In the airport bar at Lindbergh Field, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson tossed back the last of his second margarita. He handed the empty glass to a passing waitress and, banging both fists on the cocktail table, let out a belch. “Two hours,” he said, “is an awful long time to go without a drink.”
Thompson was in town recently for a speaking engagement at San Diego State’s Montezuma Hall. He was not going to be reading from any works in progress, or from any of his well-known books — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hells Angels, or The Great Shark Hunt. He would say some nasty things about Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and “Raoul Duke,” Trudeau’s barely fictionalized character based on Thompson. But before he considered any details of his evening engagement, there were other matters to attend to.
Thompson’s first stop after getting off his United Airlines flight was the airport gift shop. “Is this cool?” he asked, pointing to a black T-shirt bearing the words San Diego Beach Club. “It’s not for me — it’s for my girlfriend, a Persian girl, Maria Khan, who’s twenty-five and also my manager.” Thompson removed the shirt from its rack.
He continued down the aisle to a second rack of white sweatshirts that featured the ill-fated official slogan San Diego Feels Good All Over. He picked up two of those, an extra-large for himself and a medium for his girlfriend, and walked over to the cash register, which was operated by a matronly white-haired lady whose name tag read “Gladys.” Gladys rang up the sale, but by the time she had finished, Thompson had disappeared; he returned seconds later with a San Diego Beach Club visor and placed it on the counter along with a hundred-dollar bill. Gladys gave him the first receipt and rang up the second sale, only to find herself handed yet another item as soon as she had finished: a small white ceramic hand set in a base of blue feathers. Thompson observed that it would be “perfect for holding a joint.”
That sale was also rung up, but once again Thompson appeared at the counter with several more items: a wooden massage tool with four rotating wheels, copies of the morning San Diego Union and Los Angeles Times, and a red canvas tote bag with San Diego silk-screened on each side. “There,” he said, “I think I’m done now.” But no sooner had the new items been added to his bill than Thompson disappeared a fourth time, only to return to Gladys with a San Diego Padres cigarette lighter that also served as a breath freshener. “This is one thing I’ll really be able to use,” he told her. She smiled uncomprehendingly.
Gladys entered the latest transaction into her cash register, asking Thompson with a hint of impatience in her voice, “Are you sure this is it?” Thompson cheerfully answered “Yes,” and as she bagged his various purchases he wandered back to some shelves filled with San Diego sports souvenirs and began juggling a miniature foam Chargers football. He fumbled it and backed into a display rack of seashell night lights, knocking a dozen or so of them onto the floor. Somehow only a single light bulb broke during the crash. “I’m terribly sorry,” he shouted over to Gladys. “But I’ll only pay for the one bulb. Add fifteen cents to my bill.”
Gladys rolled her eyes and announced, in a voice laced with exasperation, “That’s quite all right — just don’t step in the glass.” She handed Thompson his goods, five separate receipts, and two dollars in change. As he left the counter Thompson muttered, “Got to make sure I don’t go near any more gift shops.”
Thompson has a new job these days, and a surprising one considering that it pits a drug-addled mind against regular writing deadlines. He has been hired by the San Francisco Examiner to produce a weekly column and has been given the loosely fitting title of media critic. The Examiner, in announcing Thompson’s debut, was wise enough to announce on the paper’s front page that the column “should” appear every Monday. The first installment was published September 23 and recounted the adventures of Thompson’s friend Skinner being “trapped and mauled” by a rogue buffalo during a recent excursion to the Wyoming wilderness. Thompson did get around to media matters in his second column, in which he railed against the television networks’ “generally shameful” coverage of Hurricane Gloria. Due to news reports, Thompson wrote, “even smart people were driven to mindless panic…My bookie closed his office in Manhattan and fled like a rat to some greasy refuge in the mountains of Central New Jersey, where he refused to write checks or even take calls from his family.” National Hurricane Center director Neil Frank was dismissed as “a dingbat…a raving lunatic.”
According to Thompson, the Examiner’s new publisher, thirty-six-year-old Will Hearst, just loves the stuff.
With only one column to write each week, and with the aid of selected chemical inducements, Thompson has managed to find time to work on a new book as well. This one is supposed to be a novel, but Thompson’s journalistic training has led him to conduct thorough research beforehand. As he says,
“To write accurately about being the night manager of an all-night porno shop, I have to become the night manager of an all-night porno shop.” In this case, it is the O’Farrell Theater, a porno shop/adult theater in North Beach. Thompson says North Beach isn’t the scourge of downtown revitalizers— unlike the concentration of peep shows and porn palaces in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter — but is an accepted part of San Francisco’s night life. “Just recently there was talk about a Carl’s Junior restaurant opening up right in the center of the sleaze district,” he says, “and a bunch of us merchants got together and fought it, arguing that a Carl’s Junior would simply not fit in with the character of the neighborhood.” Eventually the hamburger chain won, and Thompson and the other North Beach porno merchants have been in mourning ever since. “It’s just not right,” he complains. “A touch of decency — who needs it?”