Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

As Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas opens, Hunter S. Thompson and his traveling companion, a Samoan called only “my attorney” throughout the book, are careening down a highway. Their exact location is not identified. All Thompson knows is that they are in the desert “somewhere around Barstow.” Both Thompson and his attorney are heavily under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Thompson realizes that he cannot drive any longer and asks his friend to take the wheel. Thompson stops mid-sentence, however, because he becomes aware that he is screaming. He is also hallucinating that enormous bats are dive-bombing the car. Unfazed, the attorney busily removes his own shirt and douses himself with beer to “facilitate the tanning process.” Thompson decides to keep the bat-sightings to himself.

It is very hot under the desert sun, and they still have at least one hundred miles to go. They are heading toward Las Vegas and the “Mint 400,” a racing event that Thompson has been hired to cover for a sports magazine in New York. The unnamed magazine has also made reservations at a hotel and provided a rental car, an enormous red Chevrolet convertible.

Along with the room and car, Thompson has been given $300 in cash, most of which, he admits, has already been spent on “extremely dangerous drugs”—marijuana, mescaline, acid, cocaine, and ether. It is the ether, Thompson confesses, that worries him the most. People on ether become “depraved." He knows that soon they will start using it.

The attorney eventually takes the wheel and begins singing along with the radio. Thompson is in the passenger seat and listening to a song, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, on a tape recorder. Both men notice a hitchhiker—a teenaged boy—on the side of the road. The tired hitchhiker gratefully climbs in the car when they pull over.

After a few minutes, Thompson worries that he and his attorney will not be able to stop rambling about their various hallucinations. He wonders if the boy will think they are associated with the Manson family. And if so, will the boy freak out? And if he freaks out, will Thompson have to kill him?

The boy looks frightened and agrees with everything Thompson says, obviously hoping to placate Thompson. Trying to speak more reasonably, Thompson tells the hitchhiker that he and his attorney are going “to Las Vegas to find the American Dream.”

Thompson begins to describe how they started their journey. Thompson received a phone call while staying at a Beverly Hills hotel. He was told to meet a man in Las Vegas named Lacerda, a photographer. Thompson has been commissioned to write a story about the “Mint 400,” a race for motorcycles and dune buggies. Lacerda will photograph it. Thompson’s attorney advised him to get more money from his publisher.