[for Love, Boxing, and Hunter S. Thompson, Part 1, click here.]
THE FIRST TIME I traveled to New Orleans was in the summer of 1963. I’d hitchhiked cross-country from Los Angeles less than a week after graduating from Berkeley with a degree in European history. The night before I left, when I told my father my plans, he refused to believe I was serious. He said, “Four years of college and you’ve decided to become a hobo. That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said. Buy a suit and look for a job.”
I told him I didn’t want to look for a job. “I’m going to New Orleans. I’m leaving tonight.”
My father just looked at my mother and shook his head. But beneath his expression of dismay, I could read what he was really thinking: It’s another one of his childish acts of rebellion. He’s not going anywhere.
“Your mother and I are going out to eat,” he told me. “We’ll discuss this when we get back.”
As soon as I heard them back out of our driveway, I filled a small suitcase with a few changes of clothes, a razor, a bar of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, a few packs of my mother’s Marlboros, a yellow legal tablet, and some pencils. As an afterthought I also included two unread paperback books that I had brought down from Berkeley: James Baldwin’s novel Another Country, and Norman Mailer’s collection of autobiographical essays, Advertisements For Myself. In my wallet I had a five and four ones. That plus the change in my jeans gave me a total of $9.67.
It was almost a lifetime ago, but I can remember exactly what I was thinking as I walked out of my house on Benedict Canyon, holding my beat-up suitcase: Don’t turn around. You don’t know what you’re doing, but that’s okay. Just keep walking and stick out your thumb.
My first ride took me to Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Drive in West Hollywood. Two rides later — the sun had gone down by now — I was dropped off by the on-ramp to the Hollywood Freeway. The driver who picked me up next said he was going as far as Riverside, a city that was located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. I thought, Not a bad start. But we never got that far.
The conversation went this way:
HIM: So, where you headed?read more
ME: New Orleans.
HIM: No kidding. You hitching all the way?
HIM: I bet you’re gonna meet a lot of interesting folks. Maybe some pretty girls might pick you up. You’d like that, huh?
ME: I don’t know. I guess so.
HIM: You guess? Either you’d like it or not. Unless you’re like me.
HIM: You know what I mean?
ME: I’m not sure.
HIM: I’m not all that interested in girls.