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e were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. Press registration for the fabulous Mint 400 was already underway, and we had to get there by four to claim our soundproof suite. "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. We had actually been sitting there in the Polo Lounge – for many hours – drinking Singapore Slings with mescal on the side and beer chasers. The dwark approached our table cautiously, as I recall, and when he handed me the pink telephone I said nothing, merely listened. "You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over," he said. "This blows my weekend, because naturally I'll have to go with you – and we'll have to arm ourselves.""Why not? "If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it's worth doing right. "The new model is something like two thousand cubic inches, developing 200 brake horsepower at 4000 revolutions per minute on a magnesium frame with two styrofoam seats and a total curb weight of exactly 200 pounds.""It is," I assured him. She had no idea who I was, she said, and by that time I was pouring sweat. "This won't make the nut," he said, "unless we have unlimited credit."I assured him we would. "You have no faith in the essential decency of the white man's culture. For all I knew, the whole spectacle had been aborted by a terrible riot – an orgy of senseless violence, kicked off by drunken hoodlums who refused to abide by the rules. He told me last night that he meant to catch the first flight. and here I am, with no attorney, slumped on a red plastic stool in Wild Bill's Tavern, nervously sipping a Budweiser in a bar just coming awake to an early morning rush of pimps and pinball hustlers ... How many more nights and weird mornings can this terrible shit go on? What kind of rat-bastard psychotic would play me behind these mirrors? and suddenly it occurs to me, some final flash of lunatic shrewdness before the darkness closes in, that my legal/hotel checkout time is not until Wonderful luck. Which is not really a hell of a lot to ask, Lord, because the final incredible truth is that I am not guilty. This is the moment of truth, that fine and fateful line between control and disaster – which is also the difference between staying loose and weird on the streets, or spending the next five years of summer mornings playing basketball in the yard at Carson City. maybe chalk it off to forced Tune in, freak out, get beaten. and then he will start apologizing, begging for mercy. Mash it down and make the bastard chase you at speeds up to 120 all the way to the next exit. But he won't know what to make of your blinker-signal that says you're about to turn right. "I've been out in Las Vegas covering the Mint 400." I pointed to the "VIP Parking" sticker on the windshield. "All those bikes and dune buggies crashing around the desert for two days. "He smiled, shaking his head with a sort of melancholy understanding. How many off-duty hours would he have to spend hanging around the courthouse, waiting to testify against me? for driving too fast for conditions, and advised you ... I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail Then it was quiet again. It was almost noon, and we still had more than 100 miles to go. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. 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 ... I whacked the back of the driver's seat with my fist. The kid in the back looked like he was ready to jump right out of the car and take his chances. "And my first advice is that you should rent a very fast car with no top and get the hell out of L. 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? "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 named Del Webb, who owns the luxurious Mint Hotel in the heart of downtown Las Vegas ... "The fucker's not much for turning, but it's pure hell on the straightaway. My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate. Jesus, just one hour ago we were sitting over there in that stinking bagnio, 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 0 raw cash for no reason at all ... I wanted to plug this gap in my knowledge at the earliest opportunity: Pick up the L. Times and scour the sports section for a Mint 400 story. with a huge red shark just outside the door so full of felonies that I'm afraid to even look at it. The only hope is to somehow get it across 300 miles of open road between here and Sanctuary. This is not even the story I was supposed to be working on. All signs were negative – especially that evil dwark with the pink telephone in the Polo Lounge. anything but that fucking thing on the jukebox just now? How long can the body and the brain this doom-struck craziness? A very popular song: "Like a bridge over troubled waters ... All bartenders are treacherous, but this one is a surly middle-aged fat woman wearing a muu-muu and Iron Boy overalls ... Jesus, bad waves of paranoia, madness, fear and loathing – intolerable vibrations in this place. By the time the alarm goes off, I can be running full bore somewhere between Needles and Death Valley – jamming the accelerator through the floorboard and shaking my fist up at Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Those goddamn treacherous maids will swear they were menaced by two heavily-armed crazies who threatened them with a Vincent Black Shadow unless they gave up all their soap. All I did was take your gibberish Creeping through the casino at in the morning with a suitcase full of grapefruit and "Mint 400" T-shirts, I remember telling myself, over and over again, "you are not guilty." This is merely a necessary expedient, to avoid a nasty scene. The possibility of physical and mental collapse is very real now. This is to let him know you're looking for a proper place to pull off and talk ... His brain will be in a turmoil: he may begin jabbering, or even pull his gun. The idea is to show him that you were always in total control of yourself and your vehicle – while lost control of everything. And what kind of monster lawyer would I bring in to work out on him? ..." 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 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. " he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. and I was, after all, a professional journalist; so I had an obligation to The sporting editors had also given me 0 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. "This is The car swerved sickeningly, then straightened out. 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. It'll outrun the F-111 until takeoff.""Takeoff? I tell you, my man, this is the American Dream in action! 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 pure Gonzo journalism. 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. At on this filthy grey morning in Wild Bill's Tavern? That was only in my brain, some long-lost echo of a painful dawn in Toronto ... This grinding of teeth, this pouring of sweat, this pounding of blood in the temples ... swooping down on me in his FBI/Screaming Eagle helicopter. As far as you and the Mint people know, I am still up there in 1850 – legally and spiritually if not in the actual flesh – with a "Do Not Disturb" sign hung out to ward off disturbance. After all, I made no binding agreements; this is an uesday, PM ... Into the Ballantine Ale now, zombie drunk and nervous. keep signaling and hope for an off-ramp, one of those uphill side-loops with a sign saying "Max Speed 25" ... It helps to have a police/press badge in your wallet when he calms down enough to ask for your license. Just behind me, on the back seat of the Shark, I could see about ten cans of hot Budweiser and a dozen or so grapefruits. I knew it was a crime, but I did it anyway." I shrugged. I'm a fucking criminal.""That's a strange attitude," he said. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. "He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous."I want you to have all the background," I said. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously? We'd be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end." do it.""Right," I said. To etting hold of the drugs had been no problem, but the car and the tape recorder were not easy things to round up at on a Friday afternoon in Hollywood. small blue veins gone amok in front of the ears, 60 and 70 hours with no sleep. The maids won't come near that room as long as that sign is on a doorknob. I recognize this feeling: three or four days of booze, drugs, sun, no sleep and burned out adrenalin reserves – a giddy, quavering sort of high that means the crash is coming. and the trick, at this point, is to suddenly leave the freeway and take him into the chute at no less than 100 miles an hour. I had one of these – but I also had a can of Budweiser in my hand. I'd forgotten all about them, but now they were too obvious for either one of us to ignore. I stared at him, seeing for the first time that I was dealing with a bright-eyed young sport, around 30, who was apparently enjoying his work. "I get the feeling you could use a nap." He nodded. Why don't you pull over and sleep a few hours?
But that was some other era, burned out and long gone from the brutish realities of this foul year of Our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy One. 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. But when we finally arrived at the Mint Hotel my attorney was unable to cope artfully with the registration procedure. Waving that goddamn marlin spike around and yelling about reptiles. Hell, the only reason they gave us the press passes was to get you out of there." of these," he said. "We have to go out to the track before dark," I said. Let's carve up this grapefruit and make a fine rum punch, maybe toss in a blotter ... ""We gave it to somebody in the parking lot," he said. Well, that's fine." He hung up and reached for the hash pipe. "That man remembers my face.""That's good," I said. blocking the entrance, thugs yelling at us, bad confusion. with her."For a moment I thought he had blown it ... We approached the grand ballroom full of confidence, but they refused to let us in. Finally, after a lot of bad noise, he let us in for nothing – provided we would stand quietly in back and not smoke. I jammed the hash pipe back into my pocket just in time. If Debbie has friends like you guys, she's in worse trouble than I thought.""We'll see about this! He came back with the ether-bottle, un-capped it, then poured some into a kleenex and mashed it under his nose, breathing heavily. The smell was overwhelming, even with the top down. orders from Captain Zeep."Ah, devil ether – a total body drug. Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high-wire trapeze act, along with four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego ... Drugs were suspected, it said, in another 56 military deaths in Asia and the Pacific Command ... The warden will recognize me; and the Con Boss – I once interviewed them for the New York Times. Revving the engine up to a terrible high-pitched chattering whine, waiting for the light to change ... To jangle the bastards right down to the core of their spleens. "I think it's about time to chew up a blotter," he said. 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. 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, 100 feet away in the blazing sun. The only visible action was at the start/finish line, where every few minutes some geek would come speeding out of the dust-cloud 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 ... 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. "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. All I have, for guide-pegs, is a pocketfull of keno cards and cocktail napkins, all covered with scribbled notes. 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. There was no way he could possibly understand what was happening.* * *What were we doing out here? Did I actually have a big red convertible out there on the street? The important thing is to cover this story on its own terms; leave the other stuff to Life and Look – at least for now. Or grasp the awful fact that my income averaged around a week that year? I recall one night in the Matrix, when a road-person came in with a big pack on his back, shouting: "Anybody want some L ... No Samoan attorney in his right mind is going to stomp through the metal-detector gates of a commercial airline with a fat black .357 Magnum on his person. So he had left it with me, for delivery – if I made it back to L. and he offered to carve a big X on my forehead, in memory of Lt. but when I told him I was a doctor of journalism his whole attitude changed. No future for a doctor of journalism editing the state pen weekly. Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars. 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 of life in this country – but only for those with true grit. My attorney understood this concept, despite his racial handicap, but our hitchhiker was not an easy person to reach. "That cheap mescaline wore off a long time ago, and I don't know if I can stand the smell of that goddamn ether any longer.""I He was turning the tape cassette over. It's just wonderful to be here with you people. 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! 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. Wander out on that goddamn desert and these fools race past the checkpoints? for another 50-mile lap, another brutal hour of kidney-killing madness out there in that terrible dust-blind limbo. "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. He wanted to go back out in the dust storm and keep trying for some rare combination of film and lens that might penetrate the awful stuff."Joe," our driver, was willing. 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. Here is one: "Get the Ford man, demand a Bronco for race-observation purposes ... Mainline gambling is a very heavy business – and Las Vegas makes Reno seem like your friendly neighborhood grocery store. Was I just roaming around these Mint Hotel escalators in a drug frenzy of some kind or had I really come out here to Las Vegas to work on a I reached in my pocket for the room key; "1850," it said. So my immediate task was to deal with the car and get back to that room ... On the way down the escalator I saw the Life man twisted feverishly into the telegraph booth, chanting his wisdom into the ear of some horny robot in a cubicle on that other coast. They know me.""Whatever's right," he said, beginning to jerk with the music. I moved the radio as far from the tub as it would go, then I left and closed the door behind me. I walked over to the TV set and turned it on to a dead channel – white noise at maximum decibels, a fine sound for sleeping, a powerful continuous hiss to drown out everything strange. it's hard to adjust to a city gig where the night is full of sounds, all of them comfortably routine. no way to relax; so drown it all out with the fine white drone of a cross-eyed TV set. Just another ugly refugee from the Love Generation, some doom-struck gimp who couldn't handle the pressure. Robert De Ropp on Sonoma Mountain Road, and one fine afternoon in the first rising curl of what would soon become the Great San Francisco Acid Wave I stopped by the Good Doctor's house with the idea of asking him (since he was even then a known drug authority) what sort of advice he might have for a neighbor with a healthy curiosity about LSD. But I always fired into the nearest hill or, failing that, into blackness. And I was careful never to kill more than I could eat."Kill? Yes, you probably won't believe this, officer, but he suddenly hurled that knife into the brackish mescal waters near our feet, and then he gave me this revolver. Better to get the hell out of this atavistic state at high speed. But, first – back to the Mint Hotel and cash a check, then up to the room and call down for two club sandwiches, two quarts of milk, a pot of coffee and a fifth of Bacardi Anejo. After a few blocks in the wrong direction on Main Street, I doubled back and aimed south, towards L. "I think it's about time to get into the ether and the cocaine.""Forget ether," he said. Just chew it up like baseball gum."I took the blotter and ate it. Then screaming and grabbing at the air, as our fine white dust blew up and out across the desert highway. I was on to your stinking act from the start, you pig! And suddenly he was waving a fat black .357 magnum at me. It'll be a goddamn miracle if we can get to the hotel and check in before you turn into a wild animal. Checking into a Vegas hotel under a phony name with intent to commit capital fraud and a head full of acid? "This man has a bad heart, but I have plenty of medicine. In a town full of bedrock crazies, nobody even an acid freak. "That's where you have to sign in for our credentials. You handle that, and I'll get the room."IVHideous music and the sound of many shotguns ... By this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level. Standing on a slab of concrete out here in the mesquite-desert, this scraggly little oasis in a wasteland north of Vegas ... 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. I parked the car and wandered into the crowd, leaving my attorney in his coma. Many 405 Husquavarnas, high-tuned Swedish fireballs ... that would be like entering our Great Red Shark in the dune buggy competition. A boney, middle-aged hoodlum wear-a Harley-Davidson T-shirt boomed up to the bar and yelled: "God damn! "But as your attorney I advise you to drive over to the Tropicana and pick up on Guy Lombardo. 29c hotdogs ..."Suddenly people were screaming at us. Two thugs wearing red/gold military overcoats were looming over the hood: "What the hell are you "Why not? It seemed like a reasonable place to park, plenty of space. Submerged in green water – the oily product of some Japanese bath salts he'd picked up in the hotel gift shop, along with a new AM/FM radio plugged into the electric razor socket. Some gibberish by a thing called "Three Dog Night," about a frog named Jeremiah who wanted "Joy to the World."First Lennon, now this, I thought. go stomping out through the lobby and call your red convertible down from the garage and stand there waiting for it with a suitcase full of marijuana and illegal weapons ... The clerk, still smiling, was poking the telegram at me. "Don't worry, I'll get it to him." I tossed my bag into the front seat of the Shark, wanting to leave before my stay of execution ran out. I slid into the driver's seat and prepared to leave. "What confused us," he said, "was Doctor Gonzo's signature on this telegram from Los Angeles – when we knew he was here in the hotel." He shrugged.
"Let's save it for soaking down the rug in the suite. My attorney was now fumbling with the salt shaker containing the cocaine. A very expensive little twister rising up from the Great Red Shark. One of those snubnosed Colt Pythons with the beveled cylinder. "They'll pick your bones clean before morning.""You whore," I said. " He was laughing again, then he jammed his nose down toward the salt shaker, aiming the thin green roll of a bill straight into what was left of the powder."How long do we have? "As your attorney I advise you to drive at top speed."Las Vegas was just up ahead. 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. We struggled through the crowded lobby and found two stools at the bar. "He's waiting for us in a room on the 12th floor."I couldn't remember. The name rang a bell, but I couldn't concentrate. 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. "Otherwise, we'll never get out of this place alive. rude vibes on a Saturday evening in Vegase 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. 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. They were clustered, with their shotguns, about 50 yards away from a one-story concrete/block-house, half-shaded by ten or 12 trees and surrounded by cop-cars, bike-trailers and motorcycles. also many Yamahas, Kawasakis, a few 500 Triumphs, Maicos, here & there a CZ, a Pursang ... Maybe I should Nobody would dare go out on the track with a person that crazy. 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. 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. Our tempers were ugly and there were at least two hundred of us, so they opened the bar early. He's in the Blue Room with his Royal Canadians.""The job, of course," I replied. I'd been looking for a parking spot for what seemed like a very long time. I was about ready to abandon the car and call a taxi ... The elevator was crowded with race people: it was taking a long time to get from floor to floor. Next we'll have Glenn Campbell screaming "Where Have All the Flowers Gone? trying to look casual, scanning the first morning edition of the Las Vegas Sun. I had taken all the grapefruit and other luggage out to the car a few hours earlier. I gave that evil pimp of a carboy , a prime investment right now. The lead story was a screaming blue headline across the top of the page: Trio Re-Arrested in Beauty's Death"An overdose of heroin was listed as the official cause of death for pretty Diane Hamby, 19, whose body was found stuffed in a refrigerator last week, according to the Clark County Coroner's office. I turned to face my accuser, a small young clerk with a big smile on his face and a yellow envelope in his hand. "Then I saw you standing outside."I nodded, too tired to resist. "And then to have the telegram addressed to some guest we couldn't account for ...
The only thing that really worried me was the ether. "We're not like the others."O Christ, I thought, he's gone around the bend. "Or I'll put the leeches on you." He grinned, seeming to understand. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? This same lonely desert was the last known home of the Manson family. 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's one thing you should probably understand."He stared at me, not blinking. "Now we need a sound store with the finest equipment. 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 equipment in a store about five miles away. Yes, here they are." I picked four amyls out of the tin box and handed two of them to my attorney. I turned both the radio and the tape machine up full bore. "I wanted to shut him off, but we were both helpless with laughter. The music was very loud, and he was moving away from us at good speed.* * *I opened the door and reeled around to the driver's side. "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. The man from Life wanted no part of it; he slumped deeper into his crouch. And we were gathered here in Las Vegas for a very special assignment: to cover the Fourth Annual "Mint 400" ... We never knew the total, but – just before we left – my attorney figured we were running somewhere between and per hour, for 48 consecutive hours."Incredible," I said. "But by the time I asked this question, there was nobody around to answer. I saw him off, then I went back to the airport souvenir counter and spent all the rest of my cash on garbage – complete shit, souvenirs of Las Vegas, plastic fake-Zippo-lighters with a built-in roulette wheel for .95, JFK half-dollar money clips for each, tin apes that shook dice for .50 ... Too much aggressive chemistry in that mix; the temptation to run a deliberate freak-out would be too heavy. to retire, hunker down, back off and "cop out," as it were. In every gig like this, there comes a time to either cut your losses or consolidate your winnings – whichever fits. blazing along this desert highway with a half-naked hillbilly mental case at the wheel.