It was an event more than a decade in the making: Last Gasp was finally releasing “Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson.” Warren Hinckle, the legendary San Francisco rogue and shit-stirrer, had been working on the book from the time of Thompson’s death right up until his own death last year — and he’d apparently been telling everyone who would listen about the damn thing for just as long.
Ron Turner, the captain of the strange ship that is Last Gasp, used Hinckle’s book-sized essay as the introduction to the 500-page tome; he filled the rest of it with funny HST stories told by some of his closest friends and co-conspirators, like Gov. Jerry Brown, author Tom Wolfe and actor Johnny Depp.
Kayla and I got to 111 Minna Gallery just after the doors were supposed to open. Somehow, the place was already packed with the most amazing assortment of old-school San Francisco characters you could imagine. From 80-year-old hippies to North Beach artists to people who attended the first Burning Man, it was a little taste of what The City used to feel like. Hell, I even saw people who I thought only existed within the weird walls of Specs’.
Looking around the room, it dawned on me that, at 36 years old, I was one of the youngest people there. I mean, sure, some of the old-timers had brought their kids or grandkids, and there was a smattering of young people wearing Fear and Loathing-esque aviator glasses, but at this gathering of oddballs and artists, the most common color present was grey. If this party had happened 10 years ago, it would’ve been a multigenerational hullabaloo with art cars parked outside and earnest 22 year olds trying to divine wisdom from the people who had not only blazed these freaky trails, but blown right through them.
But this isn’t 10 years ago. And this isn’t that San Francisco.
Kayla and I were taking it easy that night; we were both recovering from whatever nasty bug was going around, and instead of getting booze at Minna, we popped down the block to get some tea at Soma Eats. Walking in was like entering Bizarro World …
Instead of old artsy people, the place was filled with young people in North Face vests and button-down shirts. Instead of crowding around paintings by Mike Davis while drinking wine and laughing, they were huddled in front of computers or talking seriously while preparing their next startup pitch. It was 7 p.m. and looked like nobody there remembered how to have fun.
“This place creeps me out,” I said as we walked out the door.
“Why? It’s beautiful,” Kayla replied.
“Not the actual place. Soma Eats is lovely. I mean the vibe of the people inside. This San Francisco is just so much harder to stomach when you’ve just come from the San Francisco up the block.”
Walking back to the gallery, we found Turner holding court and signing books outside. Some of my favorite San Franciscans kept popping in and out of the gallery while Ron told stories of Hinckle and Thompson. The Examiner’s Joe Fitz showed up wearing an eye patch as an homage to Hinckle. Kevin from Green Apple Books and his wife Alia showed up and told the story of how he ended up in jail the first time he hung out with Hinckle.
Just as we were leaving, a woman I didn’t know walked by saying to her friend, “There’s so many wonderful people here I haven’t seen in ages. It’s like a party for those of us who are still miraculously here.”
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.