by Cody S. Decker
I just got home from The Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame induction, where the Grand Poobah of Gonzo became one of the newest members. A lot is going through my head right now. Which means it’s time for me to kick start this old Smith Corona typewriter into gear with a glass of bourbon and a few thoughts of my own about how it all went down.
Prior to this event, I was expecting it to be a rather small affair. I envisioned a few folks in a room listening to the presenters read some works from the writers being honored. Boy, was I wrong. I guess my first sign that a lot of folks had showed up was the fact that it took a damn good thirty minutes to find a parking spot. Which ended up being about four blocks away, in a neighborhood that I wouldn’t bother writing home about.
Only after I’d burned through about three stressful cigarettes did my girlfriend and I find ourselves at the steps of the Carnegie Center. I’m not going to lie: before I grabbed the handle on that door and swung it open a flash of nervousness hit me. It was more than likely a mixture of being anxious to be part of something this significant in the career of my literary influence and idol, along with a touch of my fear of large crowds of people crawling up from the lowest part of my stomach.
I did my best to shake the jitters and walked in.
We opened the doors and stepped into a warm mass of body heat and mumblings. The jitters were back. I had no idea where to go, what to do, or who to look at. With a quick glance, I could already see that the seats that I had hoped for had been long since taken. People were standing everywhere. Some in corners, leaning against walls, sitting on the steps, I even saw one guy sitting cross-legged under a table. (He had the right idea.) More of them were pouring in and jamming up behind us, so I had to make a move.
We started for the steps. Why not? I didn’t know what to do in this part of the building, I probably wouldn’t know what to do in the upper part of the building, but I damn well knew how to walk up some stairs. Gotta stick to what we know. I took the lead and shouldered us through the crowd, shuffling and tiptoeing past all different sorts of people. A melting pot of literary junkies just here for the show.
Once we made our way up the steps things were a little calmer. I could handle this but was still a tad bit uncomfortable. That’s just how I am, I reckon. Naturally, I scanned the room for something, anything familiar to help calm my racing thoughts. Bingo! I saw it. The “refreshments” table standing proud in the corner. The large bottles of red wine atop it were calling my name. As if they’d expected me all along.
I hurried us towards the table and lost all hope almost instantly. I remembered, I had no cash on me and neither did she. I hadn’t seen any ATMs anywhere around this place. I was screwed. My escape, my teat of relief, had just dried up in front of my eyes.
I couldn’t let it go that easily. Having not one ounce of shame in me, I decided to ask the “bartender” if the wine was complimentary with the nights festivities. To my surprise, she smiled and told me it was. Boom. I ordered two.
Now having a glass and a half of wine in me (on top of the bourbon prior to leaving the house) I was a little more willing to scope the place out. To try to walk around a little more relaxed and take it all in.
About ten minutes of that was all that my sweat glands could handle. I was sweating like a hooker in Sunday Service, and I was afraid I reeked of whiskey. It was time for a smoke break. Back downstairs we went and out the back door for a few minutes of crisp winter air. They were ten minutes well spent.
About the time I took my last puff, I heard the loudspeaker turn on. It was starting. We slipped through the back door and headed upstairs. Two more wines and a cup of water. (Gotta stay hydrated, that shit was dry.)
We listened for a while, tucked away above the crowd and close to the wine. Best spots in the house, if you ask me. All of the presenters did a tremendous job and it was nice to hear about some remarkable accomplishments from people who lived, work, and wrote right here in The Bluegrass State. But to be honest, I was just counting down the inductees until Thompson. So, I wasn’t one hundred percent tuned in for everyone leading up to the Good Doctor, himself. Let’s face it it, Hunter Thompson was the sole reason I was standing there in a t-shirt plastered with a huge Gonzo first on the front and a sweat ring on the back.
When Frank X. Walker started to wrap it up, I knew what came next. We rushed downstairs to get a better view. Ron Whitehead had just taken the podium and all of my eyes and ears were on him. I started my recorder and listened.
The Gonzo Poet was on a roll. Everyone in the place seemed to pay a little more attention to this man. You could feel the passion in the air as he spoke about Hunter. Gonzo-fire and brimstone came spewing from his lips as he read the words of his friend. As I listen to it again now, I start to get chills. To think, I was there for this. My idol, the one person whose words spurred me to buy this very typewriter I sit in front of now and to give writing a shot, was being honored right in front of my eyes. By a man who was lucky enough to call him a friend.
It went by so quickly, as good times usually do. But during that time, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about any of the things I was worried about before. It was a once in a lifetime moment for me. The quote he chose to close with is what stuck with me and everyone else in the crowd. It always has been one of my favorites. I’d get it tattooed on me, but the damn thing would probably take up the majority of my back.
Ron read, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming….WOW! WHAT A RIDE!”
Ain’t that the truth? Damn, Hunter had it figured out.
The crowd cheered. I cheered. My goosebumps subsided and I stopped my recorder. I slowly made my way to an open corner, out of everyone’s way and took some time to think. I thought about Hunter, his words, Ron and his incredible presentation, and myself and my words. I couldn’t shake the thought that I should be writing about this experience I just had. Getting it all out.
Wendell Berry was next to speak after Ron. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t give that man the attention he rightfully deserves. Wendell Berry is the Wise Old Grandad of Kentucky literature and I respect him for everything he has and will do, but all I could think about was Hunter and Ron and writing.
The words were starting to build up inside me with every passing minute. They wanted out. But I couldn’t leave amidst Mr. Berry’s speech. Hell no. That’s blasphemy around these parts. So I decided to think on it a little longer over another glass of wine.
She should have given me the empty bottle as a souvenir.
By the time I mozied back down the steps, I was just in time to catch the last few words from Wendell and join in on the standing ovation. The clapping died down and the crowd began to scatter. I followed suit. Until it hit me, why in the hell would I pass up a chance to try to meet the man that just ushered Hunter into the Kentucky record books?
With my 6 feet 8 inches of height to my advantage, I peered above the crowd and spotted Ron. With my girlfriend in tow, I muscled my way against the current of the crowd and made it up to the man. We shook hands and I let him know what an honor it was to be meeting him. I introduced myself as a guy that GonzoToday had published some poetry for. He seemed excited about that, and even more excited when I told him I was going to conjure something up about this whole ordeal tonight.
And here I am. Pounding away at these key and keeping my word. Throwing back bourbon as long as time allows.
As I type, Ron and whomever else was able to attend are probably toasting to Hunter at a bar downtown. If I could, I would be there and not here, but when the words want out, they find a way. Next time, though, I’ll be there and make up for the drinks I missed tonight.
For now, here’s to you Hunter! I’ll toast from home.
Cody S. Decker
Photographs by Jinn; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-