Why a hayseed like me likes Hunter S. Thompson

One of Ralph Steadman’s drawings that paired with Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.

I was introduced to Hunter S. Thompson’s writings in 1983, right about the time I was finding a few adventures of my own as a sports editor at a small Oklahoma newspaper.

A co-worker and I got into a literary discussion, as much as you can get in one in Muskogee, Okla. She told me that she knew exactly the book for me and pulled out The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S., a collection of his gonzo-capades.

I couldn’t put it down. I read it twice. And I started looking for more of Thompson’s work … in old Rolling Stone magazines at the library (he was in Playboy, but the Muskogee public library didn’t have those). At the San Francisco Chronicle, I wrote of HST’s foray into online sports journalism because HST was still big in San Fran. (I even requested an interview, but this was while he was in a self-exiled retirement in Colorado). Recently, I discovered his work is now in audiobook form and available via Dallas-based Paris Records.

A lot of HST’s drug-addled and political experiences don’t really talk to me. But there’s something about his experiences of getting too close to a big event that made it … so dang exciting.

So, around 1984, right after I’d read The Great Shark Hunt for a second time, my editor told me that Gannett Co. needed someone to go to Florida and cover the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football teams’ bowl games, something about finding writers who were familiar with the teams.

Days later, I was on a flight into Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. But the greatest part of the trip for this hayseed came at the Fountainbleu Hotel lobby, where the Miami-Dade County police addressed the sports media to warn them of dangerous elements in Miami.

We’d heard it before. Most of us were fans of Miami Vice, familiar with Crockett and Tubbs; so we knew the danger.

But, in an attempt at public safety advisement, these cops made a mistake.

At a news conference, they handed out a checklist of PLACES NOT TO GO in the Greater Miami Area. Inadvertently, they gave a list of PLACES NOT TO GO to a bunch of adventure-starved 20-something writers away from their loved ones who were hopped up from an endless beer tab in the bowl committee’s hospitality suite.

The list, of course, became our agenda. Our checklist of adventures.

Looking back, those middle-of-the-night trips into Little Havana, Hollywood, Little Haiti and the seedier parts of Biscayne Boulevard weren’t such a swell idea after all. There were no casualties, but there were a few close calls that I’ll share once some statute of limitations expire.

For about a week, at least, many of us got to be a little Thompson-esque.


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