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Mon, Feb. 21st, 2005, 11:45 pm
Hunter S. Thompson and I

I can't claim to have ever met Hunter S. Thompson. Though I encountered him on a few occasions.

The first time was when The Booksmith (where I work) hosted him for booksigning around the time Proud Highway was first released in 1997. I hung around in the back room of this San Francisco bookstore while Thompson and his entourage (which consisted of actor Johnny Depp and science writer Timothy Ferris) and staff of the Booksmith drank and smoked and talked. It was a sort of huddle before the big play.

Thompson's booksigning was really a receiving line - a kind of meet and greet, as the author let it be known that he would not sign books under any circumstances. Earlier, he had signed a few hundred bookplates. Once the event began, my job was to affix the bookplates to copies of Proud Highway as customers and fans passed through the line. (It's glamourous work, I know.) Most were thrilled to simply  meet the famed "gonzo journalist." Thompson said "hello," raised a glass, chatted, and had his picture taken. Some brought him gifts, such as drawings, or bottles of whiskey. One or two - thinking themselves clever - slipped an edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Hell's Angeles out of their jackets and asked Thompson to sign their "special" copy. The poor fools. . . . His voice raised, Thompson would let out a string of expletives and pound the table with his fist. And the once bold autograph seeker would then shrink away. This "booksigning" went on for a couple of hours, until the ranks of the curious and the devoted dwindled. On the way out, Hunter S. Thompson shook my hand.

A year later, at the time Thompson's long lost novel, The Rum Diary, was published, I had the chance to work on a collaborative web project with the author's publisher, Simon & Schuster. The project was the "Rum Ring" - a webring set up among four independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The webring was meant to promote Thompson's new book. And to that end, with the author's cooperation, his publisher sent us a large batch of digital files - scans of unpublished letters, photos, manuscripts, and other material related to The Rum Diary. The scans were divied up among the four stores. And a webring, featuring unique content of  interest to the author's  many readers, was launched. I had initiated the webring project in hopes of luring the increasingly reclusive author back to the Booksmith. But no such luck. Instead, our payoff was signed bookplates, which the four stores were able to offer their webring  customers as an incentive to purchase The Rum Diary. (Remember, this was way back in 1998, when the internet was still a brave new world.) The "Rum Ring" was a big success. It received a good deal of media attention (with coverage appearing in both local newspapers and in national trade journals), and it sold a lot of books. I think the Booksmith sold more than 800 copies of The Rum Diary at the time.

The "Rum Ring" hung around on-line for a number of years, where it continued to attract viewers and individuals seeking information on Thompson. And thus, my last "encounter" with the famed journalist occurred in the early 1990's when I was called by a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner (or was it ESPN) and asked to comment on Thompson's latest endeavor, that of a sports writer. I don't know why this reporter called me (I suppose I was as close to a source as he could get), and I don't remember what I remarked. I suppose I commented on this or that. I was quoted somewhere. What is clear in my memory, though, is Hunter S. Thompson's larger than life personality. It is a sad thing that he took his own life yesterday. His many readers will certainly miss him.