Tuesday, December 3, 2002 Updated: December 4, 1:57 PM ET
Grantland Rice haunts Honolulu Marathon
By Hunter S. Thompson Page 2 columnist
I was deeply engrossed in the Tampa-New Orleans game on Sunday night when my phone began ringing urgently and repeatedly, until I finally had to answer it. "What is it?" I shouted. "Speak up, you swine! I thought I told you
never to call here in the middle of a god---- football game."
The Bucs and the Saints were locked in one of those "classic defensive struggles" that Grantland Rice used to write about in the good old days.
I knew Grant, from a chance meeting in my childhood, and he never seemed weird to me ... but rather like some old and mysterious uncle who took his work so seriously that we rarely saw him, except for things like the Derby or the frantic week of the SEC basketball tournament, when Kentucky was riding high and I would see him out playing golf in Cherokee Park.
We knew him as "Mister Rice" in those days, and we knew that he did some kind of extremely important work that may or may not have had something to do with sports, but we never quite knew what it was -- and because of that, we were
vaguely afraid of him. Mr. Rice told good sports stories, and he had a friendly way of putting his hand on your shoulder or your arm when he talked to you -- and he would stare right at you when he talked, so you had to pay close attention to everything he said.
Indeed. There was something distinctly sinister about "Uncle Grant," as he liked to be called, and I kind of liked him for it. He was suave, in a sentimental way that seemed to reek of heavy drama and dangerous, romantic adventures involving secret murder and violence and desperate foreign intrigues that would forever go unspoken, at least by him. He was far too professional to go around babbling and bragging about this secret life or what he really did for a living. We had no need to know, anyway. Hell, we were just a bunch of curious neighborhood kids who called themselves the "dreaded Hawks A.C."
We were powerful, back then. We controlled a vast territory that stretched from Cherokee Park all the way down to the Municipal Armory in downtown Louisville, only a few blocks from the river, and I think this is why Mr. Rice seemed to like us, and even respect us on some days....
He was extremely helpful, for instance, in getting some kind of official sanction that allowed us to do our own little shoot-around drills at halftime and between games at the SEC tournament -- on the court and using official game balls from the teams who were playing that day, or night: maybe Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt, maybe LSU vs. the mighty Kentucky Wildcats. We mingled with the players and retrieved loose balls that went into the crowd, we hung around the Press table with Uncle Grant and his friends, or sometimes we would climb the long narrow ladder up to the TV booth, far above and behind the feverish fans in the wooden seats below. We more or less had the run of the place, as they say, and we tried hard not to abuse our inexplicably privileged situation.
Wow! That really was the good old days, eh? That kind of behavior today, in 2002 America, would get you locked up by some quasi-legal Military Tribunal in a cage at Guantanamo Bay ... and it was not that long ago, either -- barely 20 years since the days when people could speak openly to each other without fear of the police and wander around freely, wherever they wanted to, as long as they weren't hurting anyone else, when a nationwide panic like the one we have today was inconceivable, when some hideous bogeyman like "War on Terrorism" would have seemed more like a vengeful Communist Plot than something that could ever happen in the good old U.S.A.
Whoops. I seem to be wandering, here, so let us drag ourselves from those innocent days of yesteryear and confront the terrifying reality of now, today, in these grim years of the post-American century, to wit: I lost all my bets on the once-proud Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with five or six other games, and these dumfounding losses plunged me into such a fit of melancholy that I almost canceled my trip to Hawaii this week for the 30th annual running of the weird and dangerous Honolulu Marathon, which will happen on this coming Sunday, Dec. 8 -- exactly the same day of the final deadline for declaring War on Iraq and also the last day of existence for the debt-redden hulk that was once United Airlines.... And all of these ominous developments, taken together, mean certain disaster for millions of people all over the world.
The scene at Waikiki Beach is rarely disappointing.
That is when being stranded in Hawaii, with no money and no way to get off the island(s) for what may be the rest of your life will look like paradise on earth, compared to what the rest of the world will be enduring. It will be like a series of horrible earthquakes with an epidemic of Dengue Fever occurring in slow motion all over the world in the same week. Not unlike the Book of Revelation, now that you mention it. When Hell erupts out of the earth and the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride everywhere, everywhere, with permanent flood-tides of blood and filth and murder that will destroy our lives forever--
Right, and so much for that, eh? You bet, so lighten up with your preaching, Doc, just why have you decided to fly to the a profoundly remote island in the central Pacific Ocean that is probably closer to North Korea than it is to Beverly Hills, and which is guaranteed to be one of the most unhappy places in the world to be when the sun comes up over Waikiki Beach on Sunday morning. If you don't get your legs blown off by an airport bomb, you will be taken into custody by military police and held for further questioning as a suspected terrorist sympathizer with no local address and no apparent reason or purpose or even a good excuse for being there at all.
That is where the fun starts, but not for you. No. You will be treated like a spy from somewhere on the Axis of Evil, until you can prove otherwise.... That is when you will find out how many friends you have left.
So, that's about it, folks, for the reasoning behind my tortured decision to fly with Anita to Honolulu tomorrow to participate, with many of our friends, in the aggressively lewd spectacle that is called the infamous Honolulu Marathon, which I have "covered" in my fashion, for something like 21 years and never been disappointed with the action.
"Why are we doing this again?" I asked Anita as we packed for the trip, "Are we stupid? Don't you remember what happened last year?"
"Of course I do," she replied. "But I want to go anyway. We must go. I crave it. I want to lounge on the balcony, and swim with the dolphins and drive naked across the mountains in a silver convertible with Don Ho crooning on the radio ..."
"Hot damn," I said quickly. "I must have flipped out from massive stress for a minute, when I was even thinking about canceling this assignment. I too crave the wonderful excitement of the race, and the rain beating down, and running along Kahala Blvd. in the tightly packed mob of naked strangers who are all whacked on Ephedrine and crazed by too many pheremones in the air above the race and the mainly fanatical spectators who line all 26 miles of the race. And we will be there at the finish line, me and Mr. Rice.
Ed. note: Dr. Thompson has left for the airport now. To be continued.Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," "The Proud Highway," Better Than Sex" and "The Rum Diary." His new book, "Fear and Loathing in America," has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears regularly on Page 2.