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Fear and Self-Loathing in La Jolla

When Hunter S. Thompson came to town

Symphony Hall descended into chaos. I paced back and forth in front of the stage to keep people from jumping up onto it, and Gaile, in a gold lame tank top, smoked cigarette after cigarette as Thompson raged, ranted and occasionally lobbed a football in her direction.
Symphony Hall descended into chaos. I paced back and forth in front of the stage to keep people from jumping up onto it, and Gaile, in a gold lame tank top, smoked cigarette after cigarette as Thompson raged, ranted and occasionally lobbed a football in her direction.

Frank. Frank the Tank. Frank. The. Tank.

Frank is the Tank — well, sometimes… Let me explain.

Frank — and we’re not going to use his last name here, in order to, as they say, “protect the innocent,” the innocents in this case being his lovely wife and two adult daughters — is a good friend of mine. A slight man who sometimes appears to walk on his tiptoes, Frank is 60 years old and looks a lot like Frank Silva, the actor who played Killer Bob on Twin Peaks, just with short hair.


Frank – I mean, my friend Frank, not Frank Silva, rest his soul – works in the technology industry as a salesman, or project manager, or something like that. I do know that he recently went to Israel to interview with a 3D-printing company and ended up playing a lot of beach volleyball by the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv and then somehow wound up in Austin, Texas, where he spent three days at the Formula One auto races with a fellow he called Uncle Ray. Frank called me several times from there, late at night, and I could never once make out what he was trying to say.

Anyway, Frank is a respectable Carlsbad resident and dedicated Rotarian, responsible and charitable. He is also, at times, is a raging madman, but only when he imbibes a little too much, which doesn’t happen too often, but often enough to not be considered rare, if that makes any sense. That’s where the Tank comes in – or rather, that’s when the Tank comes out. Frank can’t hold his liquor, is fully aware of that fact, and considers Frank the Tank, named after the character in the movie Old School, a completely distinct alter ego. Frank the Tank – and not, I repeat, not, Frank – has been kicked out of the Belly Up Tavern for bumping into people on the dance floor and sloshing his drink on them. He once ran over a fellow Rotarian in an impromptu foot race on the street outside his house after a party. When my oldest son and his wife left my 60th birthday party for a nightcap at a local bar, Frank the Tank went with them – and remained there long after they left. And once, after being unceremoniously dropped off at home after a night of carousing, failing to find his key, and not wanting to wake his wife (who is a saint), he tried to crawl into his house through the doggy door, only to fall asleep midway through.

Hunter S. Thompson would have loved Frank the Tank. I know this because I babysat the late “gonzo” journalist twice, back in the ’80s, before and after his speaking engagements at San Diego State University’s Montezuma Hall (in October 1985) and at Symphony Hall (in January 1988, the night before the Super Bowl). I have watched over Frank on several nights of, as HST might put it, fear and loathing. When word broke that the La Jolla Playhouse was producing a musical about Thompson, I knew Frank was the one I with whom would go see it. Frank got us a pair of tickets to The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, and after a cocktail stop at the UTC speakeasy Raised by Wolves, we drove over to the La Jolla Playhouse. As we walked up to the theater, memories of my two babysitting adventures came flooding back. My first three-day stint with Thompson was chronicled in an October 1985 Reader story; my second shift came a little more than two years later, in January 1988, and has never been written about — until now.

The Arrival

Snoop du jour: Writer Hunter S. Thompson, who came to town to lecture on “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” apparently suffered from one or both on Sunday. He had two end-zone tickets to the game, but stayed in his room at the Sports Arena Travelodge, where he watched the contest on TV while having a knife-throwing competition with local writer Thomas K. Arnold…. – Tom Blair column, San Diego Union, February 4, 1988

The author with Hunter S. Thompson (right), backstage at Symphony Hall in 1988.


Bill Silva Presents had booked Thompson into Symphony Hall for a speaking engagement the night before Super Bowl XXII. The Big Game, the first ever to be held in San Diego, was played on Sunday, January 31, 1988, at what was then called San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. The Washington Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos by a score of 42–10, the second of their three Super Bowl wins.

Thompson’s talk was scheduled for the night before. The days leading up to the famed author’s arrival at the Long Beach Airport, on Friday, January 29, had been tough ones for Silva and his crew. Roger Hedgecock, the former San Diego mayor — at the time in the early stages of a new career as radio talk show host — had been scheduled to go on stage with Thompson. But at the last minute, the writer nixed the idea, later telling the audience, “I fired Roger. I have nothing against crime. But I checked out his criminal record, and I saw it was not the kind of crime I really admired.” (Hedgecock had been driven from office after being convicted of conspiracy and perjury in a plot to illegally finance his 1983 mayoral campaign, but the convictions were later overturned.)

My friend Rob Tonkin, a former promotions director at the radio station 91X who was now working for Silva, asked if I could help manage Thompson: pick him up at the airport and make sure he got to the show on time, just as I had done less than three years before. Sensing a story — a follow-up to my earlier adventure with Thompson — I immediately said yes. And on Friday afternoon, I cruised north in my little silver BMW to fetch Thompson at the appointed time in Long Beach. The entire ride up, I wondered whether he would remember me. I wondered what he would do if he found the little cassette recorder I had stashed under his seat. Am I being unethical? Should I tell him? How do I turn the recorder on without him seeing it?

I grabbed Thompson as he walked off the plane; he didn’t remember me. He thought I worked for Bill Silva. As he was putting his bags in the trunk, I switched the cassette recorder on, still feeling guilty. As soon as we left the airport, he broke out a tiny vial of cocaine. We took a few snorts, then a few more.

Halfway through Orange County, he spied a vintage Mustang and began pointing excitedly, urging me to pull it over so he could take a closer look. Quite high, I obliged. I began following the car, flashing my lights and signaling the driver with my thumb. She looked terrified. After several minutes of this, she pulled off the exit and headed for a busy gas station. I got out of my car, approached the Mustang and began explaining. No, there was nothing wrong with her car. It’s just that my friend, the writer Hunter S. Thompson – her blank look indicated she had no idea who he was – had seen her car and wanted to check it out. By this time, Thompson was already lying on his back, scooting under the car to examine the undercarriage. The driver looked befuddled. I imagine that at this point, my eyes were bulging out, and when Thompson emerged from under her car and looked her way, she merely mumbled, “I’m not interested, and I really need to go now.” And off she went.

The Hotel

Rob Tonkin was a young guy, not yet keen on the wants and needs of famous people. I’d been where he was: a decade before, as a naïve 18-year-old, I had taken the Ramones to Jack-in-the-Box for dinner. For his part, Tonkin had booked Hunter S. Thompson into the Travelodge across the street from the San Diego Sports Arena. At least he got him a suite — apparently, the only one they had. I checked Thompson into his room. He told me he was hungry. I took him to Nati’s, my favorite Mexican restaurant in nearby Ocean Beach, at the corner of Bacon and Niagara. I had the No. 2, two cheese enchiladas and one beef taco, the same meal I’d been getting since my parents first took me there in the ‘60s. I don’t remember what Thompson ate; all I remember is what he drank: two shots of tequila with a Vodka Collins back, then another.

Before we said our good-byes, I had him autograph a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The inscription: Tom – I.O.U a vicious beating for stealing $2000 from me. HST

I took Thompson back to the hotel and told him to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow was the big day. He asked me to come early, so we could have a late lunch at Baker’s Square, the Travelodge restaurant. Oh, and one more thing: could I bring along a few young women?

As soon as I got home, I called the leader of an all-girl rock band I knew well. I extended the invitation, and she happily accepted. After I hung up, I chuckled to myself. These were all smart, creative women, but knowing Thompson, I knew he had something more than intellect and good conversation in mind. I figured he’d be in for a surprise.

When we met at Baker’s Square, Thompson immediately began flirting. But when he discovered the young lady sitting next to him was not into men, he stood up screaming. She got up as well, and he proceeded to chase her around the restaurant, in and out of the kitchen. Everyone else got up and began running. The bewildered restaurant manager ran up to me and said, “Your friend is out of control. He’s in the kitchen, fighting with one of those girls you came in with.” I calmly but loudly called out: “Hunter. We need to go. You can’t be doing this.” Moments later, he emerged from the kitchen as though nothing had happened. The young ladies hurriedly left, and we headed back to his hotel room.

The Show

My friend Gaile, a cat-like blonde, met us at the hotel, and the three of us got into my car. We arrived at Symphony Hall just a few minutes before the show was supposed to start. Poor Tonkin was sweating. With Hedgecock out of the picture, Tonkin had brought along Oz Medina, one of 91X’s most popular deejays, to introduce Thompson and remain on stage with him to moderate the discussion. Thompson wanted no part of Oz – further, he refused to go on until he was guaranteed that he would get an extra $2000, a bonus he had been promised should ticket sales pass a certain threshold. The threshold had not been met. There would be no $2000 bonus. Thompson was incensed. Tonkin’s head was about to explode.

I pulled Thompson aside, told him I’d make sure he got the extra $2000, and physically pushed him onto the stage. Along the way, he grabbed Gaile — and a football. He pointed Gaile in the direction of a chair, center stage; it had been set up for Oz. She sat down, and for the next hour and a half, Symphony Hall descended into chaos. I paced back and forth in front of the stage to keep people from jumping up onto it, and Gaile, in a gold lame tank top, smoked cigarette after cigarette as Thompson raged, ranted and occasionally lobbed a football in her direction.

Reporter Mike McIntyre did a good job writing up Thompson’s “performance” for the San Diego Union. Under the headline “Bad Time For Gonzo,” he wrote, “Thompson, who wore a garish Hawaiian shirt, a Los Angeles Raiders hat and aviator glasses, arrived one hour too late and stayed two hours too long... The first half of the show was anarchy. About 50 spectators rushed the stage and Thompson answered their questions in a near-incoherent rambling monotone. But once order was restored … Thompson occasionally rose to the pharmaceutically inspired brilliance that marks his books.” Thompson recounted a hunting trip in South America during which he and his friends pummeled the son of the Brazilian war minister, referred to then-President George Bush as “a lying, whimpering creep,” and said he got in big trouble with the Secret Service when he told students at Marquette University that Bush should be stomped to death.

I remember little of what transpired after the show. I was too excited about seeing my first Super Bowl the following day: Thompson had been given a pair of end-zone tickets as part of his compensation package, and he had invited me to accompany him. I drove Thompson and Gaile back to the hotel, with a detour at Liticker’s Liquor on Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach. There, we ran into none other than Mojo Nixon, the local roots-rocker who enjoyed a brief spell in the spotlight with appearances on MTV and the novelty hit “Elvis Is Everywhere.” Nixon was awestruck; Thompson couldn’t be bothered. Back at the Travelodge, Thompson asked me if I could help him procure some more cocaine. I made a few calls and facilitated a transaction. I was not a direct participant in the deal; I wanted to get to bed early.

The Afterparty

I slept well. Fearing traffic, I got to the Travelodge early, around noon, ready to pick up Thompson and head over to the game. But when I got to his room, he looked like hell. Then he informed me he had traded our two Super Bowl tickets for an ounce of blow.

Well okay then.

We spent the rest of the afternoon together, getting fucked up. At one point, he showed me how to throw knives so they landed perfectly in a wall, an anecdote I later related to San Diego Union columnist Tom Blair. We talked quite a bit, and I saw the other side of famous writer Hunter S. Thompson. He seemed well aware that he had become a caricature of himself, no more real than the fictitious Duke in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip, an amoral druggie with a fondness for firearms. (Thompson hated the characterization; he once said of Trudeau, “If I ever catch that little bastard, I’ll tear his lungs out.”)

I felt sorry for Thompson when he told me about a girlfriend who was no longer returning his calls, about the difficulty in living up to his image, and that how he was only doing these speaking tours because he needed to earn a living. He revealed that he was inherently shy, and said he could summon the courage to be out there on stage, in the spotlight, only if he was extremely drunk and extremely high.

But his spirits picked up as the day progressed and the pile of cocaine grew smaller. All of a sudden, people began to arrive. Apparently, he had told them the night before that he was planning a party. If he had told me, I had forgotten it – and so, it seemed, had he. There must have been 30 or 40 people in that Travelodge suite. The room had been well-stocked by the promoter with Heineken and Wild Turkey. But the fun didn’t last long: Thompson abruptly shot to his feet and began screaming at the top of his lungs, “Everyone, out! Get out of my hotel room! Go, everyone, go!” Everyone filed out with puzzled expressions as Thompson continued his tirade. As the last person hurriedly shuffled out the door, he turned and looked at me.

“That was pretty good, Hunter,” I said. In a completely calm voice.

“Thanks,” he responded, “it takes practice.”

A few moments later, I called a girl I knew and asked her to come get me. She refused, and after I angrily hung up the phone I threw a half-full bottle of Heineken at the wall and watched it explode. Thompson jumped and exclaimed, “Whoa – angry young man. Can I get you another beer?” I declined his kind offer. Instead, I went home.

Well before nine the next morning, the phone rang in my Point Loma home office. It was Hunter S. Thompson. He was up, and didn’t want to be alone. I explained that I had to work, but offered to pick him up. I did, and for the next hour and a half, while I worked in my upstairs office, Hunter S. Thompson sat alone in my living room, answering my phone: “Thomas K. Arnold’s office.” I wish I had saved the phone messages he scrawled out on those pink “while you were out” slips we all used to have in the days before cell phones. Someone from Bill Silva’s office eventually came and picked up him, but before we said our good-byes, I had him autograph a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The inscription: “Tom – I.O.U a vicious beating for stealing $2000 from me. HST”

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Later that day, I listened to the cassette I had made during our ride home from the Long Beach Airport. I could barely hear anything, but it didn’t matter – I had decided to not write about our latest adventure. At least, not while Thompson was still alive.

The Musical

The La Jolla Playhouse musical based on Thompson’s life, The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, which is rumored to be Broadway-bound, ran two hours and 40 minutes long. I have the attention span of a gnat, but could easily have sat through another hour. The musical covered Thompson’s entire history, from his humble childhood in Kentucky to his soaring success as a writer and the creator of “gonzo” journalism, to his death in 2005 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Star Gabriel Ebert is a wonderful actor, but to me, at least, he was never quite believable as Thompson. Then again, neither were Bill Murray or Johnny Depp, who portrayed the king of gonzo journalism in two movies, 1980’s Where the Buffalo Roam and 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Maybe that’s because I knew the real Thompson; maybe it’s because HST was such a complicated, conflicted individual – equal parts genius, lunatic, and phantom.

The musical based on Thompson’s life, which is rumored to be Broadway-bound, ran two hours and 40 minutes long. I have the attention span of a gnat, but could easily have sat through another hour.


Still, the musical was a novel way to chronicle Thompson’s life. The story arc is rich, of a firebrand rebel who wants to change the world, only to realize, early on, that he can’t. So he becomes bitter and disillusioned and self-medicates with drugs and booze until he becomes a caricature of himself.

Sadly, the musical rushed through much of what I consider important in Thompson’s life story: his early journalistic endeavors and the fateful trip to Las Vegas that spawned his most famous book, 1972’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Happily, what the musical did not gloss over was the fact that much of Thompson’s signature “fear and loathing” was of … himself. Indeed, one of the running themes is his intense dislike of President Richard Nixon, and the realization, ultimately, that the two share many of the same traits, including narcissism and a penchant for showmanship. The single best line in the musical is when his wife Sandy, about to walk out of their marriage, sings, You were never a lover/You were never a friend/You were just an event/I chose to attend.

Truer lines were never spoken – er, sung.

The Prequel: Arrival

Still here? Maybe peruse this slightly trimmed version of the October 17, 1985 Reader story on my first experience babysitting Thompson. The story ran under the headline Bedtime for Gonzo: 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. 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.

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 rather, an accepted part of San Francisco’s night life. “Just recently there was talk about a Carl’s Jr. 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 Jr. 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?”

Thompson finished his drink at the airport cocktail lounge and announced that he wished to be transported to his room at the Radisson Hotel in Mission Valley. There he would rest and gain strength for his appearance later that evening at SDSU. First, however, there were still other matters to attend to. The drugs he requested would have to be obtained discreetly, without his presence. But some good hashish would be nice for its benign ability to “soften up” his mind before he took the stage. Also there was a need for a dose or two of amyl nitrate, which could be purchased under the trade name “Locker Room” at most porno shops.

The Prequel: The Hotel

At the Radisson’s twelfth-floor concierge desk, a young woman asked, “Excuse me, but are you the Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote all those books?” Thompson visibly brightened at this seemingly innocent bit of recognition. “Yes,” he answered. The concierge, until then a charming hostess, did not ask for an autograph. “I heard what you do to hotel rooms,” she hissed. “Please don’t destroy your room here, because I’m the one who’s going to have to clean it up.” Thompson grabbed for a handful of complimentary miniature whiskey bottles and marched off to his room.

Several miniature bottles later, it was obvious Thompson wasn’t going to get the sleep he’d intended. He turned to his host, Scott Pederson of SDSU, and announced, “What I need now to sharpen up my mind a bit is a seasoned, hostile, female journalist who knows politics. Quick, Pederson, set up an interview and tell her to meet us down by the pool.”

Half an hour later, Thompson was standing next to a round glass table at the pool’s edge. Drink in hand, he was talking politics into a tape recorder. Seated at the table were two young female reporters from the SDSU student paper, the Daily Aztec. Pederson glanced at his watch nervously and tried to put an end to the interview after only ten minutes. It was 7:30, and Thompson was expected on stage at 8. Dr. Gonzo waved his hand and emptied his glass. There had been no time to obtain his amyl nitrate, and no time to locate any hash. If those two important missions had fallen victim to time constraints, there was no cause to rush anything else, especially not an interview with a pair of vivacious college journalists. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it,” Thompson chided. “Besides, I’ve never started on time. It would ruin my image. The last time I was here, I was two hours late.” It was 8 before the car pulled out from the Radisson’s driveway.

The Prequel: The Show

Thompson outlined his strategy for the appearance at Montezuma Hall: “Make sure my glass is filled with Chivas Regal at all times. When I’m ready to go, I’ll say something about dogs. That’s your cue to get me out of there, no matter what else I say or how much I protest.” Once he was ensconced on stage at Montezuma Hall, cigarette in long-stem holder, Chivas swirled in a glass, gift shop ceramic hand placed incongruously on the table in front of him, he simply answered questions put to him from among the 1000 people in attendance.

“If acid was the drug of the Nixon years, what is the drug of the Reagan administration?”

“Ex-Lax. Next.”

“Do you think you’ll ever get too old to go to Vegas?”

“I was always too old to go to Vegas.”

“Is America ready to have a woman in the White House?”

“Not when her husband has a porno-star distribution office next to his other office in Queens.”

Reagan supporters were “a generation of swine:” Garry Trudeau “thinks I’m about four-foot six, like he is — at least I don’t have to steal for my work;” Israeli militarists were “a bunch of bad, evil bastards:” and Christianity was “a really hideous, horrible conspiracy that ought to be locked up.”

As the Chivas took hold, both the questions and answers began to meander, until finally someone shouted from the audience, “Fuck these questions!” After more than two hours, and with disturbing signs of incoherency in Thompson’s replies becoming more frequent, Pederson interrupted to bid everyone good night. But not everyone left; about one hundred admirers crowded toward the stage clamoring for autographs or handshakes. Pederson leaped up and began to shout, “Dogs! Dogs!” Thompson ignored him and worked the crowd. He also ordered that his glass of whiskey be refilled. But the bottle of Chivas, stashed under the speaker’s table, had disappeared. “You mean to say somebody stole my whiskey?” Thompson asked incredulously, steaming with anger. He threw his pen to the floor, stood up, grabbed the microphone, and began banging it against the table. “Security! Shut the doors and don’t let anyone leave. Somebody stole my whiskey!”

The room grew still as Thompson’s rage transformed him into a lunatic beast. “You’re all fucking swine!” he shouted into the microphone. “You let somebody get away with my whiskey!” One of those closest to the stage timidly offered a ten-dollar bill toward the purchase of a replacement bottle. Thompson grabbed the bill and continued screaming. “Find whoever it was who stole my whiskey! Find that swine!” The crowd pushed against the stage. Pederson kept shouting, “Dogs! Dogs!”

The Prequel: The Afterparty

Not many liquor stores are open along El Cajon Boulevard at 1 am on a Thursday morning. Thompson found this difficult to believe, and it irritated him. “This is simply not fair,” he said glumly as his driver passed one closed shop after another. Before the car had rolled to a stop at the Radisson, Thompson was out and hustling into the hotel bar, where he impatiently snapped his fingers for the bartender’s attention. Bad communication. The bartender couldn’t understand Thompson’s slurred demands, which infuriated Dr. Gonzo. Finally a third party interpreted and the bartender explained that the price of a liter of Chivas Regal would be based upon the number of drinks the bottle could yield at the bar. That came to sixty-five dollars.

Scott Pederson arrived at the bar too late. Thompson had already signed the bottle to his room tab (that is, Pederson’s room tab) and was slumped at a stool with open bottle and full glass. “Sixty-five dollars!” Pederson cried. Thompson was philosophical: “Hey, these things happen.”

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Symphony Hall descended into chaos. I paced back and forth in front of the stage to keep people from jumping up onto it, and Gaile, in a gold lame tank top, smoked cigarette after cigarette as Thompson raged, ranted and occasionally lobbed a football in her direction.
Symphony Hall descended into chaos. I paced back and forth in front of the stage to keep people from jumping up onto it, and Gaile, in a gold lame tank top, smoked cigarette after cigarette as Thompson raged, ranted and occasionally lobbed a football in her direction.

Frank. Frank the Tank. Frank. The. Tank.

Frank is the Tank — well, sometimes… Let me explain.

Frank — and we’re not going to use his last name here, in order to, as they say, “protect the innocent,” the innocents in this case being his lovely wife and two adult daughters — is a good friend of mine. A slight man who sometimes appears to walk on his tiptoes, Frank is 60 years old and looks a lot like Frank Silva, the actor who played Killer Bob on Twin Peaks, just with short hair.


Frank – I mean, my friend Frank, not Frank Silva, rest his soul – works in the technology industry as a salesman, or project manager, or something like that. I do know that he recently went to Israel to interview with a 3D-printing company and ended up playing a lot of beach volleyball by the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv and then somehow wound up in Austin, Texas, where he spent three days at the Formula One auto races with a fellow he called Uncle Ray. Frank called me several times from there, late at night, and I could never once make out what he was trying to say.

Anyway, Frank is a respectable Carlsbad resident and dedicated Rotarian, responsible and charitable. He is also, at times, is a raging madman, but only when he imbibes a little too much, which doesn’t happen too often, but often enough to not be considered rare, if that makes any sense. That’s where the Tank comes in – or rather, that’s when the Tank comes out. Frank can’t hold his liquor, is fully aware of that fact, and considers Frank the Tank, named after the character in the movie Old School, a completely distinct alter ego. Frank the Tank – and not, I repeat, not, Frank – has been kicked out of the Belly Up Tavern for bumping into people on the dance floor and sloshing his drink on them. He once ran over a fellow Rotarian in an impromptu foot race on the street outside his house after a party. When my oldest son and his wife left my 60th birthday party for a nightcap at a local bar, Frank the Tank went with them – and remained there long after they left. And once, after being unceremoniously dropped off at home after a night of carousing, failing to find his key, and not wanting to wake his wife (who is a saint), he tried to crawl into his house through the doggy door, only to fall asleep midway through.

Hunter S. Thompson would have loved Frank the Tank. I know this because I babysat the late “gonzo” journalist twice, back in the ’80s, before and after his speaking engagements at San Diego State University’s Montezuma Hall (in October 1985) and at Symphony Hall (in January 1988, the night before the Super Bowl). I have watched over Frank on several nights of, as HST might put it, fear and loathing. When word broke that the La Jolla Playhouse was producing a musical about Thompson, I knew Frank was the one I with whom would go see it. Frank got us a pair of tickets to The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, and after a cocktail stop at the UTC speakeasy Raised by Wolves, we drove over to the La Jolla Playhouse. As we walked up to the theater, memories of my two babysitting adventures came flooding back. My first three-day stint with Thompson was chronicled in an October 1985 Reader story; my second shift came a little more than two years later, in January 1988, and has never been written about — until now.

The Arrival

Snoop du jour: Writer Hunter S. Thompson, who came to town to lecture on “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” apparently suffered from one or both on Sunday. He had two end-zone tickets to the game, but stayed in his room at the Sports Arena Travelodge, where he watched the contest on TV while having a knife-throwing competition with local writer Thomas K. Arnold…. – Tom Blair column, San Diego Union, February 4, 1988

The author with Hunter S. Thompson (right), backstage at Symphony Hall in 1988.


Bill Silva Presents had booked Thompson into Symphony Hall for a speaking engagement the night before Super Bowl XXII. The Big Game, the first ever to be held in San Diego, was played on Sunday, January 31, 1988, at what was then called San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. The Washington Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos by a score of 42–10, the second of their three Super Bowl wins.

Thompson’s talk was scheduled for the night before. The days leading up to the famed author’s arrival at the Long Beach Airport, on Friday, January 29, had been tough ones for Silva and his crew. Roger Hedgecock, the former San Diego mayor — at the time in the early stages of a new career as radio talk show host — had been scheduled to go on stage with Thompson. But at the last minute, the writer nixed the idea, later telling the audience, “I fired Roger. I have nothing against crime. But I checked out his criminal record, and I saw it was not the kind of crime I really admired.” (Hedgecock had been driven from office after being convicted of conspiracy and perjury in a plot to illegally finance his 1983 mayoral campaign, but the convictions were later overturned.)

My friend Rob Tonkin, a former promotions director at the radio station 91X who was now working for Silva, asked if I could help manage Thompson: pick him up at the airport and make sure he got to the show on time, just as I had done less than three years before. Sensing a story — a follow-up to my earlier adventure with Thompson — I immediately said yes. And on Friday afternoon, I cruised north in my little silver BMW to fetch Thompson at the appointed time in Long Beach. The entire ride up, I wondered whether he would remember me. I wondered what he would do if he found the little cassette recorder I had stashed under his seat. Am I being unethical? Should I tell him? How do I turn the recorder on without him seeing it?

I grabbed Thompson as he walked off the plane; he didn’t remember me. He thought I worked for Bill Silva. As he was putting his bags in the trunk, I switched the cassette recorder on, still feeling guilty. As soon as we left the airport, he broke out a tiny vial of cocaine. We took a few snorts, then a few more.

Halfway through Orange County, he spied a vintage Mustang and began pointing excitedly, urging me to pull it over so he could take a closer look. Quite high, I obliged. I began following the car, flashing my lights and signaling the driver with my thumb. She looked terrified. After several minutes of this, she pulled off the exit and headed for a busy gas station. I got out of my car, approached the Mustang and began explaining. No, there was nothing wrong with her car. It’s just that my friend, the writer Hunter S. Thompson – her blank look indicated she had no idea who he was – had seen her car and wanted to check it out. By this time, Thompson was already lying on his back, scooting under the car to examine the undercarriage. The driver looked befuddled. I imagine that at this point, my eyes were bulging out, and when Thompson emerged from under her car and looked her way, she merely mumbled, “I’m not interested, and I really need to go now.” And off she went.

The Hotel

Rob Tonkin was a young guy, not yet keen on the wants and needs of famous people. I’d been where he was: a decade before, as a naïve 18-year-old, I had taken the Ramones to Jack-in-the-Box for dinner. For his part, Tonkin had booked Hunter S. Thompson into the Travelodge across the street from the San Diego Sports Arena. At least he got him a suite — apparently, the only one they had. I checked Thompson into his room. He told me he was hungry. I took him to Nati’s, my favorite Mexican restaurant in nearby Ocean Beach, at the corner of Bacon and Niagara. I had the No. 2, two cheese enchiladas and one beef taco, the same meal I’d been getting since my parents first took me there in the ‘60s. I don’t remember what Thompson ate; all I remember is what he drank: two shots of tequila with a Vodka Collins back, then another.

Before we said our good-byes, I had him autograph a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The inscription: Tom – I.O.U a vicious beating for stealing $2000 from me. HST

I took Thompson back to the hotel and told him to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow was the big day. He asked me to come early, so we could have a late lunch at Baker’s Square, the Travelodge restaurant. Oh, and one more thing: could I bring along a few young women?

As soon as I got home, I called the leader of an all-girl rock band I knew well. I extended the invitation, and she happily accepted. After I hung up, I chuckled to myself. These were all smart, creative women, but knowing Thompson, I knew he had something more than intellect and good conversation in mind. I figured he’d be in for a surprise.

When we met at Baker’s Square, Thompson immediately began flirting. But when he discovered the young lady sitting next to him was not into men, he stood up screaming. She got up as well, and he proceeded to chase her around the restaurant, in and out of the kitchen. Everyone else got up and began running. The bewildered restaurant manager ran up to me and said, “Your friend is out of control. He’s in the kitchen, fighting with one of those girls you came in with.” I calmly but loudly called out: “Hunter. We need to go. You can’t be doing this.” Moments later, he emerged from the kitchen as though nothing had happened. The young ladies hurriedly left, and we headed back to his hotel room.

The Show

My friend Gaile, a cat-like blonde, met us at the hotel, and the three of us got into my car. We arrived at Symphony Hall just a few minutes before the show was supposed to start. Poor Tonkin was sweating. With Hedgecock out of the picture, Tonkin had brought along Oz Medina, one of 91X’s most popular deejays, to introduce Thompson and remain on stage with him to moderate the discussion. Thompson wanted no part of Oz – further, he refused to go on until he was guaranteed that he would get an extra $2000, a bonus he had been promised should ticket sales pass a certain threshold. The threshold had not been met. There would be no $2000 bonus. Thompson was incensed. Tonkin’s head was about to explode.

I pulled Thompson aside, told him I’d make sure he got the extra $2000, and physically pushed him onto the stage. Along the way, he grabbed Gaile — and a football. He pointed Gaile in the direction of a chair, center stage; it had been set up for Oz. She sat down, and for the next hour and a half, Symphony Hall descended into chaos. I paced back and forth in front of the stage to keep people from jumping up onto it, and Gaile, in a gold lame tank top, smoked cigarette after cigarette as Thompson raged, ranted and occasionally lobbed a football in her direction.

Reporter Mike McIntyre did a good job writing up Thompson’s “performance” for the San Diego Union. Under the headline “Bad Time For Gonzo,” he wrote, “Thompson, who wore a garish Hawaiian shirt, a Los Angeles Raiders hat and aviator glasses, arrived one hour too late and stayed two hours too long... The first half of the show was anarchy. About 50 spectators rushed the stage and Thompson answered their questions in a near-incoherent rambling monotone. But once order was restored … Thompson occasionally rose to the pharmaceutically inspired brilliance that marks his books.” Thompson recounted a hunting trip in South America during which he and his friends pummeled the son of the Brazilian war minister, referred to then-President George Bush as “a lying, whimpering creep,” and said he got in big trouble with the Secret Service when he told students at Marquette University that Bush should be stomped to death.

I remember little of what transpired after the show. I was too excited about seeing my first Super Bowl the following day: Thompson had been given a pair of end-zone tickets as part of his compensation package, and he had invited me to accompany him. I drove Thompson and Gaile back to the hotel, with a detour at Liticker’s Liquor on Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach. There, we ran into none other than Mojo Nixon, the local roots-rocker who enjoyed a brief spell in the spotlight with appearances on MTV and the novelty hit “Elvis Is Everywhere.” Nixon was awestruck; Thompson couldn’t be bothered. Back at the Travelodge, Thompson asked me if I could help him procure some more cocaine. I made a few calls and facilitated a transaction. I was not a direct participant in the deal; I wanted to get to bed early.

The Afterparty

I slept well. Fearing traffic, I got to the Travelodge early, around noon, ready to pick up Thompson and head over to the game. But when I got to his room, he looked like hell. Then he informed me he had traded our two Super Bowl tickets for an ounce of blow.

Well okay then.

We spent the rest of the afternoon together, getting fucked up. At one point, he showed me how to throw knives so they landed perfectly in a wall, an anecdote I later related to San Diego Union columnist Tom Blair. We talked quite a bit, and I saw the other side of famous writer Hunter S. Thompson. He seemed well aware that he had become a caricature of himself, no more real than the fictitious Duke in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip, an amoral druggie with a fondness for firearms. (Thompson hated the characterization; he once said of Trudeau, “If I ever catch that little bastard, I’ll tear his lungs out.”)

I felt sorry for Thompson when he told me about a girlfriend who was no longer returning his calls, about the difficulty in living up to his image, and that how he was only doing these speaking tours because he needed to earn a living. He revealed that he was inherently shy, and said he could summon the courage to be out there on stage, in the spotlight, only if he was extremely drunk and extremely high.

But his spirits picked up as the day progressed and the pile of cocaine grew smaller. All of a sudden, people began to arrive. Apparently, he had told them the night before that he was planning a party. If he had told me, I had forgotten it – and so, it seemed, had he. There must have been 30 or 40 people in that Travelodge suite. The room had been well-stocked by the promoter with Heineken and Wild Turkey. But the fun didn’t last long: Thompson abruptly shot to his feet and began screaming at the top of his lungs, “Everyone, out! Get out of my hotel room! Go, everyone, go!” Everyone filed out with puzzled expressions as Thompson continued his tirade. As the last person hurriedly shuffled out the door, he turned and looked at me.

“That was pretty good, Hunter,” I said. In a completely calm voice.

“Thanks,” he responded, “it takes practice.”

A few moments later, I called a girl I knew and asked her to come get me. She refused, and after I angrily hung up the phone I threw a half-full bottle of Heineken at the wall and watched it explode. Thompson jumped and exclaimed, “Whoa – angry young man. Can I get you another beer?” I declined his kind offer. Instead, I went home.

Well before nine the next morning, the phone rang in my Point Loma home office. It was Hunter S. Thompson. He was up, and didn’t want to be alone. I explained that I had to work, but offered to pick him up. I did, and for the next hour and a half, while I worked in my upstairs office, Hunter S. Thompson sat alone in my living room, answering my phone: “Thomas K. Arnold’s office.” I wish I had saved the phone messages he scrawled out on those pink “while you were out” slips we all used to have in the days before cell phones. Someone from Bill Silva’s office eventually came and picked up him, but before we said our good-byes, I had him autograph a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The inscription: “Tom – I.O.U a vicious beating for stealing $2000 from me. HST”

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Later that day, I listened to the cassette I had made during our ride home from the Long Beach Airport. I could barely hear anything, but it didn’t matter – I had decided to not write about our latest adventure. At least, not while Thompson was still alive.

The Musical

The La Jolla Playhouse musical based on Thompson’s life, The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, which is rumored to be Broadway-bound, ran two hours and 40 minutes long. I have the attention span of a gnat, but could easily have sat through another hour. The musical covered Thompson’s entire history, from his humble childhood in Kentucky to his soaring success as a writer and the creator of “gonzo” journalism, to his death in 2005 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Star Gabriel Ebert is a wonderful actor, but to me, at least, he was never quite believable as Thompson. Then again, neither were Bill Murray or Johnny Depp, who portrayed the king of gonzo journalism in two movies, 1980’s Where the Buffalo Roam and 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Maybe that’s because I knew the real Thompson; maybe it’s because HST was such a complicated, conflicted individual – equal parts genius, lunatic, and phantom.

The musical based on Thompson’s life, which is rumored to be Broadway-bound, ran two hours and 40 minutes long. I have the attention span of a gnat, but could easily have sat through another hour.


Still, the musical was a novel way to chronicle Thompson’s life. The story arc is rich, of a firebrand rebel who wants to change the world, only to realize, early on, that he can’t. So he becomes bitter and disillusioned and self-medicates with drugs and booze until he becomes a caricature of himself.

Sadly, the musical rushed through much of what I consider important in Thompson’s life story: his early journalistic endeavors and the fateful trip to Las Vegas that spawned his most famous book, 1972’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Happily, what the musical did not gloss over was the fact that much of Thompson’s signature “fear and loathing” was of … himself. Indeed, one of the running themes is his intense dislike of President Richard Nixon, and the realization, ultimately, that the two share many of the same traits, including narcissism and a penchant for showmanship. The single best line in the musical is when his wife Sandy, about to walk out of their marriage, sings, You were never a lover/You were never a friend/You were just an event/I chose to attend.

Truer lines were never spoken – er, sung.

The Prequel: Arrival

Still here? Maybe peruse this slightly trimmed version of the October 17, 1985 Reader story on my first experience babysitting Thompson. The story ran under the headline Bedtime for Gonzo: 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. 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.

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 rather, an accepted part of San Francisco’s night life. “Just recently there was talk about a Carl’s Jr. 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 Jr. 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?”

Thompson finished his drink at the airport cocktail lounge and announced that he wished to be transported to his room at the Radisson Hotel in Mission Valley. There he would rest and gain strength for his appearance later that evening at SDSU. First, however, there were still other matters to attend to. The drugs he requested would have to be obtained discreetly, without his presence. But some good hashish would be nice for its benign ability to “soften up” his mind before he took the stage. Also there was a need for a dose or two of amyl nitrate, which could be purchased under the trade name “Locker Room” at most porno shops.

The Prequel: The Hotel

At the Radisson’s twelfth-floor concierge desk, a young woman asked, “Excuse me, but are you the Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote all those books?” Thompson visibly brightened at this seemingly innocent bit of recognition. “Yes,” he answered. The concierge, until then a charming hostess, did not ask for an autograph. “I heard what you do to hotel rooms,” she hissed. “Please don’t destroy your room here, because I’m the one who’s going to have to clean it up.” Thompson grabbed for a handful of complimentary miniature whiskey bottles and marched off to his room.

Several miniature bottles later, it was obvious Thompson wasn’t going to get the sleep he’d intended. He turned to his host, Scott Pederson of SDSU, and announced, “What I need now to sharpen up my mind a bit is a seasoned, hostile, female journalist who knows politics. Quick, Pederson, set up an interview and tell her to meet us down by the pool.”

Half an hour later, Thompson was standing next to a round glass table at the pool’s edge. Drink in hand, he was talking politics into a tape recorder. Seated at the table were two young female reporters from the SDSU student paper, the Daily Aztec. Pederson glanced at his watch nervously and tried to put an end to the interview after only ten minutes. It was 7:30, and Thompson was expected on stage at 8. Dr. Gonzo waved his hand and emptied his glass. There had been no time to obtain his amyl nitrate, and no time to locate any hash. If those two important missions had fallen victim to time constraints, there was no cause to rush anything else, especially not an interview with a pair of vivacious college journalists. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it,” Thompson chided. “Besides, I’ve never started on time. It would ruin my image. The last time I was here, I was two hours late.” It was 8 before the car pulled out from the Radisson’s driveway.

The Prequel: The Show

Thompson outlined his strategy for the appearance at Montezuma Hall: “Make sure my glass is filled with Chivas Regal at all times. When I’m ready to go, I’ll say something about dogs. That’s your cue to get me out of there, no matter what else I say or how much I protest.” Once he was ensconced on stage at Montezuma Hall, cigarette in long-stem holder, Chivas swirled in a glass, gift shop ceramic hand placed incongruously on the table in front of him, he simply answered questions put to him from among the 1000 people in attendance.

“If acid was the drug of the Nixon years, what is the drug of the Reagan administration?”

“Ex-Lax. Next.”

“Do you think you’ll ever get too old to go to Vegas?”

“I was always too old to go to Vegas.”

“Is America ready to have a woman in the White House?”

“Not when her husband has a porno-star distribution office next to his other office in Queens.”

Reagan supporters were “a generation of swine:” Garry Trudeau “thinks I’m about four-foot six, like he is — at least I don’t have to steal for my work;” Israeli militarists were “a bunch of bad, evil bastards:” and Christianity was “a really hideous, horrible conspiracy that ought to be locked up.”

As the Chivas took hold, both the questions and answers began to meander, until finally someone shouted from the audience, “Fuck these questions!” After more than two hours, and with disturbing signs of incoherency in Thompson’s replies becoming more frequent, Pederson interrupted to bid everyone good night. But not everyone left; about one hundred admirers crowded toward the stage clamoring for autographs or handshakes. Pederson leaped up and began to shout, “Dogs! Dogs!” Thompson ignored him and worked the crowd. He also ordered that his glass of whiskey be refilled. But the bottle of Chivas, stashed under the speaker’s table, had disappeared. “You mean to say somebody stole my whiskey?” Thompson asked incredulously, steaming with anger. He threw his pen to the floor, stood up, grabbed the microphone, and began banging it against the table. “Security! Shut the doors and don’t let anyone leave. Somebody stole my whiskey!”

The room grew still as Thompson’s rage transformed him into a lunatic beast. “You’re all fucking swine!” he shouted into the microphone. “You let somebody get away with my whiskey!” One of those closest to the stage timidly offered a ten-dollar bill toward the purchase of a replacement bottle. Thompson grabbed the bill and continued screaming. “Find whoever it was who stole my whiskey! Find that swine!” The crowd pushed against the stage. Pederson kept shouting, “Dogs! Dogs!”

The Prequel: The Afterparty

Not many liquor stores are open along El Cajon Boulevard at 1 am on a Thursday morning. Thompson found this difficult to believe, and it irritated him. “This is simply not fair,” he said glumly as his driver passed one closed shop after another. Before the car had rolled to a stop at the Radisson, Thompson was out and hustling into the hotel bar, where he impatiently snapped his fingers for the bartender’s attention. Bad communication. The bartender couldn’t understand Thompson’s slurred demands, which infuriated Dr. Gonzo. Finally a third party interpreted and the bartender explained that the price of a liter of Chivas Regal would be based upon the number of drinks the bottle could yield at the bar. That came to sixty-five dollars.

Scott Pederson arrived at the bar too late. Thompson had already signed the bottle to his room tab (that is, Pederson’s room tab) and was slumped at a stool with open bottle and full glass. “Sixty-five dollars!” Pederson cried. Thompson was philosophical: “Hey, these things happen.”

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