Kidnapped by Hunter Thompson
Aspen Summer ‘87-ish
I was a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder and had taken a liking to spending summers there. Colorado is just better than Chicago in the summertime. My parents had come to visit for a few days and I met them in Aspen for a getaway.
We stayed at the Hotel Jerome. The Jerome is an historic Victorian Hotel that sits on the corner of Main & Mill in the center of Aspen just below Red Mountain and across the way from Aspen Mountain collectively referred to as Ajax. Four stars, but in that Butch Cassidy kind of way. It was the best hotel at the time before the luxury chains moved in. The few times I stayed there, I had always requested a particular standard room just over the front door. It was the only room with a terrace I could smoke on with a great view of the mountain.
My parents and I were getting on each others nerves as is typical for an early 20-something going through a lot of change and experimentation.
We had gotten into it pretty good and I sought refuge at the hotel bar. It was nice and quiet in the afternoon as I sipped glass after glass of Macallan 12 on ice.
90 minutes or so in, the room changed. 2 high fiving fratboy dickheads in shorts and pastel tank tops & flip flops had taken notice of another patron at the other end of the bar. Hunter S. Thompson. I recognized him an hour earlier as I’d seen him speak at a campus event at Chautauqua Park at the base of the Flatirons. I just didn’t care. His heyday was before my time, but he always struck me as a poser. A bullshit artist. I respected his hustle, but never his work. I know this will piss some people off and that’s alright. As Henry Ford said “There’s an ass for every seat”. What struck me as strange was that he wasn’t bothered by these moron fans. He seemed to love the attention. It made me respect him less. I mean, is there anything less cool than a fan?
The word fan itself was introduced into English around 1550 and means “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion”. Yep. I got more drunk and less patient. They got louder and more irritating as Thompson told barely coherent, drunken rambling stories. Finally I had enough.
Me: (glaring) AY! Would you shut the fuck up??? You are so full of shit!
Everyone got quiet. I took another sip and realized Thompson was standing right next to me. Smiling. Signature long billed baseball cap, weird, Hawaiian type of shirt. Nuthugger shorts.
HST: Yes, but don’t tell those knuckleheads.
I just looked at him dead in the eyes. Just taking him in. He smelled like cigarettes, blended whiskey and day old sweat.
HST: Do you like guns?
Me: No. (long pause) I love guns.
HST: Do you play golf?
HST: Let’s get out of here.
I was 4 or 5 whisky’s in & wanted to see where this went. Hunter settled his bill and the bartender placed a silver Tattainger champagne bucket full of ice on the bar. Hunter carried it outside like it was a normal thing to do. We walked to his car, an immense convertible land yacht. The ice bucket was between us and a bottle of Chivas Regal was unsheathed from a brown paper bag and jammed into the ice.
Hammered we headed at high speed out of town. Past McLean flats road and out toward the airport. We were leaving Aspen. Where were we going?
We end up at his house in Woody Creek. It was dated, rustic but cool. Stone fireplace. A taxidermied owl. Bric a brac everywhere. We chatted for awhile. It didn’t take long, but I liked the guy. He was funny. Much of our banter felt like well rehearsed, time tested one liners. I didn’t hold it against him. It’s kind of my move too. One moment of note was our mutual love of English Motorcycles. Him BSA. Me Norton. I hadn’t yet owned a Norton, but my father had a couple of them new and it wouldn’t be long before I had my first. Dad called his Commandos “The one ways”, meaning he could ride it as far and as hard as he wanted. The moment he turned around to come home, it would die and mom would have to pick him up.
Somewhere along the way he handed me a drink of some sort. A concoction that tasted like bitter Hawaiian Punch.
Me: You said something about guns. What have you got?
He waves to follow him. We’re outside. There’s an old barn and a cliff.
He comes out with an old shotgun. Nothing fancy. A working man’s pump gun. A farm gun. An old Winchester with a corncob forend like the police used to have mounted in their front seats. I expected him to have something cooler. Maybe an old Parker side by side with Damascus barrels. In his other hand, he had an old copper Ping 9 iron. I told him I was left handed and couldn’t use it. He shook me off. I decided to swing lefty, toe down. Worked fine.
This game had a name, but it’s name escapes me. I wasn’t feeling well at all. Dizzy & nauseuous. I can’t remember if I’d had anything to eat. Whatever the case, I powered through and we took turns hitting the ball while the other person shot it with the shotgun. One of the best games ever. Respect. Now I really didn’t feel well. I turned and threw up in the scrub.
Me: Hey Hunter. I’m not feeling well. Can you run me back to the hotel? I drank too much and am really dizzy.
HST: (mumbling) Eh, no big deal. Just a little mescaline. No big deal.
Me: What?!!! You dosed me with Mescaline?
HST: Uh yeah. You’re welcome.
Me: Mother. Fucker. Fuck.You! No! I have an 8PM dinner with my parents!
HST: Yeah, you’re not going to make that or anything else for at least the next 8–12 hours. He continued to hit balls off the cliff.
There were no cell phones or pagers in those days and I thought it best to call my parents before the sky caught fire and the wolves began circling.
Me: Hey mom. Listen, I ran into a friend and I think I’m going to stay here tonight.
Mom: (Furious in her shrill, nasal Chicago dialect) What the hell are you talking about? Get back here! We’re only here for a few days!
Not knowing what to do, I hung up.
The rest of the evening is a bit hazy. People came and went. His girlfriend was nice. I stared at that owl on the shelf a lot. Someone gave me a ride back before sunrise.