This is a story involving my old friend Dr. Doug Martin. It also involves Bob Zimmerman, my other old friend. I wrote about them in a previous blog – “67blondies”. They’re back.
I was living in a third floor apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1984. You had to climb up wooden stairs outside the back of the house to get to my place. I wrote about this apartment, and my phone on the wall, in another blog – “One Friday Night”. I was working as an outreach counselor with teenagers for the Drug and Alcohol Resource Program in Stoneham, about seven miles north, and I had stayed away from any alcohol or drugs for about a year and a half. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a girlfriend, I had an old used car, I had started collecting some actual possessions, certainly more than the two trash bags of items in my friend Bob Hallett’s cellar a town over that I could claim the day I said “if I booze, I lose, so I’m done”. Overall I was pretty happy. This is a fairly complete summation of my life back at the beginning of October in 1984 when the phone rang.
Doug was calling from Los Angeles. “Bud, Hunter Thompson is speaking at Berkeley. We must attend, the universe demands it. Saying no is not an option.” I explained in a previous blog that Doug lived much of his life in a wheelchair, the result of polio contracted when he was six years old, a year before the vaccine was discovered. I had met Doug out in LA on the first of a number of east/west journeys and adventures, and had morphed into his attendant at times, carrying him in and out of cabs and airplanes, putting him in his electrified wheelchair, setting up and turning on his breathing equipment at bedtime. Doug was well respected in disability services circles in California and I had traveled with him a few times around the state when he was attending commission meetings. And once to Washington DC. Now Doug was telling me that he had a State Disability Commission meeting in Oakland at the end of October and he was going to get the State of California to pay for a plane ticket for me roundtrip from Boston to LA so I could then fly with him to Oakland and serve as his attendant during the conference, and after, when we would stay the weekend and see Dr. Hunter Thompson speak at Berkeley. Doug was right. Saying “no” wasn’t an option.
So I put in for vacation, flew out to LA the last week in October – Doug and an attendant picking me up at LAX, then Doug’s parents bringing us back to LAX the next day for the flight to Oakland, where we stayed at the Sheraton out near the airport where the conference was being held, and then transferred over to the Durant Hotel in Berkeley, literally a stone’s throw from the campus. It was another memorable adventure with Doug, and Bob, who came over from San Francisco to hang out with us. Halloween was a Wednesday that year, and we ended up at a costumed Halloween party in Berkeley with about 20 people, Bob and I the only ones not in wheelchairs. Then on the Saturday night three days later the three of us rolled and strolled over to Cal Berkeley and watched and listened to the Hunter Thompson show. It was great. The next day Doug had planned for someone else to fly with him back to LA, and after goodbyes all around they dropped me at the San Francisco airport and I boarded my plane for the flight back to Boston.
I was sitting somewhere around row 18 when I saw – this is the truth – Hunter Thompson come onto the plane, walk down the aisle on the other side, and sit behind me somewhere. I couldn’t believe it. After a few minutes there was an announcement that the plane would be delayed departing, and a moment later Hunter was at the door, demanding to be let out so he could smoke a cigarette. You could hear this. You could also hear the flight attendants clearly citing regulations about already closed doors, and saying no. After a couple of minutes of this I got up and walked to the front of the plane and stood right behind Hunter. He must have sensed something behind him because he turned around, and when he did I said, “Dr. Thompson, I just wanted you to know that I flew from Boston to Berkeley to see you speak.” He looked at me, repeated back what I had just said in question form, and thanked me very much. Then I went back to my seat and pretty soon he went back to his and soon after that we took off, heading east.
Pretty cool story, huh? There’s a little more. About a half an hour into the flight I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Hunter Thompson. “Do you want to go to the back of the plane and talk?” Seriously? So we did, for about an hour and a half. Me and him, he occassionally grabbing nips from the stewardess’s cart as she rolled by. When he offered me one and I told him I had gotten sober he said something like, “Really? That’s far out. That’s heavy. Maybe I should try that sometime.” And we talked and talked. I told him I read “Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail” at least once a year. I told him the editor of a brand new running magazine in Boston said the same thing in his initial editorial. I told him all kinds of stuff and he thanked me and said he never got a chance to hear these kinds of stories. When it was time to sit down he got a copy of his book “The Curse of Lono” and wrote this to me inside the front cover: “To Buddy. Thanks for the help on the way from SF to Chicago. I will go on in the world a wiser and better armed man. See you next time I get to Boston. Good luck. HunterST.” It’s true. I was just holding it in my hands.
I called Doug and then Bob when I got back to Somerville and they absolutely couldn’t believe it. Blown away amazed. Magical things happened for me sometimes when I was with Doug. He introduced me to Cesar Chavez once in LA. And this time the State of California paid for the whole thing. Pretty cool, sober little me hanging out on a cross country flight with the crown prince of extreme and dangerous substance abuse. And I say that lovingly. All three of those guys are gone now – Doug, Bob, and Hunter – and the planet is the worse for it.
Hunter and Me.