Friday, May 15, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Louisville, KY

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2005, with a few updates.

It was a sad day for me in 2005 when I learned that Hunter S. Thompson, famed psychotic and drug-addled journalist, took his own life at his Colorado ranch. I'd been a fan of the good doctor for years, and have often imitated his style of gonzo journalism, the art form he perfected over nearly 40 years.

Gonzo journalism is a style of writing that blurs the line between writer as a silent observer and story subject, between fact and fiction, between quietly chronicling events and being enough of a pain in the ass that you have to tell people about it, if only for legal protection.

Thompson's reputation as a writer was outweighed only by his reputation as a hard-core boozer and drug abuser. Although some say his creative genius shone through in spite of, or perhaps because of, the frightening amount of substances he crammed in his body.

I like to think that Thompson and I had a lot in common. . . except for the heavy drinking. Or the drugs. Or the penchant for guns. Or peacocks. Okay, we had nothing in common, except that we're both writers and we both wear glasses.

And I'm starting to rethink the glasses part.

So it was a fitting tribute that I found myself in Louisville, Kentucky, his hometown, on the week of his death. And with my column deadline looming, I thought I would make that week's column a salute to Thompson.

To do it, I needed to reacquaint myself with gonzo journalism. Problem was, all my Thompson books were at home, and I needed one to write this column.

I would have to go on a Hunter hunt, but I couldn't go to one of the big book warehouses. He would have hated those kinds of bookstores, and I wanted to stay true to his spirit.

I grabbed my map of Louisville, tore the bookstore pages out of the hotel's phone book, shot the TV, and ran out of my room.

I jumped into my rental car, slammed it into gear, and roared down the highway to find my book. It was 8:00 and my deadline was just two hours away.

I stopped at the first bookstore just a few miles away. The sign, "New Life Covenant Books" didn't tell me much about the place, but the hundreds of Bibles and "What Would Jesus Read?" t-shirts should have been a clue.

I stopped a middle-aged woman whose name tag said "Bless you, my name is Caroline."

"Excuse me, do you have any Hunter S. Thompson books?" I asked.

Caroline's eyes bugged out. "That man was a drug addict and a sex fiend!" She flung holy water at me and began speaking in tongues. I blasted her with a fire extinguisher and ran out. Shrieks of "Heathen! Heathen" followed me to the car.

That was two minutes of my time wasted, two minutes closer to my deadline. Also, the holy water turned out to be lukewarm coffee and it stained my favorite shirt.

I roared down the Gene Snyder Expressway, weaving in and out of traffic to the next bookstore on my list. My attorney cackled in the seat next to me.

"As your attorney, I advise you to put club soda on that coffee stain," he shouted. Then I remembered I was actually traveling alone, and my attorney vanished. I kept my eyes peeled for bats.

The rest ofthe evening was a 90 mile an hour blur, as I wrenched my rental car from bookstore to bookstore. Womyn Withyn was no help, and neither was Book 'Em, Dano Mysteries. Wish You Were Here Travel Books was a bust too.

Finally, I came to the last store on my list. It was nearly 10 o'clock, and time was running out. I flung open the door, ran inside, and hollered at the guy behind the counter: "Quick, I need a Hunter S. Thompson book! I've got a deadline!"

He tossed me a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." It was the movie printing – the one with a melting Johnny Depp on it. I couldn't complain though. They'd had a run on all the Thompson books, and this was the last one.

So I threw some money on the counter, and raced out the door. I found a nearby coffee shop, and sat down with two minutes to spare. I had the book, and I was able to write the column.

I never did get to reacquaint myself with gonzo journalism though.



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