by Jerry Cimino
Al Hinkle, a central and beloved personality of the Beat Generation, passed away on December 26, 2018. He was 92 years old.Al was born on September 4, 1926. He grew up in Denver and was a childhood friend of Neal Cassady. When they were 12 years old, Al and Neal attended some programs at the local YMCA where they partnered on the trapeze. Al, always a big kid for his age, became the “catcher,” while Neal, wiry and strong, was the “flyer.” Little did they know then that this dynamic would play out for the rest of their lives, with Al always being there to ‘catch’ Neal for the next 30 years.
When Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady made the journeys across America that became On the Road, Al Hinkle accompanied them. Kerouac immortalized him as “Big Ed Dunkel” in the novel, and he remained friends with many of the Beats over the years. Eventually, according to Kerouac scholar and author Steve Edington, Al became known as “The Last Man Standing,” having outlived all the others who were characters in the book.Al Hinkle’s importance in the Beat Generation story (and its myths and legends) cannot be overstated. Al came to California long before the other New York Beats arrived. A member of the railroad union, he was able to obtain jobs for both Neal and Jack Kerouac on the Southern Pacific Railroad. In December, 1948, when Neal spied a ’49 Hudson, Al was with him, and when Neal found himself $100 short for the down payment, Al pulled the cash out of his pocket then and there so Neal could purchase that legendary car.
When Kerouac appeared on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, it was Al and Helen’s house where Kerouac found refuge amidst the frenzy of stardom. In 1958, when Neal was sentenced to San Quentin for possession of marijuana, it was Al and Helen Hinkle who helped Carolyn and her children in Los Gatos. When Carolyn’s book Off the Road was published in 1990, the dedication page read: “To Helen and Al Hinkle ‘For He shall give His angels charge over thee to guard thee in all thy ways. Psalm 91:11.’” Throughout the book, Carolyn describes the Hinkles as loyal, steadfast friends who were always there for their family.There are so many other stories Al filled in over the years. One occurred at The Beat Museum in 2008, when Al told us during a live interview about how Neal Cassady Sr. used to cut his hair at the local jail. “My father was a police detective in Denver. All the police in those days would get their hair cut by prisoners at the jail. Neal’s father, Neal Cassady Sr. was a frequent ‘guest’ who cut hair for lots of policemen in Denver when he was incarcerated, and sometimes my father would take me to have my haircut as well.”
The meeting of Al and his wife Helen was chronicled as an important subplot in On the Road. Kerouac chose the name “Galatea” for Helen in the book, and she was in the car throughout their initial journey from San Francisco to New York. As related by Kerouac, only days after she and Al had been married in 1948, Helen got out of the car in Tucson with a plan to use Al’s railroad pass to ride the rails to New Orleans, and stay with Joan and William S. Burroughs for a few days until Al and Neal caught up with her. But a few detours along the way meant it would be three weeks before Al and Helen were finally reunited at the Burroughs’ house. Al and Helen remained married until her death in 1994.
Al Hinkle is survived by his son, Mark, and his daughter, Dawn.