All the way to Woody Creek, Colorado on the weekend of Independence Day. Myself, my brother and a good friend flew to Denver, then drove three-and-a-half hours through the Rockies, not in search of a parade, or a mountain, or even to witness a single firework flash through the star-studded skies.
Instead, we opted to stand in the kitchen of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s home at “Owl Farm” and drink good whisky while listening to his wife, Anita, and longtime friend, former Pitkin County Sheriff, Bob Braudis, tell hilarious and frightening tales of the famous writer’s fondness for firearms, how he loved to see his own byline, his struggles with aging, and his fierce devotion to his readers.
All this as we wandered his home freely, bathing in the spirit of the Good Doctor.
If you’ve followed Thompson’s work since his book “Hell’s Angels” back in 1967, then you know the legend of Hunter Thompson. He was a really great writer that blended comedic prose with hardcore journalism and flipped the literary world on its head with books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “The Great Shark Hunt.” His writing was wild, his life even wilder. He was a wrecking ball of sorts, a force of nature with a southern man’s sensibilities and a rock-and-roll persona.
The trip was wrapped around “Wild Fest 2017,” a “communal bash” featuring bands and good beer set on Thompson’s vast acreage of property, just a few miles outside Aspen. I love a festival and the view was stoic beyond compare. But I wasn’t there for the music or the summer snow caps.
I wanted into Hunter’s home, into the very place where he perfected “gonzo journalism” and wrote all that stinging commentary about the death of the American Dream. I wanted to lean against the same counter top that steadied the backs of such righteous dignitaries as Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Keith Richards and countless other twisted outsiders. I wanted to smell the history in the throw rugs, touch the spines of the books that lined the walls of his living room, taste the water under the kitchen sinks spigot and sit at the desk where Hunter fired off so many unforgettable lines that burned to conquer and corrupt.
The tour was part of a package, the “Gonzo Package” as it was called. You could tack on a small fee of $50 to the festivals ticket price and take part in the first-ever official tour of Hunter Thompson’s home. I jumped at the opportunity, the three of us did. My mind’s eye has recreated this scenario in color for 27 years, ever since I read the words Hunter wrote, “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
We stood on Hunter’s front porch, feet away from his famous 1971 Chevy Impala parked in the driveway. There it was. The Red Shark. Crazy. I was nervous, quiet, wondering if what I see inside would match my dreams. Would the counters now be granite? His desk roped off? The tour was scheduled for only 20 minutes. Lots to process in that time.
Ten disciples of Hunter’s from Utah, San Diego and the Granite State were greeted by our gracious host, Anita, and she looked nervous herself. After all, this was the first time she’s allowed the public officially into her home, into a shrine built by her husband, a man of many letters.
Sheriff Bob arrived soon after and we went inside to Hunter’s living room and stood around the same heavy wooden coffee table and brick fireplace that I’ve seen in documentaries for years, enjoying a bowl of Colorado’s finest. There were no ropes, no guards, just a maddening amount of images to ingest before our time was up. Books and paintings, photographs and pins, bottles and green visors. Seemingly thousands of conversations, declarations and violations were baked into the walls of that room.
Anita then welcomed us into the kitchen, Hunter’s work room. It was masterfully cluttered, a wonderful maze of affirmations, from the couch to the TV to the American flag hooked to the frame of a window near his desk. There was a density to this kitchen that was shrouded in anguish and adulation. A place were poets, police and politicians could endure.
“Untouched,” Anita said of the kitchen, since Hunter’s death in 2005, with the exception of the chair where he ended things for good.
At Hunter’s desk, inches away from the IBM typewriter where he wrote such powerful prose, shot glasses were laid out before a bottle of Chivas, the authors favorite whisky. Anita poured us each a glass and we raised it, toasted The Duke and stayed an hour longer than the tour allotted. Sheriff Bob stretched out on the couch and made us all cramp with laughter. Anita mothered us through the moment, providing unconditional acceptance and some deep cut snap shots into the writer’s life.
Finally, I asked Anita if I could sit at Hunter’s desk. It had taken me nearly three decades to do so. “Of course you can,” she said without hesitation. I positioned myself behind the typewriter, looked down at the keyboard, at the numerous convention lanyards and reading glasses, the can of air spray and pack of cigarettes and my mind was blown, a flurry of humility rushed over me.
We had bought the ticket, we took the ride, now it was time to go home, fat with memories.