by a major publishing company, The Globe Group. He had written articles for The Blazing Sun when the original operation had started out as a shoestring alternative magazine in the Village in about 1968, had started out as an alternative to Time, Life, Newsweek, Look, an alternative to all the safe subscription magazines delivered to leafy suburban homes and available at urban newsstands for the nine to fivers of the old world for those who, by choice, had no home, leafy or otherwise, and no serious work history.
Or rather the audience pitched to had no fixed abode, since the brethren were living some vicarious existences out of a knapsack just like Josh and his friends whom he collected along the way had been doing when he joined Captain Crunch’s merry pranksters (small case to distinguish them from the more famous Ken Kesey mad monk Merry Pranksters written about in their time by Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson) the first time he came out and found himself on Russian Hill in Frisco town looking for dope and finding this giant old time yellow brick road converted school bus parked in a small park there and made himself at home, after they made him welcome (including providing some sweet baby James dope that he had been searching for since the minute he hit town).
Still the iterant, the travelling nation hippie itinerants of the time to draw a big distinction from the winos, drunks, hoboes, bums and tramps who populated the “jungle” camps along railroad tracks, arroyos, river beds and under bridges who had no use for magazines or newspapers except as pillows against a hard night’s sleep along a river or on those unfriendly chairs at the Greyhound bus station needed, wanted to know what was going on in other parts of “youth nation,” wanted to know what new madness was up, wanted to know where to get decent dope, and who was performing and where in the acid-rock etched night (groups like the Dead, the Doors, the Airplane leading the pack then). That magazine had long ago turned the corner back to Time/Life/Look/Newsweek land but the publisher Mac McDowell who still sported mutton chop whiskers as he had in the old days although these days he has them trimmed by his stylist, Marcus, at a very steep price at his mansion up in Marin County always invited him out, and paid his expenses, whenever there was a conference about some facet of the 1960s that the younger “post-modernist” writers in his stable (guys like Kenny Johnson the author of the bests-seller Thrill were asking about. So Mac would bring out wirey, wiley old veterans like Josh to spice up what after all would be just another academic conference and to make Mac look like some kind of hipster rather than the balding “sell-out that he had become (which Josh had mentioned in his conference presentation but which Mac just laughed at, laughed at as long as he can keep that Marin mansion. Still Josh felt he provided some useful background stuff now that you can find lots of information about that 1960s “golden age” (Mac’s term not his) to whet your appetite on Wikipedia or more fruitfully by going on YouTube where almost all the music of the time and other ephemera can be watched with some benefit.
Despite Josh’s tiredness, and a bit of crankiness as well when the young kid writers wanted to neglect the political side, the Vietnam War side, the rebellion against parents side of what the 1960s had been about for the lowdown on the rock festival, summer of love, Golden Gate Park at sunset loaded with dope and lack of hubris side, he decided to take a few days to go down to see Big Sur once again. He figured who knew when he would get another chance and at the age of seventy-two the actuarial tables were calling his number, or wanted to. He would have preferred to have taken the trip down with Lana, a hometown woman, whom he had finally settled in with up in Olde Saco after three, count them, failed marriages, a parcel of kids most of whom turned out okay, plenty of college tuitions and child support after living in Watertown just outside of Boston for many years.
Lana a bit younger than he and not having been “washed clean” as Josh liked to express the matter in the hectic 1960s and not wanting to wait around a hotel room reading a book or walking around Frisco alone while he attended the conference had begged off on the trip, probably wisely although once he determined to go to Big Sur and told her where he was heading she got sort of wistful. She had just recently read with extreme interest about Big Sur through her reading of Jack Kerouac’s 1960s book of the same name and had asked Josh several times before that if they went to California on a vacation other than San Diego they would go there. The long and short of that conversation was a promise by Josh to take her the next time, if there was a next time (although he did not put the proposition in exactly those terms).
Immediately after the conference Josh headed south along U.S. 101 toward Monterrey where he would stay and which would be his final destination that day since he would by then be tired and it would be nighttime coming early as the November days got shorter. He did not want to traverse the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1 for the natives) at night since he had forgotten his distance glasses, another one of those six billion reasons why getting out sucks. Had moreover not liked to do that trip along those hairpin turns which the section heading toward Big Sur entailed riding the guardrails even back in his youth since one time having been completely stoned on some high-grade Panama Red he had almost sent a Volkswagen bus over the top when he missed a second hairpin turn after traversing the first one successfully. So he would head to Monterrey and make the obligatory walk to Cannery Row for dinner and in order to channel John Steinbeck and the later “beats” who would stop there before heading to fallout Big Sur.
The next morning Josh left on the early side not being very hungry after an excellent fish dinner at Morley’s a place that had been nothing but a hash house diner in the old days where you could get serviceable food cheap because the place catered to the shore workers and sardine factory workers who made Cannery Row famous, or infamous, when it was a working Row. He had first gone there after reading about the place in something Jack Kerouac wrote and was surprised that the place actually existed, had liked the food and the prices and so had gone there a number of times when his merry pranksters and other road companions were making the obligatory Frisco-L.A. runs up and down the coast. These days Morley’s still had excellent food but perhaps you should bring a credit card with you to insure you can handle the payment and avoid “diving for pearls” as a dish-washer to pay off your debts.
As Josh started up the engine of his rented Acura, starting up on some of the newer cars these days being a matter of stepping on the brake and then pushing a button where the key used to go in this keyless age, keyless maybe a metaphor of the age as well, he had had to ask the attendant at the airport how to start the thing since his own car was a keyed-up Toyota of ancient age, he began to think back to the old days when he would make this upcoming run almost blind-folded. That term maybe a metaphor for that age. He headed south to catch the Pacific Coast Highway north of Carmel and thought he would stop at Point Lobos, the place he had first encountered the serious beauty of the Pacific Coast rocks and ocean wave splash reminding him of back East in Olde Saco, although more spectacular. Also the place when he had first met Moonbeam Sadie.
He had had to laugh when he thought about that name and that woman since a lot of what the old days, the 1960s had been about were tied up with his relationship to that woman, the first absolutely chemically pure version of a “hippie chick” that he had encountered. At that time Josh had been on the Captain Crunch merry prankster yellow brick road bus for a month or so and a couple of days before they had started heading south from Frisco to Los Angeles to meet up with a couple of other yellow brick road buses where Captain Crunch knew some kindred. As they meandered down the Pacific Coast Highway they would stop at various places to take in the beauty of the ocean since several of the “passengers” had never seen the ocean or like Josh had never seen the Pacific in all its splendor.
In those days, unlike now when the park closes at dusk as Josh found out, you could park your vehicle overnight and take in the sunset and endlessly listen to the surf splashing up to rocky shorelines until you fell asleep. So when their bus pulled into the lot reserved for larger vehicles there were a couple of other clearly “freak” buses already there. One of them had Moonbeam as a “passenger” whom he would meet later that evening when all of “youth nation” in the park decided to have a dope- strewn party. Half of the reason for joining up on bus was for a way to travel, for a place to hang your hat but it was also the easiest way to get on the dope trail since somebody, usually more than one somebody was “holding.” And so that night they partied, partied hard.
About ten o’clock Josh high as a kite from some primo hash saw a young woman, tall, sort of skinny (he would find out later she had not been so slim previously except the vagaries of the road food and a steady diet of “speed” had taken their toll), long, long brown hair, a straw hat on her head, a long “granny” dress and barefooted the very picture of what Time/Life/Look would have used as their female “hippie” poster child to titillate their middle-class audiences coming out of one of the buses. She had apparently just awoken, although that seemed impossible given the noise level from the collective sound systems and the surf, and was looking for some dope to level her off and headed straight to Josh. Josh had at that time long hair tied in a ponytail, at least that night, a full beard, wearing a cowboy hat on his head, a leather jacket against the night’s cold, denim blue jeans and a pair of moccasins not far from what Time/Life/Look would have used as their male “hippie” poster child to titillate their middle-class audiences so Moonbeam’s heading Josh’s way was not so strange. Moreover Josh was holding a nice stash of hashish. Without saying a word Josh passed the hash pipe to Moonbeam and by that mere action started a “hippie” romance that would last for the next several months until Moonbeam decided she was not cut out for the road, couldn’t take the life, and headed back to Lima, Ohio to sort out her life.
But while they were on their “fling” Moonbeam taught “Cowboy Jim,” her new name for him many things. Josh thought it was funny thinking back how wedded to the idea of changing their lives they were back then including taking new names, monikers, as if doing so would create the new world by osmosis or something. He would have several other monikers like the “Prince of Love,” the Be-Bop Kid (for his love of jazz and blues), and Sidewalk Slim (for always writing something in chalk wherever he had sidewalk to do so) before he left the road a few years later and stayed steady with his journalism after that high, wide, wild life lost it allure as the high tide of the 1960s ebbed and people drifted back to their old ways. But Cowboy Jim was what she called Josh and he never minded her saying that.
See Moonbeam really was trying to seek the newer age, trying to find herself as they all were more or less, but also let her better nature come forth. And she did in almost every way from her serious study of Buddhism, her yoga (well before that was fashionable among the young), and her poetry writing. But most of all in the kind, gentle almost Quaker way that she dealt with people, on or off drugs, the way she treated her Cowboy. Josh had never had such a gentle lover, never had such a woman who not only tried to understand herself but to understand him. More than once after she left the bus (she had joined the Captain Crunch when the bus left Point Lobos a few days later now that she was Cowboy’s sweetheart) he had thought about heading to Lima and try to work something out but he was still seeking something out on the Coast that held him back until her memory faded a bit and he lost the thread of her).
Yeah, Point Lobos held some ancient memories and that day the surf was up and Mother Nature was showing one and all who cared to watch just how relentless she could be against the defenseless rocks and shoreline. If he was to get to Big Sur though he could not dally since he did not want to be taking that hairpin stretch at night. So off he went. Nothing untoward happened on the road to Big Sur, naturally he had to stop at the Bixby Bridge to marvel at the vista but also at the man-made marvel of traversing that canyon below with this bridge in 1932. Josh though later that it was not exactly correct that nothing untoward happened on the road to Big Sur but that was not exactly true for he was white-knuckled driving for that several mile stretch where the road goes up mostly and there are many hairpin turns with no guardrail and the ocean is a long way down. He thought he really was becoming an old man in his driving so cautiously that he had veer off to the side of the road to let faster cars pass by. In the old days he would drive the freaking big ass yellow brick road school bus along that same path and think nothing of it except for a time after that Volkswagen almost mishap. Maybe he was dope-brave then but it was disconcerting to think how timid he had become.
Finally in Big Sur territory though nothing really untoward happen as he traversed those hairpin roads until they finally began to straighten out near Molera State Park and thereafter Pfeiffer Beach. Funny in the old days there had been no creek to ford at Molera but the river had done its work over forty years through drought and downpour so in order to get to the ocean about a mile’s walk away Josh had to take off his running shoes and shoes to get across the thirty or forty feet of rocks and pebbles to the other side (and of course the same coming back a pain in the ass which he would have taken in stride back then when he shoe of the day was the sandal easily slipped off and on) but well worth the effort even if annoying since the majestic beauty of that rock-strewn beach was breath-taking a much used word and mostly inappropriate but not this day. Maybe global warming or maybe just the relentless crush of the seas on a timid waiting shoreline but most of the beach was un-walkable across the mountain of stones piled up and so he took the cliff trail part of the way before heading back the mile to his car in the parking lot to get to Pfeiffer Beach before too long.
Pfeiffer Beach is another one of those natural beauties that you have to do some work to get, almost as much work as getting to Todo El Mundo further up the road when he and his corner boys from Olde Saco had stayed for a month after they had come out to join him on the bus once he informed them that they needed to get to the West fast because all the world was changing out there. This work entailed not walking to the beach but by navigating a big car down the narrow one lane rutted dirt road two miles to the bottom of the canyon and the parking lot since now the place had been turned into a park site as well. The road was a white-knuckles experience although not as bad as the hairpins on the Pacific Coast Highway but as with Molera worth the effort, maybe more so since Josh could walk that wind-swept beach although some of the cross-currents were fierce when the ocean tide slammed the defenseless beach and rock formation. A couple of the rocks had been ground down so by the oceans that donut holes had been carved in them.
Here Josh put down a blanket on a rock so that he could think back to the days when he had stayed here, really at Todo el Mundo but there was no beach there just some ancient eroded cliff dwellings where they had camped out and not be bothered so everybody would climb on the bus which they would park by the side of the road on Big Sur Highway and walk down to Pfeiffer Beach those easy then two miles bringing the day’s rations of food, alcohol and drugs (not necessarily in that order) in rucksacks and think thing nothing of the walk and if they were too “wasted” (meaning drunk or high) they would find a cave and sleep there. That was the way the times were, nothing unusual then although the sign at the park entrance like at Point Lobos (and Molera) said overnight parking and camping were prohibited. But that is the way these times are.
Josh had his full share of ancient dreams come back to him that afternoon. The life on the bus, the parties, the literary lights who came by who had known Jack Kerouac , Allan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the remnant of beats who had put the place on the map as a cool stopping point close enough to Frisco to get to in a day but ten thousand miles from city cares and woes, the women whom he had loved and who maybe loved him back although he/they never stayed together long enough to form any close relationship except for Butterfly Swirl and that was a strange scene. Strange because Butterfly was a surfer girl who was “slumming” on the hippie scene for a while and they had connected on the bus except she finally decided that the road was not for her just like Moonbeam, as almost everybody including Josh figured out in the end, and went back to her perfect wave surfer boy down in La Jolla after a few months.
After an afternoon of such memories Josh was ready to head back having done what he had set out to which was to come and dream about the old days when he thought about the reasons for why he had gone to Big Sur later that evening back at the hotel. He was feeling a little hungry and after again traversing that narrow rutted dirt road going back up the canyon he decided if he didn’t stop here the nearest place would be around Carmel about twenty-five miles away. So he stopped at Henry’s Café. The café next to the Chevron gas station and the Big Sur library heading back toward Carmel (he had to laugh given all the literary figures who had passed through this town that the library was no bigger than the one he would read at on hot summer days in elementary school with maybe fewer books in stock). Of course the place no longer was named Henry’s since he had died long ago but except for a few coats of paint on the walls and a few paintings of the cabins out back that were still being rented out the place was the same. Henry’s had prided itself on the best hamburgers in Big Sur and that was still true as Josh found out.
But good hamburgers (and excellent potato soup not too watery) are not what Josh will remember about the café or about Big Sur that day. It will be the person, the young woman about thirty who was serving them off the arm, was the wait person at the joint. As he entered she was talking on a mile a minute in a slang he recognized, the language of his 1960s, you know, “right on,” “cool,” “no hassle,” “wasted,” the language of the laid-back hippie life. When she came to take his order he was curious, what was her name and how did she pick up that lingo which outside of Big Sur and except among the, well, now elderly, in places like Soho, Frisco, Harvard Square, is like a dead language, like Latin or Greek.
She replied with a wicked smile that her name was Morning Blossom, didn’t he like that name. [Yes.] She had been born and raised in Big Sur and planned to stay there because she couldn’t stand the hassles (her term) of the cities, places like San Francisco where she had gone to school for a while at San Francisco State. Josh thought to himself that he knew what was coming next although he let Morning Blossom have her say. Her parents had moved to Big Sur in 1969 and had started home-steading up in the hills. They have been part of a commune before she was born but that was all over with by the time she was born and so her parents struggled on the land alone. They never left, and never wanted to leave. Seldom left Big Sur and still did not.
Josh said to himself, after saying wow, he had finally found one of the lost tribes that wandered out into the wilderness back in the 1960s and were never heard from again. And here they were still plugging away at whatever dream drove them back then. He and others who had chronicled in some way the 1960s had finally found a clue to what had happened. But as he got up from the counter, paid his bill, and left a hefty tip, he though he still had that trip out here next time with Lana to get through. He was looking forward to it though.