Wow. Hunter S. Thompson did a lot of drugs. I realize I’m not breaking any new ground here in terms of reviewerly insight, considering the only thing most people know of him is “he did a LOT of drugs,” but really. I’m surprised he’s still alive. (Is he still alive? If not, I amend my statement to being surprised that he didn’t die in the opening pages of this book.) I mean, mescaline, adrenochrome*, ether, hash, speed, uppers, downers, anonymous colored pills, bottles of liquor swallowed whole to cap off all of the other insane amounts of drugs consumed.
And all of this from a doctor of journalism! I expected more respectability from a writer. (That is a lie.)
Thank god he’s actually a talented writer, because if he wasn’t, his drug-addled “reporting” on a motorcycle race in Las Vegas and then an anti-drug national cop conference by the side of his (completely un-)trusty Samoan attorney could have easily turned into an unreadable mess. It kind of is a mess as it is, but a glorious one. Consider that one chapter is prefaced by an editor’s note explaining that what follows was transcribed directly from his tape recordings, because his notes were an illegible, stained mess, and Hunter himself was unreachable for weeks at the only phone number they had (for a state trooper’s outpost). Aside from that, though…
Thompson and the Samoan race around Vegas from expensed hotel room to expensed hotel room, in various expensed cars, that they thoroughly wreck (hotel room and car alike), crashing into any and all situations with an uncontrollable desire to 1) be really fucked up on drugs, 2) fuck with people, and 3) generally cause a ruckus.
They begin on the road, in a bright-red convertible, stopping first to pop open the Trunk O’ Drugs, then to switch driving duties, since Thompson is being attacked by bats in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert, and finally to pick up and terrify a young hitchhiker. He quickly can’t handle their violent threats (the Samoan) and creepy, insinuating closeness (HST), and flees.
They proceed to frighten and alienate: the check-in clerk, the hotel bartender, the hotel bar patrons (Hunter has a bad case of the “seeing giant lizard monsters attacking him”), the other reporters covering the motorcycle race, etc. They accomplish very little in the way of journalism, but a lot in the way of testing the limits of the human bodies. By the time the race is over and they’re set to go back to L.A., Hunter is holding his breath that he’ll make it just long enough to get the hell out of Vegas without being locked up for the multitudinous crimes and degeneracies they committed. Doesn’t want to push his luck, you see?
When he gets a call from the Samoan, therefore, that they have another assignment in the city, and that the assignment is covering a national drug-fighting gathering of law enforcement officers, well… He definitely does not want to push his luck that much. The lure of the delicious irony and opportunity for more expensed hotel room- and car-wrecking is too strong, though, and I’m glad, because reading about these two whacked-out, understandably paranoid druggies in wrecked clothing trying to be inconspicuous amid seas of straight-laced cops from the Midwest is delightful.
Somehow they manage to stay out of the slammer (yes, I used the word “slammer”), despite causing many a scene. They stumble out of a lecture, they force a carful of cops into drag-racing/shit-talking, they take the scenic route to the airport through a chainlink fence and straight onto the tarmac, they corrupt an innocent art student with drugs and sex and then abandon her (that was mainly the Samoan, but HST was the one who suggested pimping her out for drug money). They even physically attack and threaten a maid who walks in on the Samoan “polishing his shoes” (vomiting in them in the closet), and manage to turn it around so that she walks away happily sworn to secrecy, believing they’re cops who will pay her to narc on the hotel goings-on.
Thompson is a great observer, and his voice is hilarious and full of energy. The situations he describes are hard to take at face value, but when they’re coming from the guy who invented gonzo journalism, you never know.
*Fun fact: I first learned about the existence of adrenochrome (taken from the adrenal gland of a living person-REALLY fucks you up) from this book, and in the very next book I picked up, it was mentioned in the first ten pages. Granted, the very next book I picked up was The Doors of Perception,so drug references are not surprising, but it’s still pretty cool. To me.
Note: I’ve reviewed more than one book! (Um, the total would be five.) I’m only now getting around to transferring them to WordPress. Original post here.