Part 1, Chapter 12 Summary
Some three and a half hours after leaving the tavern, Thompson has driven as far as Baker, California. He has not slept in at least three days, perhaps four. He is still high but knows “the crash is coming.” He knows there is no sympathy for him, nor should there be. “Buy the ticket, take the ride” is Thompson’s motto.
He thinks about two very bad experiences and close calls he just endured. The first incident involved the California Highway Patrol and the second involved a “phantom hitchhiker.” Thompson says a squad car came up behind him on the highway. Rather than do what most people would do, Thompson leads the cop on a high-speed chase. Finally he pulls over abruptly, causing the speeding police car to careen past him. Thompson believes the cop will actually be impressed by his ability to control his car. His plan, however, is undermined when he realizes he is still holding an open can of beer. This infraction will erase any goodwill on the cop’s part in regard to his speeding.
A glance at the back seat reveals another ten or so discarded beer cans. Explanations, Thompson knows, will be useless. He surprises the cop by readily admitting his guilt. The cop tries to give him something of an out. He suggests that Thompson drive a few miles up the road, pull over at a rest stop, and take a good long nap. Instead of being grateful, Thompson argues about it. He says he has been up for days and will sleep for “twenty hours” if he goes to sleep now. Thompson tells himself to “get a grip.” He explains to the officer that he is a reporter and has been in Las Vegas covering the Mint 400 for a magazine.
The cop listens and decides to give him a warning. The terms of letting him go, however, are that he will immediately drive to the rest area and take a nap. If he sees him outside that two-mile radius, he will arrest him on the spot.
Thompson feels trapped. He needs to get to Los Angeles but cannot proceed without the very real probability of being taken to jail. As he drives toward the rest area, Thompson is shocked to see the same hitchhiker he and the attorney had picked up that first day on the road to Vegas. The kid poses yet another problem. Thompson reasons that if he is identified, he will surely be arrested for his earlier threats and behavior. However, if he tries to leave Baker, he will be arrested for disobeying the policeman’s instructions. Thompson pulls over to call his attorney. The only solution, they decide, is to go backward rather than forward. He must return to Las Vegas.