There is an unmistakable sound that occurs when a sweating glass is set down onto a wooden bed stand. The ice clicks like finger nails on a piano but doesn’t clank because the corners are rounded by time. Not until just before the heavy bottom kisses the surface of the table, leaving an indelible water mark just like a good paper maker would, do you hear the ice. Of course if someone is setting a glass on your bed stand first thing in the morning one of two things has happened. You are hung or you are going to be.
Sometimes there are moments in life that are greater than the individual. It is recognizing these moments and rolling with it that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. If I had known this in my youth I might have steered clear of that gas station but when there is little or no choice, sometimes, you have to surmise it is fate.
I had finished up my last one to ten PM shift at the American-Statesman and went home to the wood-roach infested Holiday Inn cum-apartment and packed. It was two AM before I got loaded-up and I hit the road for Atlanta.
It was an ungodly hour sometime between Austin and New Orleans when I started to get nervous about ever finding an open gas station, in all honesty I was ready to pull off into a station lot and just sleep until they opened. At each exit I looked over the tops of the swamp mangroves hoping to see the green beacon of mercury vapor lights that might indicate an open shop. The fuel light on my metallic red Honda Accord had been on for more miles than I had ever tested before I made it off the highway. The station wasn’t right off the road but somewhere between Highway 10 and a small town of no significance. The decision to go this route was one of desperation, figuring if there was going to be gas it might be in town so I was surprised when I found an open station at the halfway mark between the superhighway and the city limits.
Immediately it became apparent as the two good ole boys rushed out the gas station door dressed in camo and hunters orange, that this had at best a fifty fifty chance of going well. Sometimes when it is too dark and too secluded you just know.
Now in my world it is not like I was ignorant, after all I grew up in Indiana and the way I have always seen it is, the only difference between a ridge runner and a Cajun is accent. Culturally they were close relatives after all and many great friends call this heritage home but as with everything there are bad apples and sometimes there is no way around it.
As quick as I grabbed the pump handle, a meaty greasy claw grabbed hold and took it from my hand. I was informed it was full service, just stand back and everything would be fine, satisfaction guaranteed. When the skinny one, cause in stories like these there is always a skinny one and fat one, got into the front seat of the car to pop the hood and the gas tank and didn’t immediately get out but started rifling around in compartments I knew this was going be an expensive tank of gas.
As they started to hassle me verbally I started to assess my options which at the moment seemed few, but if I kept my mouth shut and was polite maybe the odds would continue to rise as I also knew in a moment, said options would be greater because the car would be full of gas. It is not like I was going to take these two on. They were far more equipped, with Buck knives on their belts and who knew what in their boots, than I.
It was at this very moment, out of one of those gas station bathrooms on the side of the building with a rusty paint chipped vented door and a pad lock that needed a key from an attendant, that I saw him hopping across the pavement. White Stan Purcells, white socks, white Fila tennis shorts, white shirt, tear drop sunglasses and that fucking Panama hat. In each hand a trademark. One brandishing a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum with a six inch barrel. It harnesses enough power to knock down a full size buck at a considerable distance. In the other a Dunhill full flavor cigarette stuffed into a plastic Joyu 450 cigarette filter.
If I was an older man my heart would have exploded out of my chest but instead it just raced like a 426 Hemi with out a drive shaft, engine racing but my body wouldn’t move. For all intensive purposes I was a deer in the headlights.
Hunter S. Thompson just came out of the bathroom in Bumfuckeygpt, had a gun to a hillbilly’s head and was telling them to eat shit. He held them back at gun point and grabbed me by the collar and shook. “ Move God damn it!” and he threw me to the drivers side of the car. I got in and he on the passenger’s side. I had both hands on the wheel and was leaning slightly forward with a look on my face like I had just run over my favorite dog. Just as he was about to shout at me the baseball bat slammed into the trunk. It was enough to shake me from my shock and finally I got my head out of my ass and drove off but not before we lost the back drivers side window to a brick.
Thompson threw the black gym bag he had over his shoulder into the back seat with all the photo stuff I was toting home, turned, grinned then stuck out his hand to shake and in his staccato voice, said, “Hunter Thompson”. Before we got to the highway he had convinced me I needed to take him where he needed to go.
More specifically to a secluded banana plantation owned by a bunch of Rastafarians somewhere near the Guatemalan Mexican border. They had developed an iguana problem and were licensing people to come and hunt them. It was remote, secluded and the Rastas didn’t license just anyone.
I didn’t think I owed him my life because I was pretty sure the Cajuns at the station just wanted stuff and they didn’t want to hurt me. So my decision was based on one fact and one only. It was Hunter S. Thompson. I buckled my seatbelt and settled in as chauffeur. Thompson was an avid amateur photographer so we easily dropped into a conversation about f-stops and shutter speeds, Cartier-Bresson and Capa.
At the Texas Mexico border he had me park my car at Nuevo Laredo. Said we would take a bus across and pick up a car that would be waiting for us in Sabinas Hidalgo. There, we would drive along the mountains and find our way to the plantation.
There are few people who are apparent in their persona and Hunter S. Thompson was one. If his look wasn’t loud enough the cherry red 1976 Eldorado convertible waiting for us was like the second coming. His theory, as he explained it to me, was create enough noise and people will look the other way.
I would never get to test this theory with Thompson. We began to relax and as he relaxed the pharmaceuticals came out to amp things up again. It was at this point that I took my first ever mescaline and without a doubt the world has never looked the same.
Honestly I can’t recount any other part of this sordid tale because from here out it was an overload of drugs and tequila and until it stopped there was no end in sight. Not until I woke up hearing, for the first time ever, ice clicking was there a coherent moment to recount.
“Its the cure not the culprit,” he said setting the tall tumbler onto the bed stand. I looked down and to my surprise there was a bandage on my leg and the sheets were covered in blood.
I ran my hand down to feel a chunk of my calf gone.
I looked at Hunter with wonder and a pinch of dismay.
“Iguana bite. Biggest damn iguana ever and you slayed it with one shot just after it got a piece of you.”
“Iguana tacos,” I said.
“Best ever just like you said, “ he replied
I took a drink. Hunter S. Thompson never lied. —thirschfeld