Tom Vater’s favorite opening line in literature is Hunter S Thompson’s awesome first words in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
On a recent trip to California I drove from LA to Fresno. With Hunter in mind, I decided to make a detour towards Barstow. Once past the San Fernando Valley, I turned onto a minor Interstate that led straight through a hundred miles of scrub and gray hills, dotted with shacks and the occasional diner. I stopped to have a burger and watched part of a Chevy Chase movie with a bunch of obese Americans having breakfast. Back in the car, I slipped ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ into the deck, lit a cigarette and hit the road.
I got lost and found myself in the Mojave Desert, still following signs for Barstow. The road signs got sparser, it got colder and there was snow in the high sierras. At a T-junction, a sign that had been peppered with buckshot, pointed left to Lancaster. I took the other route and headed for Fresno. I’d done my pilgrimage.
A couple of days later I switched on the TV in my motel room and there he was on the news. Hunter S. had blown his brains out. At the first petrol station in Fresno I scored some weed from a punk kid with a Mohawk. Back at the motel, I lit up, overlooking the cemetery below my window.
There, with my perfect view of death, the absurdity of existence in the Land of the Free fell into place – the man who wrote about the end of the American Dream had become part of it himself – both the dream and its deconstruction. Naturally, Hunter’s literary insanity emerged from the haze as one of the least malignant and most constructive American endeavors.
And suddenly there was this terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats…
Published in Untamed Travel Magazine in 2005.