Do take a sip— don't stop until you get to the bottom of the glass.
I sure miss my old comrade— who the fuck writes like this anymore?
The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved
by Hunter S. Thompson
"I got off the plane around midnight and no one spoke as I crossed the dark runway to the terminal. The air was thick and hot, like wandering into a steam bath. Inside, people hugged each other and shook hands...big grins and a whoop here and there: "By God! You old bastard! Good to see you, boy! Damn good...and I mean it!"
In the air-conditioned lounge I met a man from Houston who said his name was something or other— "but just call me Jimbo"— and he was here to get it on. "I'm ready for anything, by God! Anything at all. Yeah, what are you drinkin?"
I ordered a Margarita with ice, but he wouldn't hear of it: "Naw, naw... what the hell kind of drink is that for Kentucky Derby time? What's wrong with you, boy?" He grinned and winked at the bartender. "Goddam, we gotta educate this boy. Get him some good whiskey..."
I shrugged. "Okay, a double Old Fitz on ice."
Jimbo nodded his approval.
"Look." He tapped me on the arm to make sure I was listening. "I know this Derby crowd, I come here every year, and let me tell you one thing I've learned--this is no town to be giving people the impression you're some kind of faggot. Not in public, anyway. Shit, they'll roll you in a minute, knock you in the head and take every goddam cent you have."
I thanked him and fitted a Marlboro into my cigarette holder. "Say," he said, "you look like you might be in the horse business...am I right?"
"No," I said. "I'm a photographer."
"Oh yeah?" He eyed my ragged leather bag with new interest. "Is that what you got there— cameras? Who you work for?"
"Playboy," I said.
He laughed. "Well, goddam! What are you gonna take pictures of—necked horses? Haw! I guess you'll be workin' pretty hard when they run the Kentucky Oaks. That's a race just for fillies." He was laughing wildly. "Hell yes! And they'll all be nekkid too!"
I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. "There's going to be trouble," I said. "My assignment is to take pictures of the riot."
I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. "At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers." I stared at him again. "Don't you read the newspapers?"
Photo: Yes, that is me in the left hand corner, in 1976 (age 18) at Churchill Downs, followed clockwise by John, Todd, and Jenny. One of the happiest days of my youth!
Illustration: Ralph Steadman sells prints of his famous caricature of his Derby Day with Hunter. They met each other first the first time at this event.
MORE of Hunter's short stories and essays, including this one, are in his book, The Great Shark Hunt.