Slouching Towards Vegas
The thing I loved most about Hunter S Thompson was his way of capturing a feeling by just slinging words at the page until something resonated. I wouldn’t even call him a ‘good’ writer; he sounded like a shiftless vagrant right until he floored you with some marvelously batshit window directly into the soul. This is one of those passages for me, and suddenly seems alarmingly relevant to our present moment.
Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
— Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
This spooks me. The fight’s clearly over; Vegas won. So resoundingly so that San Francisco and Berkeley themselves have become its colonies, a newer, shinier casino, displacing even Wall Street as the place where our best and brightest trundle to get theirs before it’s all gone. Haight-Ashbury is now a bedroom community for Palo Alto, however peppered with street urchins (doing anything but tuning in), with one-bedrooms starting at $3k/mo. And psychedelics have been reduced from deadly-serious instruments of a genuine revolution, to candy baubles for techies to play with at Burning Man when they need a new idea for their n’th startup:
You know your shtick is tired when Mike Judge gets around to making fun of you.
I’d love to understand what the Boomers make of all this. Was the fizzling of the sixties into whatever we’re calling what came after (I sincerely hope distant history doesn’t label this the tail end of the Reagan Era) a loss, or more of a return to sanity? I wasn’t there, but I can’t shake the feeling that we once had, and lost, the spark of something truly precious, and replaced it with a fast-food version of itself. Are Joel Osteen and Deepak Chopra and Pope Francis really the best our society can muster by way of shamen? Does anyone really care about what they’re selling, or are we all just sleepwalking in our own direction lately, trying to tell ourselves that the kind of vibrancy and visceral community we all crave so badly is just around the corner? I know the free love era had its downsides, and I’m not calling for another Woodstock, but I can’t shake the feeling that those people shared a sense of something that we’ve not really managed to recapture since:
Maybe we’ll get back there. As soon as some nameless Amazon contractor delivers that new book on Spirituality for Yuppies: Why YOU Deserve to Have It All.