Feb 21 2005
I knew the second his picture flashed on CNN "American Morning" that he was gone. I knew the only way that bubbly chucklehead Soledad O’Brien was going to put Hunter Thompson on CNN was if he was dead. The NYT didn’t have the news, so I suffered through a half-hour of banter between the cheery morning hosts because my cable modem was null and void for some reason. Finally the crawl confirmed the news.
I met Hunter Stockton Thompson in the Tosca — my favorite San Francisco bar — during the Democratic Convention in 1984. He was drinking heavily with Warren Hinckle, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, stacking little brandy snifters into a pyramid, keeping score and warning the bartender to leave them alone. I was in my 20s, covering the convention for a New England newspaper. I was too shy to introduce myself and Hinkle was doing a good job warning autograph seekers away, so I plugged some quarters into the juke and selected some opera arias — the only jukebox in America that I know to be filled with arias — and returned to my table. While taking a piss I found myself standing next to the man. "Hey," I said. "Boring convention?"
Mondale was a lock, the most boring man on the planet, and the only excitement was the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro.
"Don’t talk to strangers taking a piss. The vice squad will bust you."
I took his advice and continued to empty my bladder. I was wearing my press pass. A big impressive thing with a holographic on it. He noticed it and asked: "Who you write for?" I told him. He said, "Cow town?"
I’ve never asked anyone in my life for an autograph, but this was my chance. Both Fear and Loathings had scarred me as a teenager, I had to do it.
"May I have your autograph?" "Let me wash my hands first." He toweled off. I handed him a pen, and he signed the pass. I thanked him, he returned to the bar, I returned to my table, and that was that.
The next day Dennis McNally, the publicist for the Grateful Dead, asked me if he could borrow my press pass so he could sneak Jerry Garcia into the Moscone Center. I was worried the Secret Service would confiscate it and screw me out of my ticket, something I didn’t want to explain to my clueless editors back in Massachusetts, but in exchange Dennis offered me backstage passes for the Dead shows at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. That was a great trade and Jerry was very honored to get into the convention wearing a pass that had Hunter’s signature scrawled on it.
I am very sad today. As sad as I was that August day when Jerry took the dirt nap.