“This is the fast lane, folks, and some of us like it here.”
Hunter S. Thompson
Nerd. That’s all I can say of myself when it comes down to HST. Truth be told, I did a self guided tour around the neighborhood that he grew up in Louisville and made a vow I was going to move there. I gazed at the library that his mother worked at, I even made a pact that if I were ever in Louisville again I’d tag (if that’s the lingo these days) a freak power image on some government building just to carry the torch of antiestablishmentaiantism (it’s not a word, but I’m going to use it anyways).
I wish I could pinpoint the moment in time that I fell in love with Gonzo Journalism, not Hunter himself, but just the writing style. There is something raw and gutsy that many mainstream profit making journalists wouldn’t dare touch with a ten foot pole. I fell in love with the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in my early high school years, and in an extremely odd fashion I’d typically throw the movie on as soon as I got home and would do my homework to it. I had may be two friends that would come visit, and they’d always be greeted with the soothing voice of Johnny Depp depicting the concept of HST.
I say concept because, nobody can really be anybody else. As much research as you can do into a person, as much shadowing you can do, as many long nights of watching the “mojo machine” churning and the key strokes flaming like fireworks on a Fourth of July night, you can’t really be him, you can only soak in an aura. You can’t be what you’ve never had, and there isn’t a single person that can “be” HST. I can very confidently say that I’ve been influenced by a certain manic writing style that has become Gonzo, but really, we’re not qualified. We’ve never been there mentally, perhaps physically, but never mentally. HST was a very unique human being.
Peacocks, Doberman Pinchers, Vincent Black Shadows, a magnificent son named Juan…how many of us can say that we can gather muses from those things. The closest thing I have is a stuffed bumble bee, a dog that travels around in my car in a box of ashes and a Honda Civic that is gutless and has crashed into more things that I care to share. I’m no Gonzo journalist, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t try or be inspired for that matter. There are far too many people that veer away from creativity for fear of judgement. To me, Gonzo Journalism isn’t really “writing” it’s more “experiencing”.
“It’s like sending the goats to tend the cabbage”
When you talk about experience, adventure, and chances to get stories on people, you can absolutely count me in. Although HST didn’t have this hitch in his getty up (or maybe he did, just didn’t admit to it….significant others all of a sudden become insecure and worried. In the mind of a journalist (even if it’s just a person like me, freelance at best, but one hell of a story teller, you don’t get material unless you talk to people, find out their story as to why the hell they’re in, oh, I dunno, Colby, KS. The 21st century, I’m convinced has turned an entire generation and beyond into a population of paranoia.
Paranoia never caught up with me, at least, not yet. As I lay on my air mattress in Grand Junction, CO I had an idea in my mind, why not see what HST has been talking about all that time.
Crossing over the Piktin county line was a sort of eerie feeling, and truth be told, I got goose bump. Imagine the entire main street covered in grassy area and you’d actually have to mosey as to where you want to go. By blood likes lower elevations. There is just took much to take on….except for the car….It was breathing like a lightweight boxer in the fifth round. We torpedoed around corners at semi warp speed, ranches and ridiculously manicured, expensive homes appeared in our windshield and disappeared into the rearview. This was the same stretch of road he leaned a Vincent Black Shadow around corners at mind boggling speeds. These were the places he’d drink and do whatever else it was that made him tick. Operative word here, “tick”.
“If Sunday is the Lords day, then Saturday belongs to the Devil. It is the only night of the week he gives out free passed to the Late show and the Too Much Fun Club.”
I’ll raise my hand and admit, I’m a platinum member of the Too Much Fun Club. I’ve been sacked from jobs because of it, lost many a relationship to it, and really, the breaking point of fun has been achieved a long time ago. The concept of “fun” and “reckless”. Being the person I am, I like to push the envelope as far as I can and perhaps it gets a little too close to the end of the table than I care to admit. There is a certain moment of feeling rejected by society when you just sort of become a renegade and blaze your own trail. I feel this is where HST was in the late 80’s, with a naive hope that things were going to get better politically and sociologically. With vain hope, we can hybridize all of the mutant politicians into a semi tolerable situation. We can decrease the decriminalization of drug offenders and my favorite (from an earlier stint when he was running for sheriff of Pitkin County) Tear up all the main streets in Aspen and turn them into green areas – – which I found surprising. He was onto something, Downtown Aspen isn’t really car friendly.
The Too Much Fun Club, it sounds glamorous for a while, I mean, how can anybody have “too much fun?” Well, kiddo, I’ll explain to you a few things. Playing Monopoly is fun, playing Monopoly after drinking significant amounts of vodka and eating frozen dinner is NOT fun. It ends up with cheating under the table with mortgage cards and people getting their feelings hurt. Fun is being allowed to go 80 mph down the interstate legally and pushing the needle past, just because you can. 80 mph is fun, going 86 and getting pulled over for illegal tint, not fun. Of all things to get nailed to the wall for – – illegal tint, in Utah.
“There are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having fun and being smart.”
The tint isn’t even fun, that wasn’t part of the the club. The bag of worms opened and the amount of fun that I actually had was enough to make me a former member of the Too Much Fun Club. I couldn’t run that way, those were big dogs, I couldn’t accept him as a role model anymore – more like a fictitious character that was amusing to read about but could never replicate. HST had alien blood, I’m certain, and he did a good job, until it all went wrong. We get back to gambling, sometimes you’re so certain on laying your money on black and it lands on red – – then what?
This can be both monetarily and mentally. Not to discredit the good Doctor, but the gamble was too great to cover…he killed himself. I think all of us Hunter Seekers agree, it was just a matter of time before his brain consumed him into some sort of fun seeking paranoid truth seeker that would just offend people left and right, just because he could. That’s another harsh lesson to be learned, and not many people get there, as to how far to push your mentality on someone before it becomes out of hand. You will offend people, people will get mad at you, in fact, some people will grow to hate you. The trick is to differentiate those that you can pull of “fun” and those that you can pull “smart” off with.
Those that you can screw with their brains in a fun way, you have to know in a sort of intimate manner – sort of crawling into their brain and knowing where the breaking point is. There are a plethora of people out that that you can gamble on a bad joke with and have it become a knee slapping good time. You also take the gamble that you’ve run into a tight ass that doesn’t see why tipping cows is funny. You gamble the same way with the “smart” ones. Those that are cool arguing the fact that the earth is flat and that car is blue. We make those decisions on a daily basis, however, that was broken down in very simplistic terms.
Think of your breakfast, you could choke on your toast, but are you really going to be too afraid to toast that bread for fear of death? Are you going to take a gamble that the bread will not kill you and indulge with maybe even some jam or are you going to take the safe route – scrambled eggs. Hunter never had a scrambled eggs mentality, give him the sharp edged toast and see what happens. I was very fortunate to visit his favorite perch in Aspen, The Hotel Jerome and see where he used to sit and enjoy Chivas Regal and grapefruits for breakfast. Breakfasts typically turned into seven course meals, all the while he sorted mail and brainstormed various journalistic adventures and political gambits. I stood there, taking it all in, armed with a stuffed bee, a high power camera and a sense of jealously that took me into making a gamble.
Much like in any reality television show, or even in one of Hunters most popular books, there was a time frame we had to adhere to. In order to get back to South Carolina on time, we’d have to arrive in Denver before five PM – – it was going to be close, but there was a larger part of me that had to take that gamble. There may not be another opportunity in my life to see where my degenerate hero sat, ate, drank, and pretty much schemed. He had another joint I insisted on going, setting us back later in the day, which made the probability of actually getting into Denver in a timely fashion and actually achieve the task of dumping another car in a storage facility very slim.
But it was a gamble I wanted to take. I couldn’t NOT take it. It was a gamble I lost.
“As for what concerns me in particular I have only in my life carried to an extreme what you have not dared to carry halfway”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky ( I’ll remember how to spell his name one of these days)
Tame, a word I once embraced but now detest. Pushing on into adulthood I realized that the concept of fear didn’t occur to me anymore. Much like when you’re a little child at the top of a really tall slide, you realize “gee whiz, that looks scary”, and either you opt in or opt out. At a little bit older age you might find yourself on a roller coaster that looks a little beyond your league, but you ride it anyways – screaming in fear isn’t going to get you anywhere. It’s not going to make the ride end, it’s not going to make it any less terrifying, you just have to ride the wave until you hit the shore or get caught in the undertow. This is a gamble with your relationship with life, not just dangerous objects that rarely kill people.
“Regret is mostly caused by not doing anything.”
Charles Bukowski – Sometimes you get so alone at times it just makes Sense
I skipped town when I was 19 and “moved” to Mexico with a fella I thought I was in love with. I told only one other person (besides the one in Mexico) and she drove me to the airport. The entire trip, she reinforced the fact that I was going to have to come clean on what I was doing or become a missing person. I was taking a gamble that wasn’t smart, and although she was as motherly as she could possibly be, she knew me well enough to know I had to learn my own way. It was the sort of parenting that I probably needed at the time, and we came to an agreement. I left a voice message for all that tried to call me stating nothing but…
“I do not regret the things I’ve done, but the things I did not do.”
Probably the worst role model to base an escape from America from, but I did it anyways. I had nothing but my red suitcase, a pair of Birkenstocks and a pair of Steel-Toed Doc Martins. My wardrobe was simple and my mindset was even simpler. Everything was going to work. My “smart” took a back seat and my “gamble” took the drivers seat. To look back on it, I was in some hairy situations, drug smuggling, person smuggling, and my favorite, Colima Mexico in a dark alley on New Years. I survived, only to get abandoned (with a mutual friend at least) in Morelia, Mexico with no money and a sheer desire to get nowhere but back to Illinois. I didn’t regret going, I was just unhappy with the outcome.
Which brings me back to the toast, most of us are too afraid to step out of our comfort zone and throw open the flood gates of the scary world that awaits. I moved to South Carolina, taking a gamble, and although it wasn’t a smart gamble, it worked in my favor. I can see parallels in my life and HST, he took a little bit more drastic measures of pushing the gamble limit, dealing with big names like Rolling Stone magazine, he had a niche, he was the only one out there like him. Playing the lottery has always been the stupidest thing in the world to me, however, so is driving across country for a job that you know nothing about isn’t exactly “smart” either. I did it anyways, and didn’t buy a lottery ticket even once.
The biggest gamble I took was picking up a hitchhiker in Nebraska – – which was cool until the police were involved. Again, a gamble I took, and I won’t take it back for a moment. He kept me awake when I could have fallen asleep and probably kept some riff raff from giving me trouble at truck stops. I’m grateful for that hitch hiker – even if he did call the cops on my for allegedly “stealing his equipment”. (Long story short, although he was super nice, he was an absolute moon bat that I traveled almost 1000 miles with and had to ditch him at a gas station. I forgot one of his packs in the trunk while I was dumping his belongings on the curb, and it just so happened to be the pack that contained the machine that allows him to talk to the aliens.)
The police officer thought it was as crazy as I, gave me his card and said:
“You really take a gamble out there picking up hitchhikers, I’d advise against it in the future.”
Yes, yes sir. No more gambling with the strangers on the side of the road. No more gambling with the road for me for a while.
From beer serving record shops in Sweden to the oldest brewery in the Czech Republic, to being on the highest alpine peak at a temperature of -2 Celsius on a motorcycle, to sliding through customs smuggling illegal pharmaceuticals (okay, I got you on that one, it never happened) to consuming an entire jug (the fluid ounces escape me right now) and passing out under a picnic table, I’m being more mindful of the “gambles” and the “smart decisions of life”
I suppose I’ve given up on most of my immediate family, a few taken out of the mix, a few by choice, and few because the risk of initiating contact would stir a gamble in psychological drama, I’ve become sort of desolate – which is a phenomenal thing. Instead of “keeping up appearances” and being what I think people want me to be, I’ve sort of become the “antihero” (it’s a Fyodor jab in Notes from the Underground). I don’t want you to be like me, and I certainly don’t want to be like you. My gamble is that you’ll die happy and miserable all at the same time, I however, will go through my life being shot out of a cannon, never squeezed out of a tube.
Gambling, however, with my own safety, and others for that matter, is top on my list. I think this is one thing that warps HST’s mind in the long run, the absolute recklessness of his lifestyle and the impact it had on others. Those of us that are wired to a different circuit cannot connect with those that want to ride the safe wave back to the shore. We need the turbulence of the undertow, and there is no reason whatsoever to pull anyone else down with you. I’ve been on this surfboard since being in Mexico, and it’s not fair to a lot of people.
“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”
Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
I’m not going to be led to my decisions based on what others believe is the best for me. I look back on my losses, my 128i, my 635csi, almost my Civic, there’s all a common denominator – taking a bad gamble. We can even throw in a few relationships, oops, throw the car in reverse and shake your head in regret…although…regret is such a harsh word, no. No. In the deeper mind we call those learning experiences. That’s why I strongly believe you…
“Dance with the one that brung ya”
(It’s a southern thing, hard to explain unless you’ve been flat footing or square dancing)
I regret but I don’t let go. I can repair, only if there are reparations to me made. Going out to Aspen, going out to Woody Creek sort of grounded me in a way that I don’t think any sort of historical monument or amusement park could have done. That’s where the mastermind did his thinking. He drove fast down twisty roads in a red coupe (although his was a convertible, Senna is pretty close) in a haze without regard to others. He might have stated being “stable”, but that’s uncertain. It makes me feel a bit ugly about carrying on him as an idol for so long.
“I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed. My father taught me that, along with a few other things that have kept my life interesting.”
Hunter S Thompson – Kingdom Of Fear
I may participate in mundane things, like showering, brushing my teeth and paying bills, but never will I allow my life to become boring. That’s a vow I’ve made with myself. In a plane somewhere between Mexico City and Atlanta I realized I’m not going to be content until I’m pushing the limits to the stressing point. I got off the plane and shamefully couldn’t break down to reach out to family to pick me up, I called my boss. He arrived in a shiny new truck, freshly detailed, and shook his head at me. Looking at me with those solemn grey eyes he professed “Nikki, that was just a bad idea.”
I couldn’t respond for a few minutes. We rode in the truck in silence heading towards Northern Illinois and I finally cracked and said “Hey, you know what, I got shot at, I smuggled drugs, and saw an erupting volcano….what have you done lately.”
Game, Set, Match. I win.