I whiled away a couple of hours this week reading "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." It brought back memories of the evening I met one of my literary heroes . . .
In May 1997, while living in Los Angeles, I went to Book Soup on the Sunset Strip to see Hunter S. Thompson. He was there signing copies of the Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, his first volume of published letters. I had just graduated college with a bachelor’s in journalism. While in school, Thompson’s work was a near-constant companion. It wasn’t so much the writing I admired (though I do love his way with words) but the wild and eccentric personality that leapt off the page.
In person, Thompson did not disappoint. The signing had a conveyor belt quality to it. He didn’t do a reading or give any sort of talk. Fans simply filed past in a long line and were given a quick minute to grab his autograph and ask a question. He refused to scribble in the books themselves, choosing instead to scratch his name on a book plate, which was then placed in the book. He sat at a long table, his ever-present cigarette clamped in a long holder between his teeth. On the table sat a large grapefruit and a bottle of Chivas Regal, which he seemed to be working his way through with great enthusiasm. Johnny Depp, then preparing to play Thompson in the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, stood nearby and watched the proceedings in silence.Just before it was my turn to meet him, someone told Thompson there was a porn convention going on at the Palladium down the street. All the big starlets were in attendance. Thompson stood up and made as if to leave. A Book Soup staff member quickly stepped in and urged Thompson to stay put. I’m sure he would have taken off if given the chance. When it was finally my turn, I shook his hand and told him I’d just graduated with a degree in journalism. Did he have any advice for a young, struggling reporter with aspirations of becoming an author?
“You majored in journalism?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“What are you,” he asked in a slightly raised voice, “some sort of fucking freak?”
I was thrilled Hunter S. Thompson considered me freakish. When I asked him for advice, he replied without hesitation: “Go into advertising.”
He dully signed several bookplates for me, which I stuck in my copies of The Proud Highway, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Songs of the Doomed. My friend Dan, quite buzzed from our drinking session at Red Rock, was next. “I’m drunk,” he said, as he took a signed book plate from Thompson.
Smiling, Thompson replied, “It’s a great state to be in.”
Perfectly content, Dan and I scurried from the shop and returned to Red Rock, deeming it most appropriate to cap the evening off with a few more rounds.