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Ride to die

In a recent post about "gonzo" journalism creator and, now, suicide victim Hunter S. Thompson, I mentioned that I hadn't read much of his stuff.

However, with his suicide in the news, some of his more famous pieces are making their way around the Internet. I came across one with the odd title "Song of the Sausage Creature" — Thompson's name for the bloody, shredded mess you can end up as by crashing your motorcycle at high speeds.

It didn't do much for my opinion of him. Whether the subject was drugs or motorcycles, Thompson's general writing strategy seems to have centered around the glamorization of harmful, foolish, self-destructive behavior. He was like the kid in your grade school class who always pulled dangerous stunts to get attention. Most kids grow out of that phase, but Thompson stayed in it until the very end.

In "Sausage Creature", Thompson, describing his adventures astride a Ducati, indicates that, whatever his gifts as a writer, he was a poor motorcyclist:

This motorcycle is simply too goddamn fast to ride at speed in any kind of normal road traffic unless you're ready to go straight down the centerline with your nuts on fire and a silent scream in your throat.

When aimed in the right direction at high speed, though, it has unnatural capabilities. This I unwittingly discovered as I made my approach to a sharp turn across some railroad tracks, saw that I was going way too fast and that my only chance was to veer right and screw it on totally, in a desperate attempt to leapfrog the curve by going airborne.

It was a bold and reckless move, but it was necessary. And it worked: I felt like Evel Knievel as I soared across the tracks with the rain in my eyes and my jaws clamped together in fear. I tried to spit down on the tracks as I passed them, but my mouth was too dry... I landed hard on the edge of the road and lost my grip for a moment as the Ducati began fishtailing crazily into oncoming traffic. For two or three seconds I came face to face with the Sausage Creature...
It may be fun to watch in the movies or at the X-games, but on a public road, riding the way Thompson describes isn't gutsy or cool. It's just stupid. That he didn't kill himself, or any drivers on the road, shows only that he was lucky, not skillful.

Riders who know what they're doing don't put themselves into everyday situations where the only way out requires a leap through the air — unless they have a death wish.

Thompson may have had one himself. Perhaps this past Monday, sadly, he finally granted it.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what Thompson would have thought about Arlo Guthrie's "The Motorcycle Song"? Round about the same generation and topic, but Arlo's at least fun (sappily funny) in his twanging. 

Posted by Comrade_Tovarich



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