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Setting a Record Sailing the Choppy Seas of Cement

September 8th, 2009 · 11 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, New York City, Real-life Adventure Tales


(Neal, John & Carolyn Cassady)



“Keep One Neal on The Wheel”


with a twinkling & loving nod to Neal Cassady . . .


Coming into Manhattan thru the Holland Tunnel — 6PM on the Friday of the Labor Day Long Weekend . . . 

It’s my first moments in Manhattan since Obama’s Election Night!
And on the exact anniversary of the very day I first arrived in this town 29 years earlier.

Everything’s not too bad, considering — until I cross all the way over the island to the FDR entrance at the end of Houston — and it’s freakin’ closed!!  No reason, no warning.  Just big orange cone blockers.

After contemplating just running them, I turn around with everybody else and headed back towards First Avenue to go Uptown. It was already a freakin’ nightmare of Long-Weekend Long-Island Friday rush-hour traffic and now the FDR detour is merging with everyone funneling off the freakin’ Williamsburg Bridge so fuget-about-it.  

Motionless in quicksand, I brilliantly hang a right onto dark n shady Clinton St. (New York’s first black street) and sneak up to Houston to get around it.

When I turned onto First Avenue from Houston — Zero Street — I couldn’t believe I was seeing a green Avenue light still shining there for a second so I gunned it like hell for the holy grail through the yellowing intersection and right into the end of the racing pack.

Zippity-doo-dahing along the crazy off-road tarmac they call “Avenues” in this town — this whole island should be four-wheel-drive only.  But I’m in the mood for some real cruising, so I scooch the hell up with the flow and make it all the way to 14th Street without stopping!  But suddenly the light’s turning, so again I run the yellow — past stopping cars on all sides — and jump in on the bare-assed end of the next flow. “This is great! I’m gonna stay right here!”

I’m heading for 23rd where I plan to cut over to take maybe clearer 3rd Avenue up, but then I’m thinking — “Sumpthin’s goin’ on here.  This thing’s flowing.”  And you don’t break your flow in New York if things are goin’ your way.  

So, Boom! I stay on it, bouncing through Gramercy Park, using all three mirrors — and windows open cuz you need all your senses — jumping lanes as needed, having to not worry about Casey the cat in the back cuz I’m on a serious roll.  But of course, I glance back anyway for a nano-second and she’s got her claws dug into the luggage and is holding unshakably on.

Hit the 30s and still haven’t stopped! — slaloming between yellow cabs and other non-personal cars.  Nobody in their right mind would risk their own vehicle at more than 10 mph on these cement bike trails.

Then suddenly I’m completely surrounded by buses — ahead, behind, both sides — driving in their dark canyon, deafened by their roar, gassed into a stupor by their exhaust, and all the while knowing I could be crushed like an ant in an instant by any one of these Goliaths bouncing un-phased at 40 mph up this horribly broken track.

Then Boom! — the U.N.’s coming up! “Go tunnel or road?  Tunnel or road?”   Too quick.  In tunnel lane already — no movin’ now. Poof! — down into the dark hole of the only Manhattan non-water-crossing tunnel . . . then just as soon — Bloom!  Out and back into the light! And the red one ahead just turns green!!  Suddenly I’m crossing freakin 50th Street!   And a new flow’s starting!  Zoom, right into it, not letting up on the pedal at all.  If there’s any space ahead, take it.   Go go go.  “Keep chasing the front of the serge, Sarge.”

And all of a sudden, “That’s the 59th St. Bridge!  Holy shit — that’s the last traffic clog on this Avenue!” And now I’m passing 60th St. and haven’t stopped since Houston!

Suddenly it’s just your regular daytime bouncing rapids — fast flowing cars all around, shushing over cement moguls, in the zone, in the flow.

Next time I look up I’m passing my old neighborhood — 81st Street. “No frickin’ way! I gotta tell brother Rob when I get there! I just went 80 freakin blocks in one shot!” (as Gregory would say)

And of course right then there’s a huge clog!  But I’m feeling great cuz I just set a new All-Time Non-Stop Land Record in Manhattan!

All these damn trucks are unloading and cabs are stopped for people and there’s about one lane trying to squeeze through the middle, but I’m already sailing up the very center lane of the river and keep bullishly paddling straight ahead to where — I’m through without stopping!

And as soon as I squeeze out the hourglass of jammed traffic, the light ahead’s turning yellow so I just floor it and make it through only by the courtesy of the old New Yorker’s rule — “Never pull into an intersection without first checking if some maniac is gunning the light.”

But I’m way in the back of the flow again so I just give ‘er, and poor ol’ Casey’s holdin’ on for dear life, but I gotta get with the flow, man — flooring it through yellows all the way till I catch up again.  And Lord help me but I’m crossing fat freakin’ 96th St. at a race-car pace, dented cabs and army-surplus-bumpered trucks smashing along on either side, everything’s raging at breakneck New York old-school speed when we all lived by — “The speed limit is whatever you can manage to drive on these crummy roads.”

Boom! Going fast as hell through the crazy trunk-bouncing pot-holed rapids of Harlem when the thought first hits — “Gawd — what if I could make it all the way to Rob’s on 117th Street! . . . Whoa! Play it smooth, man, play it smooth!”

But now I’d raced all the way from the back of the last yellow-light pack up to the pole position! “No! Don’t be too fast — don’t hit red — don’t hit red . . . .” So I pulled ‘er back a smidge and just surfed on the crest of the wave.  Easy now, easy, just flowin’ with the lights, and glide in softly for a you-won’t-even-notice-it landing, a sweet coasting turn onto 117th Street! And of course — I roll right up and park directly in front of his apartment where I won’t have to move the car till Thursday!

117 blocks non-stop through Manhattan during rush-hour on the Friday of a Long Weekend.

In the words of John Cassady — “I’ll take it.”


Be here now.

Brian & Casey O’Cassady


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For more Adventure Tales, you might enjoy . . .

The Jumping Out Of A Car While Being Robbed, Kidnapped or Killed Story.

or … the wild physical confrontation both Al Franken and I got caught up in at a Howard Dean rally in New Hampshire.

or … the time I jumped on the Pittsburgh Penguins team bus during the playoffs.

or … that whole Long Island mansions Adventure with Steve Winwood, Sheryl Crow, Tom Cruise, Spielberg, Tim & Sarandon.

or … scammed my way into the “On The Road” premiere in London in the courtyard of a palace.

or … snuck backstage at the world premiere of the new “On The Road” in Toronto and met up with Walter Salles.

or … our whole Adventure together at the New York premiere.

or … there was the greatest single night in New York’s history — when Obama first got elected.

or … the worst single night — when John Lennon was murdered.

or … there was the time The Grateful Dead came to town and played my 30th birthday party.

or … the night I went out in the Village with Jack Kerouac’s old friend Henri Cru on his 70th birthday,

or … went running with the Olympic torch when Canada was hosting in 2010.

or … the time I snuck in to Dr. John and ended up hangin with his whole band.

or … the time I found that cat while out waterfalling on the Niagara Escarpment.

or … the time my mom and I got trapped in the worst hospital in Italy and barely escaped with our lives.

or … of course one of the great multi-day Adventures of all time — Obama’s first inauguration.

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by Brian Hassett


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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Carolyn Cassady // Sep 9, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    Brian, darlin’ –
    Gosh, I was white-knuckled just reading that! Why aren’t you writing best sellers?
    And what are you doing back in NY? Just the holiday? Have missed hearing of your activities.

    Lotsa love,
    CC xxxxx

  • 2 John Cassady // Sep 9, 2009 at 10:24 PM

    Vivid! A classic Hassett monologue! MAN, you captured it! I was right there in the passenger seat on that one — like the best writing can take me!


  • 3 Jami Cassady // Sep 10, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    A Classic!!

    Thanks, dear Brian for this story … I was with ya all the way!

    Love you…

    PS when can you come back to Ol’ California for a visit?

  • 4 Colin Buchanan // Sep 11, 2009 at 12:40 AM

    Bravo! Andy Granatelli with flashbacks!

  • 5 Dave Moore // Sep 11, 2009 at 5:42 AM

    Brian, that’s just magnificent! Made my day.
    You should send it to the Subterraneans group.

  • 6 Sloy and Nic // Sep 12, 2009 at 7:18 PM

    fabulosity defined!!!
    miss you, and this ‘voice’ of yours.
    thanks for sharing.
    we both dug it.

  • 7 Allan Robinson // Sep 12, 2009 at 11:26 PM

    New York City, baby!! Thanks for takin me home.

  • 8 Linda Ranson-Smith // Sep 14, 2009 at 8:48 PM

    I love this crazy, crazy story, it really made me smile. Now stay safe.

  • 9 Rob Salmon // Sep 19, 2009 at 9:16 PM

    You told me this story when you first got here! What a trip to read it again!!

  • 10 Alex Nantes // Oct 12, 2009 at 9:40 PM

    In The Zone!!!!
    Where you live, my friend. 😉

  • 11 Levi Asher // Oct 15, 2009 at 5:31 PM

    A nice mix of Neal (driving) and Jack (writing).
    Well done!

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