Why you should care
Because only a punk beats his wife and dog.
I found Magoo passed out in the backseat. He had been drinking for a dozen hours or more, then crawled into my car to sleep it off before undoubtedly heading back into the tornado of Hells Angels mayhem that whipped around Lake Sonoma. My chest zapped with pain whenever I moved, but I managed to turn and grab Magoo by a pant leg. After a few painful tugs, he sat up, and immediately recoiled when he saw my bruised and bloodied face in the sad glow of the cabin light. My right eye was swollen and shattered, my clothes dusted with a heavy coat of lakeside detritus.
“Jesus Christ! Who’s after us?” Magoo sputtered. “You should have woke me.”
“Never mind,” I managed. “You better get out. I’m leaving.”
Magoo nodded and shoved his glasses up his nose with a dirty thumb. With the Hells Angels, coming to a horrible end was a goddamn goal line, especially when it came to outsiders. Magoo, an original member of the Oakland chapter, seemed to understand, and so I left him on the dirt track, a whirlwind of dust drifting around his boots. I had no choice. I had to flee. My mind was locked into some atavistic survival nightmare. Fight, or flight? Flee! Just go! As I reached the two-lane highway, my vision began to clear, but my heart raced wildly, and I almost lost control of the car as I made the turn south at high speed. My mind screamed while my eyes checked the rearview mirror, expecting to see the horrible dots of Harley headlights coming to finish the job.
In Their Voice: Part of a fictional series featuring stories about famous writers told in their own voice. In this episode, Hunter S. Thompson relives his beating by, and exit from, the Hells Angels. Based on true events.
“Sweet Jesus … what happened?” I wondered. How many fights and whippings and other rotten dystopian craziness had I seen since I started covering the Angels for The Nation last year? That was in 1965 — a lifetime ago. For nearly a year I had witnessed a blizzard of stompings and chain whippings, the grunts and screams of drunken gang rapes, the warp of mind-bending drugs, the shattering rumble of straight pipes. Violence and doom were everywhere. Right out in front, showcased like their stripped-down bikes and the goddamn “One Percenter” badges they wore on their vests. But their high-octane rage was never directed at me! At least not seriously. I had been allowed on The Inside. Sonny Barger — the King, the Pontiff of their Perpetual Pestilence — had given me the OK.
If Tiny hadn’t finally intervened, the last Angel would have certainly smashed in my fucking skull with the massive boulder he held high between his goddamn hands.
I had been taking pictures of a few Angels as they partied around Lake Sonoma during their Labor Day run. Nothing serious. Just shots for the record. A few Angels I didn’t know grumbled a thin subtle menace about it, but nothing to make me nervous. Problems were always handled directly; the delivery of justice swift and brutal. I had no reason to assume some mild resentment would turn violent. But then I saw an Angel beating his wife along the shoreline. Or was it his dog? Did it really matter? Whatever it was, I protested, and it was exactly the excuse they needed…. If Tiny hadn’t finally intervened, the last Angel would have certainly smashed in my fucking skull with the massive boulder he held high between his goddamn hands.
I pulled into the hospital in Santa Rosa 30 minutes later. Ugly bruises had formed where boots had smashed into my chest and arms. I was worried a rib had been broken and that my eye was destroyed. The emergency room was a chaos of guttural racket, like the tumult of pain and impotent rage that orbits a field hospital in some war-torn nightmare. The waiting room was packed with members of a rival motorcycle club: the Gypsy Jokers. There had been a battle between them and the Angels earlier that day, and the Jokers had been reduced to a mob of cuts, contusions, abrasions, holes and various other savage leaks. One had a broken jaw courtesy of a lead pipe. Now they wanted revenge, to exterminate the Angels once and for all.
“Come back with us, Hunter,” they said. “It’ll be a goddamn slaughter!”
No, I said. I was finished. The Angels had taken me to The Edge. There could be no going back now, even if I wanted to. After the doctors finished with me, I cruised south, toward San Francisco, toward home, back to Grattan Street, just south of Haight-Ashbury. It felt like coming down the Congo at the end of some Conradian nightmare. I lit a cigarette and felt the motor rumble through the gas pedal. The sky blued the first rays of a new morning. I wouldn’t remember it until years later, but I might have smiled.