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Postcards From The Proud Highway
  • October 09, 2011 : 20:10
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This article was originally published in the May 2005 issue of Playboy magazine.

What follows is the final collaboration between Hunter Stockton Thompson and Playboy, based on a series of interviews he gave to Assistant Editor Tim Mohr last December. The two spent the better part of a week at Owl Farm analyzing a variety of subjects, from firearms to physical fitness, all of which interested Thompson deeply. "To live outside the law you must be honest," Bob Dylan wrote, but you must also possess great sensitivity to your environment and a wide range of esoteric skills and wisdom. In his 67 years on earth Thompson made himself an expert in matters great and small and loved nothing more than to expound on what he had learned. This assignment was interrupted by his death on February 20, but we could think of no better tribute to a great American writer than to present this small storehouse of vital knowledge in his own words. This is for old fans as well as those who may have come to the party only recently. - The Editors

On Freedom

Freedom is a challenge. You decide who you are by what you do. It's like a question, like a fork in the road. An ongoing question you have to keep answering correctly. There's a touch of the high wire to it. I've never been able to walk high wires, but I get the feeling.

On Driving

The only way to drive is at top speed, with a car full of whiskey. It takes commitment, especially out here with so many deer and elk around. Car lights paralyze deer. You've got to lean on the horn, brace on the wheel and stomp on the accelerator. When you hit the brakes the front of the car dips down—that will put the beast into your windshield. Now, the significant impact will still occur if you step on the gas, but you're not helpless. It'll still destroy your grille and lights, but—unless it's a bull elk—it will kick the animal out of the way. Hitting the beast head-on will move it instead of popping it up onto the windshield.

It's the swerving that gets people killed.

You know how powder snow is great for skiing? It's great for driving, too. You just have to know the limitations of the car if you're going to drive on snowy roads. Once you've done 360s and drifts, you know what the road is like. And I always test the brakes, just to be sure I'm not going to go 400 feet when I think I have a grip. Once you get yourself into a full-bore drift, just downshifting won't get you out of it. A combination of things can, but downshifting alone can get you out of it only on asphalt. And Jesus, driving on "all-weather" tires... I can't imagine driving on those. I use studded snow tires. The metal studs sound like a tank and wreak havoc on the roads, but they are like bear claws. The difference between hitting your brakes in a blizzard with snow tires and the all-weather tires they put on rental cars? Goddamn.

On Courage

I set the speed record on Saddle Road—in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii—in a heavy rainstorm. There are always going to be things like monsoons when you're trying to set a speed record. What do you do? Think better of it? Come back another day? Your life will change on decisions like that. I take a street-fighter mentality, an Ohio riverboat gambler attitude: It's out of the question to go back or turn around.

On Violence

Never hesitate to use force. It settles issues, influences people. Most people are not accustomed to solving situations by immediate and seemingly random applications of force. And the very fact that you are willing to do it—or might be—is a very powerful reasoning tool. Most people are not prepared to do that. You can establish the right reputation in this regard—you might, right in the middle of a conversation, just swat some motherfucker across the room. Make his blood shoot out in big spurts. I'm giving away trade secrets here.

I've been beaten worse in New York City than I ever was by the Hells Angels. I used to go out looking for punch-ups in New York. It was worth it just to see an oncoming mob of angry preppies. These weren't fights. There was nothing personal about it. I didn't hate the people. I was just a brawler. It was good American fun. It was all frivolous. There wasn't any right or wrong. Just fucking Saturday-night whoopee.

On Fate

I'm doomed all my life to violent actions. I'm closely associated with the gods of the underworld—not crime so much but the underworld.

On Firearms

My parents weren't gun people. Growing up I didn't know much of anything about guns except that my parents didn't want me to have a .22. A BB gun was okay. But I found a .22 anyway. I would shoot at lights out of the back of my house, out my bedroom window. There was an alley between the houses. There were light bulbs on the brick garages in the alley. They had metal grilles protecting them, like jail bars, so it was kind of a trick to hit the bulbs.

It was extremely dangerous. Some kid who shouldn't have had a gun, experimenting, shooting out of his bedroom, shooting down into the alley. I had no intention of doing anything other than putting out light bulbs. But I think about it now and think about what could have happened. The odds are going to catch up to you sometime if you keep shooting into the same passageway.

When I got to the military all I knew was the .22. The most accurate weapon in my house is an Olympic pellet gun—single shot, .17 caliber, pneumatic. I can hit a dime across the living room with it. It was given to me by the Mitchell brothers. I would pack it when I worked at their cinema. At the time it was the standard for Olympic shooting competitions.

For conditioning gunstocks, linseed is a good natural oil, but it has a tendency to be sticky. Tung oil is the thing.

On Hunting

I used to get most of my meat from game. A wild boar running out in the open is kind of rare. But it makes for a hell of a hunting day. All this fear of cooking pork rare? Shit on that. With wild boar you just cut it into steaklike slabs, more like pork chops, and cook it on a grill. It's delicious. One of the best things I've ever had. Dressing the animal is a huge part of it. First kill it by surprise so the adrenaline doesn't get released from the glands. A frightened animal tastes a lot worse than a peaceful one. You want to take it when it's grazing, not when it's running or panicked.

With a good rifle it's the shock more than the tissue damage that kills them. The shock sends out death rays all through the body. The animal can't operate. It's too much trauma on the nervous system.

On Gambling

I took all the Hells Angels photographs. Those were all mine. But I learned after trying for years that I could not keep the same focus as a photojournalist. The myth of "take your own pictures, write your own story" didn't work for me. As a photographer I had to keep getting longer and longer lenses. I didn't like to get up close. I didn't want to get in people's faces because you couldn't talk to them much after that.

On Gambling

I don't play cards much. Only once in a while for fun, to play around. I like to gamble where my own knowledge helps me—where if I'm smart about my betting I can affect my chances of winning. Unlike slot machines or dice games.

With sports betting it's always better to strike at the partisan, the home crowd, the emotional bettors. Go into a hostile town at night, visiting, and bet against the desperate, emotional bettors—they'll give you points, and that's the way to win at gambling. And the way to lose is to be one of those emotional bettors.

As a kid I played football, basketball, baseball. I was very much into it. I didn't start gambling until after I quit playing. But about halfway through high school I decided to fuck football and become a criminal. I made my choice between the sports life and the criminal life. Once you quit playing, you need that competitive factor. I don't give a fuck about a game unless I have a bet on it. You have to see it as an opportunity. Nongamblers see it as a chance to lose—and often feel they can't afford to lose. A gambler sees it as an opportunity that can't be passed up. Hell, go into debt.

Ed Bradley came out here one day and beat me for about $4,000 on a basketball game. I think it started as a hundred-dollar bet. But we kept doubling up. I paid him, of course. After all, I would have looked askance—and mentioned it in public—if he hadn't paid me. That's what makes it fun: the reality of it, having to pay up. It's good for it to hurt. Being labeled a cheater or a welch is much more painful to a gambler than getting beat up in the parking lot.

On Karma

It's extremely bad karma to brag about things you've gotten away with. I'm a great believer in karma in a profound sense: You will get what's coming to you.

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