“The kitchen was the center of life at Owl Farm and it was the engine room for Hunter’s literary Juggernaut.”
Michael Cleverly & Bob Braudis, The Kitchen Readings
Since my teenage years I have idolized Hunter S. Thompson. I have read everything he wrote, and have written about him at every opportunity. It is his words I look to in my darkest moments, his voice that guides me when I am nervous, and it is his symbol – the double-thumbed Gonzo fist – that was my first tattoo, proudly set upon my left forearm.
In 2007 I travelled to Colorado for the first time, chasing the legacy of the Beat Generation. It was hardly lost on me that Colorado was not only a temporary home to the Beats, but the long-time residence of Hunter S. Thompson.
My aim on that particular journey was not just to see the things Kerouac saw, or to drink where Cassady drank, or watch the skies Ginsberg watched. I was invited to a film premiere by Wayne Ewing, Thompson’s video-biographer and long-time friend and neighbour.
Until recently one of my greatest regrets in life was being unable to visit Woody Creek with Wayne. He invited me after the movie but I couldn’t find adequate transportation or funds, and in a moment of panic I took a bus south to Arizona, rather than risk the journey west to the little town Thompson called home.
Last month I made my way back to Colorado. This time I made firm plans to visit the Ewing homestead, although it had moved slightly further away from Owl Farm.
Problems in Denver – yes, more travel troubles for this doomed journeyman – caused my bus to roll into Glenwood Springs several hours later than anticipated. Being without a phone I was unable to contact him and thus didn’t know whether or not he would even be waiting for me.
As it turned out, he was. Wayne was standing in the forecourt of a gas station in his favourite Hunter S. Thompson t-shirt, waiting patiently for me
“Glad you made it,” he said. “They said you had a little trouble with the bus. Didn’t realize you’d be this late.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting…”
“No, it’s alright. Actually you’re just in time. Anita just called me…”
Anita Thompson is the widow of Hunter S. Thompson. She married him in 2003 and currently takes care of his legacy from Owl Farm – the home they shared until his suicide in 2005. Her name is well known to most Thompson fans.
He continued, “She’s having a little get together at Owl Farm tonight and said you’re more than welcome to come along.”
I suppressed a little jolt of ecstasy. I muttered something like, “Ok, that sounds cool,” when really I wanted to scream with excitement. I’m generally a pretty sedate guy, but I think that then I could’ve actually danced around if I weren’t so focused on looking calm and collected.
We hopped into Wayne’s big car and took off south towards Woody Creek. Wayne explained that he’d recently moved away from Thompson’s neighbourhood, but that his house was on the way, and that we’d have time to stop in and dump my bags. The “little get together” was scheduled to start in an hour. Wayne also explained that it would be broadcast live on local TV. We were supposed to talk about local politics as part of something called “The Gonzo Foundation.”
An hour later we were pulling into the driveway at Owl Farm. We’d stopped at Wayne’s house for longer than expected, and we’d each managed to drink a couple of beers in preparation, and I swallowed a couple of Korean valliums.
Normally when I get nervous I try and phrase my thoughts in the style of Hunter S. Thompson. I try and manipulate my inner voice into some macho, Gonzo narrative. In this case, however, I found myself feeling like a small child as I sat in the car. I waited for Wayne to open his door before I opened mine. I stood small beside the car as I stared dumbly at the little cabin, trying to enjoy myself when in fact I was gripped by an incredible sense of fear. Surely I’d be taken as some silly fan and kicked out in minutes.
Soon, though, I was standing on the porch, awkwardly positioned in the middle of a group of men, as Wayne introduced me – taking care to explain that I was the editor of a magazine and that I’d recently come from Korea, by way of a small plane crash.
I was speechless, though. It was humiliating. For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to answer questions with more than a few cheap words. I grabbed a beer, and then another, and then some wine, hoping to loosen up.
The altitude was killing me. I’d never been that high up in the mountains before. The booze – and a couple of sly joints – kicked my ass. I was reeling after what would normally have had little or no effect. Soon my nerves were dying away, but my head was spinning. I had cottonmouth like never before and I began to lose faith in my thoughts. I began assuming that I’d open my mouth and sound like an idiot, so I stood and tried not to sway too badly.
Soon we were inside, and Wayne said, “Hey, why don’t you take a seat down front – it’ll get you the best view.” I was immediately terrified that someone would ask me a question, or that I’d puke on live TV.
Then Anita – who had been absent during the outside banter – appeared with a giant bottle of whiskey. I’d never seen such a bottle in all my years of alcohol abuse. She told everyone a few shots would help us “loosen up,” but I was worried by that point of slipping into unconsciousness.
During the lively debate, everyone spoke but me. The camera kept turning my way to focus on the talkative Wayne, who was hidden behind me. When it did I simply stared dead ahead and tried to look alert.
When the debate had ended I needed to pee, and Wayne said the bathroom was through the house. I wandered through, and as it was occupied I was forced to wait… in the kitchen.
Fans of Thompson’s will know that for him the most sacred place on earth was his kitchen. It was where he “held court.” It was where he did his writing, and where he shot himself. I knew his kitchen intimately from his stories and photos and Wayne’s movies. The kitchen, above all else, is what HST fans dream of seeing.
It had been left, I found, as a memorial to him. His typewriter sat in front of his chair; the posters and stickers on the wall. Everything said that he was alive and well and still sitting there, typing silently.
By the time I stepped outside into the fresh mountain air – with another bottle of beer – I was feeling far better. The nerves had all but gone, the beer and weed were having no more than the usual effect, and I was feeling talkative. I spoke to George Stranahan (whose Flying Dog beer I was drinking) and Michael Owlsey (the local politician who’d been invited to the debate). I even spoke to Anita for some time – and found her to be a lovely woman. She complemented my Gonzo tattoo (which I’d expected to be a thing of ridicule), and showed me her own version same design.
When Wayne said we had to go for a drink at the Woody Creek Tavern, Anita hugged me and said, “Thanks for coming, David. You’re always welcome at Owl Creek.”