Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
A Savage Journey To The Heart Of The American Dream
Hunter S. Thompson
Second Vintage Books Edition, June 1998 Copyright Š 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson
All rights reserved under International and Pan - American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published, in hardcover, by Random House, Inc., in 1972.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by “Raoul Duke” first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, issue 95, November 11, 1971, and 96, November 25, 1971.
ISBN: 0 - 679 - 78589 - 2 LC #: 88 - 40624
Drawings by Ralph Steadman originally appeared in Rolling Stone issues 95
and 96, November 11 and 25, 1971, respectively, Š by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
Manufactured in the United States of America
To Bob Geiger,
for reasons that need
not be explained here
- and to Bob Dylan,
for Mister Tambourine Man
“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”
- Dr. Johnson
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . . .” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
It was almost noon, and we still had more than a hundred miles to go. They would be tough miles. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. We would have to ride it out. Press registration for the fabulous Mint 400 was already underway, and we had to get there by four to claim our sound - proof suite. A fashionable sporting magazine in New York had taken care of the reservations, along with this huge red Chevy convertible we’d just rented off a lot on the Sunset Strip . . . and I was, after all, a professional journalist; so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.
The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy - five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high - powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi - colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high - speed driving all over Los Angeles County - from Topanga to Watts, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Probably at the next gas station. We had sampled almost everything else, and now - yes, it was time for a long snort of ether. And then do the next hundred miles in a horrible, slobbering sort of spastic stupor. The only way to keep alert on ether is to do up a lot of amyls - not all at once, but steadily, just enough to maintain the focus at ninety miles an hour through Barstow.
“Man, this is the way to travel,” said my attorney. He leaned over to turn the volume up on the radio, humming along withthe rhythm section and kind of moaning the words: “One toke over the line, Sweet Jesus . . . One toke over the line . . . ”
One toke? You poor fool! Wait till you see those goddamn bats. I could barely hear the radio . . . slumped over on the far side of the seat, grappling with a tape recorder turned all the way up on “Sympathy for the Devil.” That was the only tape we had, so we played it constantly, over and over, as a’kind of demented counterpoint to the radio. And also to maintain our rhythm on the road. A constant speed is good for gas mileage - and for some reason that seemed important at the time. Indeed. On a trip like this one must be careful about gas consumption. Avoid those quick bursts of acceleration that drag blood to the back of the brain.
My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”
“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”
The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.
“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”
“0 Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.” He grinned, seeming to understand. Luckily, the noise in the car was so awful - between the wind and the radio and the tape machine - that the kid in the back seat couldn’t hear a word we were saying. Or could he?
How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then? This same lonely desert was the last known home of the Manson family. Will he make that grim connection when my attorney starts screaming about bats and huge manta rays coming down on the car? If so - well, we’ll just have to cut his head off and bury him somewhere. Because it goes without saying that we can’t turn him loose. He’ll report us at once to some kind of outback nazi law enforcement agency, and they’ll run us down like dogs.
Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? I glanced over at my attorney, but he seemed oblivious - watching the road, driving our Great Red Shark along at a hundred and ten or so. There was no sound from the back seat.Maybe I’d better have a chat with this boy, I thought. Perhape if I explain things, he’ll rest easy.
Of course. I leaned around in the seat and gave him a fine big smile . . . admiring the shape of his skull.“By the way,” I said. “There’s one thing you should probably understand.”
He stared at me, not blinking. Was he gritting his teeth?
“Can you hear me?” I yelled.
“That’s good,” I said. “Because I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream.” I smiled. “That’s why we rented this car. It was the only way to do it. Can you grasp that?”
He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous.
“I want you to have all the background,” I said. “Because this is a very ominous assignment - with overtones of extreme personal danger. . . . Hell, I forgot all about this beer; you want one?”
He shook his head.
“How about some ether?” I said.
“Never mind. Let’s get right to the heart of this thing. You see, about twenty - four hours ago we were sitting in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel - in the patio section, of course - and we were just sitting there under a palm tree when this uniformed dwarf came up to me with a pink telephone and said, ‘This must be the call you’ve been waiting for all this time, sir.’”
I laughed and ripped open a beer can that foamed all over the back seat while I kept talking. “And you know? He was right! I’d been expecting that call, but I didn’t know who it would come from. Do you follow me?”
The boy’s face was a mask of pure fear and bewilderment. I blundered on: “I want you to understand that this man at the wheel is my attorney! He’s not just some dingbat I found on the Strip. Shit, look at him! He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s a foreigner. I think he’s probably Samoan. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Are you prejudiced?”
“Oh, hell no!” he blurted.
“I didn’t think so,” I said. “Because in spite of his race, this man is extremely valuable to me.” I glanced over at my attorney, but his mind was somewhere else.
I whacked the back of the driver’s seat with my fist. “This is important, goddamnit! This is a true story!” The car swerved sickeningly, then straightened out. “Keep your hands off my fucking neck!” my attorney screamed. The kid in the back looked like he wasready to jump right out of the car and take his chances.Our vibrations were getting nasty - but why? I was puzzled, frustrated. Was there no communication in this car? Had we deteriorated to the level of dumb beasts?
Because my story was true. I was certain of that. And it was extremely important, I felt, for the meaning of our journey to be made absolutely clear. We had actually been sitting there in the Polo Lounge - for many hours - drinking Singapore Slings with mescal on the side and beer chasers. And when the call came, I was ready.
The Dwark approached our table cautiously, as I recall, and when he handed me the pink telephone I said nothing, merely listened. And then I hung up, turning to face my attorney.
“That was headquarters,” I said. “They want me to go to Las
Vegas at once, and make contact with a Portuguese photographer named Lacerda. He’ll have the details. All I have to do is check into my suite and he’ll seek me out.”
My attorney said nothing for a moment, then he suddenly came alive in his chair. “God hell!” he exclaimed. “I think I see the pattern. This one sounds like real trouble!” He tucked his khaki undershirt into his white rayon bellbottoms and called for more drink. “You’re going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over,” he said. “And my first advice is that you should rent a very fast car with no top and get the hell out of L.A. for at least forty - eight hours.” He shook his head sadly. “This blows my weekend, because naturally I’ll have to go with you - and we’ll have to ann ourselves.”
“Why not?” I said. “If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right. We’ll need some decent equipment and plenty of cash on the line - if only for drugs and a super - sensitive tape recorder, for the sake of a permanent record.”
“What kind of a story is this?” he asked.
“The Mint 400,” I said. “It’s the richest off - the - road race for motorcycles and dune - buggies in the history of organized sport - a fantastic spectacle in honor of some fatback grossero named Del Webb, who owns the luxurious Mint Hotel in the heart of downtown Las Vegas . . . at least that’s what the press release says; my man in New York just read it to me.”
“Well,” he said, “as your attorney I advise you to buy a motorcycle. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously?”
“No way,” I said. “Where can we get hold of a Vincent Black Shadow?”
“A fantastic bike,” I said. “The new model is something like two thousand cubic inches, developing two hundred brake - horsepower at four thousand revolutions per minute on a magnesium frame with two styrofoam seats and a total curb weight of exactly two hundred pounds.”
“That sounds about right for this gig,” he said.
“It is” I assured him. “The fucker’s not much for turning, but it’s pure hell on the straightaway. It’ll outrun the F - ill until takeoff.”
“Takeoff?” he said. “Can we handle that much torque?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “I’ll call New York for some cash.”
2. The Seizure of $300 from a Pig Woman In Beverly Hills
The New York office was not familiar with the Vincent Black Shadow: they referred me to the Los Angeles bureau - which is actually in Beverly Hills just a few long blocks from the Polo Lounge - but when I got there, the money - woman refused to give me more than $300 in cash. She had no idea who I was, she said, and by that time I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate. Not with the soaking sweats . . . wild red eyeballs and trembling hands.
So I took the $300 and left. My attorney was waiting in a bar around the corner. “This won’t make the nut,” he said, “unless we have unlimited credit.”
I assured him we would. “You Samoans are all the same,” I told him. “You have no faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Jesus, just one hour ago we were sitting over there in that stinking baiginio, stone broke and paralyzed for the weekend, when a call comes through from some total stranger in New York, telling me to go to Las Vegas and expenses be damned - and then he sends me over to some office in Beverly Hills where another total stranger gives me $300 raw cash for no reason at all . . . I tell you, my man, this is the American Dream in action! We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end.”
“Indeed,” he said. “We must do it.”
“Right,” I said. “But first we need the car. And after that, the cocaine. And then the tape recorder, for special music, and some Acapulco shirts.” The only way to prepare for a trip like this, I felt, was to dress up like human peacocks and get crazy, then screech off across the desert and cover the stary.
Never lose sight of the primary responsibility. But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.
There was also the socio - psychic factor. Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas. To relax, as it were, in the womb of the desert sun. Just roll the roof back and screw it on, grease the face with white tanning butter and move out with the music at top volume, and at least a pint of ether.
Getting hold of the drugs had been no problem, but the car and the tape recorder were not easy things to round up at 6:30 on a Friday afternoon in Hollywood. I already had one car, but it was far too small and slow for desert work. We went to a Polynesian bar, where my attorney made seventeen calls before locating a convertible with adequate horsepower and proper coloring.
“Hang onto it,” I heard him say into the phone. “We’ll be over to make the trade in thirty minutes.” Then after a pause, he began shouting: “What? Of course the gentleman has a major credit card! Do you realize who the fuck you’re talking to?”
“Don’t take any guff from these swine,” I said as he slammed the phone down. “Now we need a sound store with the finest equipment. Nothing dinky. We want one of those new Belgian Heliowatts with a voice - activated shotgun mike, for picking up conversations in oncoming cars.”
We made several more calls and finally located our equip - ment in a store about five miles away. It was closed, but the salesman said he would wait, if we hurried. But we were de - layed en route when a Stingray in front of us killed a pedestrian on Sunset Boulevard. The store was closed by the time we got there. There were people inside, but they refused to come to the double - glass door until we gave it a few belts and made ourselves clear.
Finally two salesmen brandishing tire irons came to the door and we managed to negotiate the sale through a tiny slit. Then they opened the door just wide enough to shove the equipment out, before slamming and locking it again. “Now take that stuff and get the hell away from here,” one of them shouted through the slit.
My attorney shook his fist at them. “We’ll be back,” he yelled. “One of these days I’ll toss a fucking bomb into this place! I have your name on this sales slip! I’ll find out where you live and burn your house down!”
“That’ll give him something to think about,” he muttered as we drove off. “That guy is a paranoid psychotic, anyway. They’re easy to spot.”
We had trouble, again, at the car rental agency. After signing all the papers, I got in the car and almost lost control of it while backing across the lot to the gas pump. The rental - man was obviously shaken.
“Say there . . . uh . . . you fellas are going to be careful with this car, aren’t you?”
“Well, good god!” he said. “You just backed over that two - foot concrete abutment and you didn’t even slow down! Forty - five in reverse! And you barely missed the pump!”
“No harm done,” I said. “I always test a transmission that way. The rear end. For stress factors.”
Meanwhile, my attorney was busy transferring rum and ice from the Pinto ~ the back seat of the convertible. The rental - man watched him nervously.
“Say,” he said. “Are you fellas drinking?”
“Not me,” I said.
“Just fill the goddamn tank,” my attorney snapped. “We’re in a hell of a hurry. We’re on our way to Las Vegas for a desert race.
“Never mind,” I said. “We’re responsible people.” I watched him put the gas cap on, then I jammed the thing into low gear and we lurched into traffic.
“There’s another worrier,” said my attorney. “He’s prob - ably all cranked up on speed.”
“Yeah, you should have given him some reds.”
“Reds wouldn’t help a pig like that,” he said. “To hell with him. We have a lot of business to take care of, before we can get on the road.”
“I’d like to get hold of some priests’ robes,” I said. “They might come in handy in Las Vegas.”
But there were no costume stores open, and we weren’t up to burglarizing a church. “Why bother?” said my attorney.
“And you have to remember that a lot of cops are good vicious Catholics. Can you imagine what those bastards would do to us if we got busted all drugged - up and drunk in stolen investments? Jesus, they’d castrate us!”
“You’re right,” I said. “And for christ’s sake don’t smoke that pipe at stoplights. Keep in mind that we’re exposed.”
He nodded. “We need a big hookah. Keep it down here on the seat, out of sight. If anybody sees us, they’ll think we’re using oxygen.”
We spent the rest of that night rounding up materials and packing the car. Then we ate the mescaline and went swimming in the ocean. Somewhere around dawn we had breakfast in a Malibu coffee shop, then drove very carefully across town and plunged onto the smog - shrouded Pasadena Freeway, heading East.
[ Dodano: Pon 21 Maj, 2007 06:40 ]
3. Strange Medicine On The Desert . . . A Crisis Of Confidence
I am still vaguely haunted by our hitchhiker’s remark about how he’d “never rode in a convertible before.” Here’s this poor geek living in a world of convertibles zipping past him on the highways all the time, and he’s never even ridden in one. It made me feel like King Farouk. I was tempted to have my attorney pull into the next airport and arrange some kind of simple, common - law contract whereby we could just give the car to this unfortunate bastard. Just say: “Here, sign this and the car’s yours.” Give him the keys and then use the credit card to zap off on a jet to some place like Miami and rent another huge fireapple - red convertible for a drug - addled, top - speed run across the water all the way out to the last stop in Key West . . . and then trade the car off for a boat. Keep moving.
But this manic notion passed quickly. There was no point in getting this harmless kid locked up - and, besides, I had plans for this car. I was looking forward to flashing around Las Vegas in the bugger. Maybe do a bit of serious drag - racing on the Strip: Pull up to that big stoplight in front of the Flamingo and start screaming at the traffic:
“Alright, you chickenshit wimps! You pansies! When this goddamn light flips green, I’m gonna stomp down on this thing and blow every one of you gutless punks off the road!”
Right. Challenge the bastards on their own turf. Come Screeching up to the crosswalk, bucking and skidding with a bottle of rum in one hand and jamming the horn to drown out the music . . . glazed eyes insanely dilated behind tiny black, gold - rimmed greaser shades, screaming gibberish.., a genuinely dangerous drunk, reeking of ether and terminal psychosis.
Revving the engine up to a terrible high - pitched chattering whine, waiting for the light to change . . .
How often does a chance like that come around? To jangle the bastards right down to the core of their spleens. Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.
But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country - but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.
My attorney understood this concept, despite his racial handicap, but our hitchhiker was not an easy person to reach. He said he understood, but I could see in his eyes that he didn’t. He was lying to me.
The car suddenly veered off the road and we came to a sliding halt in the gravel. I was hurled against the dashboard. My attorney was slumped over the wheel. “What’s wrong?” I yelled. “We can’t stop here. This is bat country!”
“My heart,” he groaned. “Where’s the medicine?”
“Oh,” I said. “The medicine, yes, it’s right here.” I reached into the kit - bag for the amyls. The kid seemed petrified. “Don’t worry,” I said. “This man has a bad heart - Angina Pectoris.
But we have the cure for it. Yes, here they are.” I picked four amyls out of the tin box and handed two of them to my attorney. He immediately cracked one under his nose, and I did likewise.
He took a long snort and fell back on the seat, staring straight up at the sun. “Turn up the fucking music!” he screamed. “My heart feels like an alligator!
“Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass!” He flailed his naked arms at the sky. “What’s wrong with us? Are we god - damn old ladies?”
I turned both the radio and the tape machine up full bore. “You scurvy shyster bastard,” I said. “Watch your language! You’re talking to a doctor of journalism!”
He was laughing out of control. “What the fuck are we doing out here on this desert?” he shouted. “Somebody call the police! We need help!”
“Pay no attention to this swine,” I said to the hitchhiker. “He can’t handle the medicine. Actually, we’re both doctors of journalism, and we’re on our way to Las Vegas to cover the main story of our generation.” And then I began laughing . . . .
My attorney hunched around to face the hitchhiker. “The truth is,” he said, “we’re going to Vegas to croak a scag baron named Savage Henry. I’ve known him for years, but he ripped us off - and you know what that means, right?”
I wanted to shut him off, but we were both helpless with laughter. What the fuck were we doing out here on this desert, when we both had bad hearts?
“Savage Henry has cashed his check!” My attorney snarled at the kid in the back seat. “We’re going to rip his lungs out!”
“And eat them!” I blurted. “That bastard won’t get away with this! What’s going on in this country when a scumsucker like that can get away with sandbagging a doctor of journalism?”
Nobody answered. My attorney was cracking another amyl and the kid was climbing out of the back seat, scrambling down the trunk lid. “Thanks for the ride,” he yelled. “Thanks a lot. I like you guys. Don’t worry about me.” His feet hit the asphalt and he started running back towards Baker. Out in the middle of the desert, not a tree in sight.
Wait a minute,” I yelled. “Come back and get a beer.” But apparently he couldn’t hear me. The music was very loud, and he was moving away from us at good speed.
“Good riddance,” said my attorney. “We had a real freak on our hands. That boy made me nervous. Did you see his eyes?” He was still laughing. “Jesus,” he said. “This is good medicine!”
I opened the door and reeled around to the driver’s side. “Move over,” I said. “I’ll drive. We have to get out of Califor - nia before that kid finds a cop.”
“Shit, that’ll be hours,” said my attorney. “He’s a hundred miles from anywhere.”
“So are we,” I said.
“Let’s turn around and drive back to the Polo Lounge,” he said. “They’ll never look for us there.”
I ignored him. “Open the tequila,” I yelled as the wind - scream took over again; I stomped on the accelerator as we hurtled back onto the highway. Moments later he leaned over with a map. “There’s a place up ahead called Mescal Springs,” he said. “As your attorney, I advise you to stop and take a swim.
I shook my head. “It’s absolutely imperative that we get to the Mint Hotel before the deadline for press registration,” I said. “Otherwise, we might have to pay for our suite.”
He nodded. “But let’s forget that bullshit about the American Dream,” he said. “The important thing is the Great Samoan Dream.” He was rummaging around in the kit - bag.
“I think it’s about time to chew up a blotter,” he said. “That cheap mescaline wore off a long time ago, and I don’t know if 1 can stand the smell of that goddamn ether any longer.”
“I like it,” I said. “We should soak a towel with the stuff and then put it down on the floorboard by the accelerator so the fumes will rise up in my face all the way to Las Vegas.”
He was turning the tape cassette over. The radio was screaming: “Power to the People - Right On!” John Lennon’s political song, ten years too late. “That poor fool should have stayed where he was,” said my attorney. “Punks like that just get in the way when they try to be serious.”
“Speaking of serious,” I said. “I think it’s about time to get into the ether and the cocaine.”
“Forget ether,” he said. “Let’s save it for soaking down the rug in the suite. But here’s this. Your half of the sunshine blotter. Just chew it up like baseball gum.”
I took the blotter and ate it. My attorney was now fumbling with the salt shaker containing the cocaine. Opening it. Spilling it. Then screaming and grabbing at the air, as our fine white dust blew up and out across the desert highway. A very expensive little twister rising up from the Great Red Shark.
“Oh, Jesus!” he moaned. “Did you see what God just did to us?”
“God didn’t do that!” I shouted. “You did it. You’re a fucking narcotics agent! I was on to your stinking act from the start, you pig!”
“You better be careful,” he said. And suddenly he was waving a fat black .357 magnum at me. One of those snubnosed Colt Python 5 with the beveled cylinder. “Plenty of vultures out here,” he said. “They’ll pick your bones clean before morning.”
“You whore” I said. “When we get to Las Vegas I’ll have you chopped into hamburger. What do you think the Drug Bund will do when I show up with a Samoan narcotics agent?”
“They’ll kill us both,” he said. “Savage Henry knows who I am. Shit, I’m your attornney” He burst into wild laughter.
“You’re full of acid, you fool. It’ll be a goddamn miracle if we can get to the hotel and check in before you turn into a wild animal. Are you ready for that? Checking into a Vegas hotel under a phony name with intent to commit capital fraud and a head full of acid?” He was laughing again, then he jammed his nose down toward the salt shaker, aiming the thin green roll of a $20 bill straight into what was left of the powder.
“How long do we have?” I said.
“Maybe thirty more minutes,” he replied. “As your attorney I advise you to drive at top speed.”
Las Vegas was just up ahead. I could see the strip/hotel skyline looming up through the blue desert ground - haze: The Sahara, the landmark, the Americana and the ominous Thunderbird - a cluster of grey rectangles in the distance, rising out of the cactus.
Thirty minutes. It was going to be very close. The objective was the big tower of the Mint Hotel, downtown - and if we didn’t get there before we lost all control, there was also the Nevada State prison upstate in Carson City. I had been there once, but only for a talk with the prisoners - and I didn’t want to go back, for any reason at all. So there was really no choice:
We would have to run the gauntlet, and acid be damned. Go through all the official gibberish, get the car into the hotel garage, work out on the desk clerk, deal with the bellboy, sign in for the press passes - all of it bogus, totally illegal, a fraud on its face, but of course it would have to be done.
[ Dodano: Pon 21 Maj, 2007 06:40 ]
“KILL THE BODY AND THE HEAD WILL DIE”
This line appears in my notebook, for some reason. Perhaps some connection with Joe Frazier. Is he still alive? Still able to talk? I watched that fight in Seattle - horribly twisted about four seats down the aisle from the Governor. A very painful experience in every way, a proper end to the sixties Tim Leary a prisoner of Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, Bob Dylan clipping coupons in Greenwich Village, both Kennedysmurdered by mutants, Owsley folding napkins on Terminal Island, and finally Cassius/Ali belted incredibly off his pedestal by a human hamburger, a man on the verge of death. Joe Frazier, like Nixon, had finally prevailedfor reasons that people like me refused to understand - at least not out loud.
But that was some other era, burned out and long gone from the brutish realities of this foul year of Our Lord, 1971. A lot of things had changed in those years. And now I was in Las Vegas as the motor sports editor of this fine slick magazine that had sent me out here in the Great Red Shark for some reason that nobody claimed to understand. “Just check it out,” they said, “and we’ll take it from there.
Indeed. Check it out. But when we finally arrived at the Mint Hotel my attorney was unable to cope artfully with the registration procedure. We were forced to stand in line with all the others - which proved to be extremely difficult under the circumstances. I kept telling myself: “Be quiet, be calm, say nothing . . . speak only when spoken to: name, rank and press affiliation, nothing else, ignore this terrible drug, pretend it’s not happening. . .There is no way to explain the terror I felt when I finally lunged up to the clerk and began babbling. All my well - re - hearsed lines fell apart under that woman’s stoney glare. “Hi there,” I said. “My name is . . . ah, Raoul Duke . . . yes, on the list, that’s for sure. Free lunch, final wisdom, total coverage. . . . why not? I have my attorney with me and I realize of course that his name is not on the list, but we must have that suite, yes, this man is actually my driver. We brought this Red Shark all the way from the Strip and now it’s time for the desert, right? Yes. Just check the list and you’ll see. Don’t worry. What’s the score here? What’s next?”
The woman never blinked. “Your room’s not ready yet,” she said. “But there’s somebody looking for you.”
“No!” I shouted. “Why? We haven’t done anything yet!” My legs felt rubbery. I gripped the desk and sagged toward her as she held out the envelope, but I refused to accept it. The Woman’s face was changing: swelling, pulsing . . . horrible green jowls and fangs jutting out, the face of a Moray Eel! Deadly poison! I lunged backwards into my attorney, who gripped my arm as he reached out to take the note. “I’ll handle this,” he said to the Moray woman.
“This man has a bad heart, but I have plenty of medicine. My name is Doctor Gonzo. Prepare our suite at once. We’ll be in the bar.”
The woman shrugged as he led me away. In a town full of bedrock crazies, nobody even notices an acid freak.
We struggled through the crowded lobby and found two stools at the bar. My attorney ordered two cuba libres with beer and mescal on the side, then he opened the envelope. “Who’s Lacerda?” he asked. “He’s waiting for us in a room on the twelfth floor.”
I couldn’t remember. Lacerda? The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t concentrate. Terrible things were happening all around us. Right next to me a huge reptile was gnawing on a woman’s neck, the carpet was a blood - soaked sponge - impossible to walk on it, no footing at all. “Order some golf shoes,” I whispered. “Otherwise, we’ll never get out of this place alive. You notice these lizards don’t have any trouble moving around in this muck - that’s because they have claws on their feet.”
“Lizards?” he said. “If you think we’re in trouble now, wait till you see what’s happening in the elevators.” He took off his Brazilian sunglasses and I could see he’d been crying. “I just went upstairs to see this man Lacerda,” he said. “I told him we knew what he was up to. He says he’s a photographer, but when I mentioned Savage Henry - well, that did it; he freaked. I could see it in his eyes. He knows we’re onto him.”
“Does he understand we have magnums?” I said.
“No. But I told him we had a Vincent Black Shadow. That scared the piss out of him.”
“Good,” I said. “But what about our room? And the golf shoes? We’re right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody’s giving booze to these goddamn things! It won’t be long before they tear us to shreds. Jesus, look at the floor! Have you ever seen so much blood? How many have theykilled already?” I pointed across the room to a group that seemed to be staring at us. “Holy shit, look at that bunch over there! They’ve spotted us!”
“That’s the press table,” he said. “That’s where you have to sign in for our credentials. Shit, let’s get it over with. You handle that, and I’ll get the room.”
4. Rude Music And The Sound Of Many Shotguns . . . Rude Vibes On A Saturday Evening In Vegas
We finally got into the suite around dusk, and my attorney was immediately on the phone to room service - ordering four club sandwiches, four shrimp cocktails, a quart of rum and nine fresh grapefruits. “Vitamin C,” he explained. “We’ll need all we can get.”
I agreed. By this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level. The room service waiter had a vaguely reptilian cast to his features, but I was no longer seeing huge pterodactyls lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood.
The only problem now was a gigantic neon sign outside the window, blocking our view of the mountains - millions of colored balls running around a very complicated track, strange symbols & filigree, giving off a loud hum.
“Look outside,” I said.
“There’s a big .. . machine in the sky, . . . some kind of electric snake . . . coming straight at us.”
“Shoot it,” said my attorney.
“Not yet,” I said. “I want to study its habits.” He
went over to the corner and began pulling on a chain todrapes. “Look,” he said, “you’ve got to stop this talk snakes and leeches and lizards and that stuff. It’s making me sick.”
“Don’t worry,” I said.
“Worry? Jesus, I almost went crazy down there in the bar. They’ll never let us back in that place - not after your
scene at the press table.”
“You bastard,” he said. “I left you alone for three minutes! You scared the shit out of those people! Waving that goddamn marlin spike around and yelling about reptiles. You’re lucky I came back in time. They were ready to call the cops. I said you were only drunk and that I was taking you up to your room for a cold shower. Hell,the only reason they gave us the press passes was to get you out of there.”
He was pacing around nervously. “Jesus, that scene straightened me right out! I must have some drugs. What have you done with the mescaline?”
“The kit - bag,” I said.
He opened the bag and ate two pellets while I got the tape machine going. “Maybe you should only eat one of these,” he said. “That acid’s still working on you.”
I agreed. “We have to go out to the track before dark,” I said. “But we have time to watch the TV news. Let’s carve up this grapefruit and make a fine rum punch, maybe toss in a blotter . . . where’s the car?”
“We gave it to somebody in the parking lot,” he said. “I have the ticket in my briefcase.”
“What’s the number? I’ll call down and have them wash the bastard, get rid of that dust and grime.”
“Good idea,” he said. But he couldn’t find the ticket.
“Well, we’re fucked,” I said. “We’ll never convince them to give us that car without proof.”
He thought for a moment, then picked up the phone and asked for the garage. “This is Doctor Gonzo in eight fifty,” he said. “I seem to have lost my parking stub for that red convertible I left with you, but I want the car washed and ready to go in thirty minutes. Can you send up a duplicate stub? . . . What . . . Oh? . . . Well, that’s fine.” He hung up and reached for the hash pipe. “No problem,” hesaid. “That man remembers my face.”
“That’s good,” I said. “They’ll probably have a big net for us when we show up.”shook his head. “As your attorney, I advise you not to about me.”
The TV news was about the Laos Invasion - a series of horrifying disasters: explosions and twisted wreckage, men fleeing in terror, Pentagon generals babbling insane lies.
“Turn that shit off!” screamed my attorney “Let’s get out of here!”
A wise move. Moments after we picked up the car my attorney went into a drug coma and ran a red light on Main Street before I could bring us under control. I propped him up in the passenger seat and took the wheel myself . . . feeling fine, extremely sharp. All around me in traffic I could see people talking and I wanted to hear what they were saying. All of them. But the shotgun mike was in the trunk and I decided to leave it there. Las Vegas is not the kind of town where you want to drive down Main Street aiming a black bazooka - looking instrument at people.Turn up the radio. Turn up the tape machine. Look into the sunset up ahead. Roll the windows down for a better taste of the cool desert wind. Ah yes. This is what it’s all about. Total control now. Tooling along the main drag on a Saturday night in Las Vegas, two good old boys in a fireapple - red convertible . . . stoned, ripped, twisted . . . Good People.
Great God! What is this terrible music?
“The Battle Hymn of Lieutenant Galley”:
“ . . . as we go marching on
When I reach my final campground, in that land
beyond the sun,
and the Great Commander asks me . . . ”
(What did he ask you, Rusty?)
“Did you fight or did you run?”
(and what did you tell him, Rusty?)
“ . . . We responded to their rifle fire with everything we had . . . ”
[ Dodano: Pon 21 Maj, 2007 06:41 ]
No! I can’t be hearing this! It must be the drug. I glanced over at my attorney, but he was staring up at the sky, and I could see that his brain had gone off to that campground
beyond the sun. Thank christ he can’t hear this music, I thought. It would drive him into a racist frenzy.
Mercifully, the song ended. But my mood was already shattered . . . and now the fiendish cactus juice took over, plunging me into a sub - human funk as we suddenly came up on the turnoff to the Mint Gun Club. “One mile,” the sign said. But even a mile away I could hear the crackling scream of two - stroke bike engines winding out . . . and then, coming closer, I heard another sound.
Shotguns! No mistaking that fiat hollow boom.
I stopped the car. What the hell is going on down there?
I rolled up all the windows and eased down the gravel road, hunched low on the wheel . . . until I saw about a dozen figures pointing shotguns into the air, firing at regular intervals.
Standing on a slab of concrete out here in the mesquite - desert, this scraggly little oasis in a wasteland north of Vegas . . They were clustered, with their shotguns, about fifty yards away from a one - story concrete/block - house, half - shaded by ten or twelve trees and surrounded by cop - cars, bike - trailers and motorcycles.
Of course. The Mint Gun Club! These lunatics weren’t letting anything interfere with their target practice. Here were about a hundred bikers, mechanics and assorted motorsport types milling around in the pit area, signing in for tomorrow’s race, idly sipping beers and appraising each other’s machinery - and right in the middle of all this, oblivious to everything but the clay pigeons flipping out of the traps every five seconds or so, the shotgun people never missed a beat.
Well, why not? I thought. The shooting provided a certain rhythm - sort of a steady bass - line - to the high - pitched chaos of the bike scene. I parked the car and wandered into the crowd, leaving my attorney in his coma.
I bought a beer and watched the bikes checking in. Many
Husquavarnas, high - tuned Swedish fireballs . . . also Yamahas, Kawasakis, a few 500 Triumphs, Maicos, & there a CZ, a Pursang . . . all very fast, super - light dfrt bikes. No Hogs in this league, not even a Sportster . . . that would be like entering our Great Red Shark in the dune buggy competition.
Maybe I should do that, I thought. Sign my attorney up as the driver, then send him out to the starting line with a head full of ether and acid. How would they handle it?Nobody would dare go out on the track with a person that crazy. He would roll on the first turn, and take out four or five dune buggies - a Kamikaze trip.
“What’s the entry fee?” I asked the desk - man.
“Two fifty,” he said.
“What if I told you I had a Vincent Black Shadow?”He stared up at me, saying nothing, not friendly. I noticed he was wearing a .38 revolver on his belt. “Forget it,” I said. “My driver’s sick, anyway.”
His eyes narrowed. “Your driver ain’t the only one sick around here, buddy.”
“He has a bone in his throat,” I said.
The man was getting ugly, but suddenly his eyes switched away. He was staring at something else
My attorney no longer wearing his Danish sunglasses, no longer wearing his Acapulco shirt . . . a very crazy looking ,half - naked and breathing heavily.
“What’s the trouble here?” he croaked. “This man is my client - Are you prepared to go to court?” grabbed his shoulder and gently spun him around.
“Never “ I said. “It’s the Black Shadow - they won’t accept it.”
“Wait a minute!” he shouted. “What do you mean, they won’t accept it? Have you made a deal with these pigs?”
“Certainly not,” I said, pushing him along toward the gate. “But you notice they’re all armed. We’re the only people here without guns. Can’t you hear that shooting over there?”
He paused, listened for an instant, then suddenly began,running toward the car. “You cocksuckers!” he screamed over his shoulder. “We’ll be back!”
By the time we got the shark back on the highway he was able to talk. “Jesus christ! How did we get mixed up with that gang of psychotic bigots? Let’s get the fuck out of this town. Those scumbags were trying to kill us!
5.Covering the Story . . . A Glimpse of the Press in Action . . . Ugliness & Failure
The racers were ready at dawn. Fine sunrise over the desert. Very tense. But the race didn’t start until nine, so we had to kill about three long hours in the casino next to the pits, and that’s where the trouble started.
The bar opened at seven. There was also a “koffee & donut canteen” in the bunker, but those of us who had been up all night in places like the Circus - Circus were in no mood for coffee & donuts. We wanted strong drink. Our tempers were ugly and there were at least two hundred of us, so they opened the bar early. By eight - thirty there were big crowds around the crap - tables. The place was full of noise and drunken shouting.
A boney, middle - aged hoodlum wearing a Harley - Davidson T - shirt boomed up to the bar and yelled: “God damn! What day is this - Saturday?”
“More like Sunday,” somebody replied.
“Hah! That’s a bitch, ain’t it?” the H - D boomer shouted to nobody in particular. “Last night I was out home in Long and somebody said they were runnin’ the Mint 400 so I says to my old lady, ‘Man, I’m goin’.” He laughed.
“So she gives me a lot of crap about it, you know . . . so I started slappin’ her around and the next thing I knew two guys I never even seen before got me out on the sidewalk workin’ me over. Jesus! They beat me stupid.”
He laughed again, talking into the crowd and not seeming listened.
“Hell yes!” he continued. “Then one of em says, ‘Where you going?’ And I says, ‘Las Vegas, to the Mint 400.’ So they gave me ten bucks and drove me down to the bus station . . . .“ He paused. “At least I think it was them . . . ”
“Well, anyway, here I am. And I tell you that was one hell of a long night, man! Seven hours on that goddamn bus! But when I woke up it was dawn and here I was in downtown Vegas and for a minute I didn’t know what the hell I was doin’ here. All I could think was, ‘0 Jesus, here we go again: Who’s divorced me this time?’”
He accepted a cigarette from somebody in the crowd, still grinning as he lit up. “But then I remembered, by God! I was here for the Mint 400 . . . and, man, that’s all I needed to know. I tell you it’s wonderful to be here, man. I don’t give a damn who wins or loses. It’s just wonderful to be here with you people.
Nobody argued with him. We all understood. In some circles, the “Mint 400” is a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. This race attracts a very special breed, and our man in the Harley T - shirt was clearly one of them.
The correspondent from Life nodded sympathetically and screamed at the bartender: “Senzaman wazzyneeds!”
“Fast up with it,” I croaked. “Why not five?” I smacked the bar with my open, bleeding palm. “Hell yes! Bring us ten!”
“I’ll back it!” The Life man screamed. He was losing his grip on the bar, sinking slowly to his knees, but still speaking with definite authority: “This is a magic moment in sport! It may never come again!” Then his voice seemed to break. “I once did the Triple Crown,” he muttered. “But it was nothing like this.”
The frog - eyed woman clawed feverishly at his belt. “Stand up!” she pleaded. “Please stand up! You’d be a very handsome man if you’d just stand up!”
He laughed distractedly. “Listen, madam,” he snapped. “I’m damn near intolerably handsome down here where I am. You’d go crazy if I stood up!”
The woman kept pulling at him. She’d been mooning at his elbows for two hours, and now she was making her move. The man from Life wanted no part of it; he slumped deeper into his crouch.
I turned away. It was too horrible. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the national sporting press. And we were gathered here in Las Vegas for a very special assignment: to cover the Fourth Annual “Mint 400” . . . and when it comes to things like this, you don’t fool around.
But now - even before the spectacle got under way - there were signs that we might be losing control of the situation. Here we were on this fine Nevada morning, this cool bright dawn on the desert, hunkered down at some greasy bar in a concrete blockhouse & gambling casino called the “Mint Gun Club” about ten miles out of Vegas . . . and with the race about to start, we were dangerously disorganized.
Outside, the lunatics were playing with their motorcycles, taping the headlights, topping off oil in the forks, last minute bolt - tightening (carburetor screws, manifold nuts, etc.) and the first ten bikes blasted off on the stroke of nine. It was extremely exciting and we all went outside to watch. The flag went down and these ten poor buggers popped their clutches and zoomed into the first turn, all together, then somebody grabbed the lead (a 405 Husquavarna, as I recall), and a cheer went up as the rider screwed it on and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
“Well, that’s that,” somebody said. “They’ll be back around in an hour or so. Let’s go back to the bar.”
But not yet. No. There were something like a hundred and ninety more bikes waiting to start. They went off ten at a time, every two minutes. At first it was possible to watch them out to a distance of some two hundred yards from the starting line. But this visibility didn’t last long. The third brace of ten disappeared into the dust about a hundred yards from where we stood . . . and by the time they’d sent off the first hundred (with still another hundred to go), our visibility was down to something like fifty feet. We could see as far as the hay - bales at the end of the pits . . .
Beyond that point the incredible dustcloud that would hang over this part of the desert for the next two days was already formed up solid. None of us realized, at the time, that this was the last we would see of the “Fabulous Mint 400” - By noon it was hard to see the pit area from the bar/casino, one hundred feet away in the blazing sun. The idea of trying to “cover this race” in any conventional press - sense was absurd: It was like trying to keep track of a swimming meet in an Olympic - sized pool filled with talcum powder instead of water. The Ford Motor Company had come through, as promised, with a “press Bronco” and a driver, but after a few savage runs across the desert - looking for motorcycles and occasionally finding one - I abandoned this vehicle to the photographers and went back to the bar.
It was time, I felt, for an Agonizing Reappraisal of the whole scene. The race was definitely under way. I had witnessed the start; I was sure of that much. But what now? Rent a helicopter? Get back in that stinking Bronco? Wander out on that goddamn desert and watch these fools race past the checkpoints? One every thirteen minutes. . . .
By ten they were spread out all over the course. It was no longer a “race”; now it was an Endurance Contest. The only visible action was at the start/finish line, where every few minutes some geek would come speeding out of the dustcloud and stagger off his bike, while his pit crew would gas it up and then launch it back onto the track with a fresh driver for another fifty - mile lap, another brutal hour of kidney killing madness out there in that terrible dust - blind limbo.
Somewhere around eleven, I made another tour in the press vehicle, but all we found were two dune - buggies full of what looked like retired petty - officers from San Diego. Theycut us off in a dry - wash and demanded, “Where is the damn thing?”
“Beats me,” I said. “We’re just good patriotic Americans like yourselves.” Both of their buggies were covered with ominous symbols: Screaming Eagles carrying American Flags in their claws, a slant - eyed snake being chopped to bits by a buzz - saw made of stars & stripes, and one of the vehicles had what looked like a machine - gun mount on the passenger side.
They were having a bang - up time - just crashing around the desert at top speed and hassling anybody they met. “What outfit you fellas with?” one of them shouted. The engines were all roaring; we could barely hear each other.“The sporting press,” I yelled. “We’re friendlies - hired geeks.”
“If you want a good chase,” I shouted, “you should get after that skunk from CBS News up ahead in the big black jeep. He’s the man responsible for The Selling Of The Pentagon.”
“Hot damn!” two of them screamed at once. “A black jeep, you say?”
They roared off, and so did we. Bouncing across the rocks & scrub oak/cactus like iron tumbleweeds. The beer in my hand flew up and hit the top, then fell in my lap and soaked my crotch with warm foam.
“You’re fired,” I said to the driver. “Take me back to the pits.”
It was time, I felt, to get grounded - to ponder this rotten assignment and figure out how to cope with it. Lacerda insisted on Total Coverage. He wanted to goback out in the dust storm and keep trying for some rare combination of film and lense that might penetrate the aweful stuff.
“Joe,” our driver, was willing. His name was not really “Joe,” but that’s what we’d been instructed to call him. I had talked to the FOMOCO boss the night before, and when we mentioned the driver he was assigning to us he said, “His real name is Steve, but you should just call him Joe.”
“Why not?” I said, We’ll call him anything he wants. How about “Zoom”?”
“No dice,” the FOrd man said, “It has to be “Joe”.
Lacerda agreed, and sometime around noon he went out on the desert again, in the company of our driver Joe. I went back to the blockhouse bar/casino that was actually the Mint Gun Club - where I began to drink heavily, think heavily, and make many heavy notes . . .
[ Dodano: Pon 21 Maj, 2007 06:53 ]
6. A Night on the Town . . . Confrontation at the Desert Inn . . . Drug Frenzy at the Circus Circus . . .
Saturday midnight . . . Memories of this night are extremely hazy. All I have, for guide - pegs, is a pocketful of keno cards and cocktail napkins, all covered with scribbled notes. Here is one: “Get the Ford man, demand a Bronco for race - observation purposes . .. photos? . . . Lacerda/call . . . why not a helicopter? . . . Get on the phone, lean on the fuckers . . . heavy yelling.”
Another says: “Sign on Paradise Boulevard - ’Stopless and Topless’ . . . bush - league sex compared to L.A.; pasties here - total naked public humping in L.A. . . . Las Vegas is a society of armed masturbators/gambling is the kicker here/sex is extra/weird trip for high rollers . . . house - whores for winners, hand jobs for the bad luck crowd.”
A long time ago when I lived in Big Sur down the road from Lionel Olay I had a friend who liked to go to Reno for the crap - shooting. He owned a sporting - goods store in Carmel. And one month he drove his Mercedes highway - cruiser to Reno on three consecutive weekends - winning heavilyinch time. After three trips he was something like $15,000 ahead, so he decided to skip the fourth weekend and take friends to dinner at Nepenthe. “Always quit winners,” explained. “And besides, it’s a long drive.”
On Monday morning he got a phone call from Reno - from the general manager of the casino he’d been working out on. “We missed you this weekend,” said the GM. “The pit - men were bored.”
“Shucks,” said my friend.
So the next weekend he flew up to Reno in a private plane, with a friend and two girls - all “special guests” of the GM. Nothing too good for high rollers . . .
And on Monday morning the same plane - the casino’s plane - flew him back to the Monterey airport. The pilot lent him a dime to call a friend for a ride to Carmel. He was $30,000 in debt, and two months later he was looking down the barrel of one of the world’s heaviest collection agendes.
So he sold his store, but that didn’t make the nut. They could wait for the rest, he said - but then he got stomped, which convinced him that maybe he’d be better off borrowing enough money to pay the whole wad.
Mainline gambling is a very heavy business - and Las Vegas makes Reno seem like your friendly neighborhood grocery store. For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth. Until about a year ago, there was a giant billboard on the outskirts of Las Vegas, saying:
DON’T GAMBLE WITH MARIJUANA!
IN NEVADA: POSSESSION - 20 YEARS SALE - LIFE!