Beer & Choking on the Campaign Trail ’08, Part 1

Inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s classic Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72, my Future First Lady and I set out on an epic, week-long journey through 14 states, on a mock presidential campaign tour promoting NORML’s “Smoke the Vote” we called the BBD Express Across America.

“There is no way for even the best and most talented journalist to know what is really going on inside a political campaign unless he has been there himself.”—HST


Dawn is coming up in Vegas now: 4:20am I can feel the rumble of early-morning hunger in my gut as I load up the car. Stuffed with her numerous plants and two cats, the backseat of my girlfriend’s Saturn resembled an episode of Wild Kingdom on wheels. These were the last of her worldly possessions, the rest having already been boxed and bound for the Big Apple. She was leaving a lot behind to become my Future First Lady (FFL): her family, friends, the dry heat of the Southwestern desert — not to mention a crazy ex-roommate who’d shut the power off on her. Jesus, what were we doing? Were we really about to drive 3,000 miles and crash our lives into one another?

As we lit a joint and watched the Strip melt away in the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but think of Hunter speeding off into the desert at the end of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In his classic “wave” speech, he suggested that this godforsaken Gomorrah of gambling, glitter and tits was where the American Dream had beached itself and choked on its own filth. For me, however, this was where the Dream was about to be reborn: My harebrained ambition had mutated this cross-country road trip into a twisted homage to my journalistic idol. And like his iconic gonzo dagger, the BBD Express was fixin’ to carve the heart outta the heartland and devour it raw.

We skimmed across the top of Arizona and into Utah, cruising through Monument Valley just before sunset and winding up in Mexican Hat for the night, where we enjoyed some live honky-tonk and gorged ourselves on charred sirloin and Polygamy Porter. In the morning, we took a rugged detour through the Valley of the Gods, gobbled down a Navajo taco at Twin Rock, then headed north through flat, dry Utah. As we crossed east into Colorado, the landscape changed dramatically — springing to life with furry green slopes and jagged white peaks. We began our twisting ascent into the Rockies; the air thinned and cooled, and the Southwestern sun bid us farewell, painting the mountainsides in a blushed pink glow. As I puffed on a bowl of Strawberry Cough, my mind traveled north, to the small town of Woody Creek that Hunter called home. Had the good doctor not bought a one-way ticket to that great freak show in the sky, a pack of rabid hyenas wouldn’t have kept me from paying him a visit. But now a pilgrimage to Owl Farm seemed pointless. In any case, we’d soon be in Denver, and at 4:20 tomorrow the circus was coming to town.


It was around 3:30pm when we screeched up across the street from the studios of Marijuana Radio — ironically, directly in front of Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters.

“Can we park here?” FFL asked.

I glanced up at the poster in the window. “Yes we can!”

In a few months, a swarm of gutless vultures would be descending on this city for the Democratic National Convention (to which I’d heinously been denied press credentials), where they will make history by nominating the first African-American—and first post-baby-boom — candidate for president. After reading Fear and Loathing … ’72, I’d noticed some striking similarities between this presidential race and that one. Like Barack Obama, George McGovern had been the candidate of change, the establishment outsider — an anti-candidate, if you will, an underdog who had energized the youth vote through grassroots efforts and rose to unexpected victory after a long-drawn-out, hotly contested primary battle. And like McGovern, Obama promises to begin an immediate withdrawal of troops from a costly and unpopular war.

And Iraq is looking more like Vietnam every day, isn’t it? Just as the Gulf of Tonkin incident sparked our massive involvement in ’Nam, 9/11 served as a blank check for a corrupt administration, giving those demented swine carte blanche to do anything necessary to win the “war on terror”—including invading a country that didn’t attack us, and wiping their asses with our Constitution. George W. Bush, like that fascist old hack Richard Nixon before him, has been the very embodiment of what Bobby Kennedy called “the dark side of the American spirit”: “If Bush wins,” Hunter once said, “the planet is doomed.” When that retarded frat boy was re-elected in 2004, I contemplated either moving to Amsterdam or gargling with Drano. Christ—was America really that stupid, or just that scared?

Obama, on the other hand, is the first candidate in my lifetime to genuinely inspire me. Perhaps it’s naïve of me to buy into his “audacity of hope” — perhaps he’s just another treacherous hustler like the rest, or perhaps Washington has become too bloated a monstrosity to ever be reformed on any meaningful level. But after two terms of deceit, despair and downright evil, hope is all I have left.

The Marijuana Radio crew had gone all-out: red, white and blue balloons, streamers and flags on the walls, a White House–style podium, some patriotically attired models, and even a spread of munchies and refreshments. As I sucked down a Heineken, producer Paul Saurini took the mic and got things underway.

“Yes, this is what you think it is,” he said ominously, holding up a big bud: “forbidden.” His introduction was followed by a few words from the show’s host (and our Miss August 2008), McKenna Stephens, and her co-host Dan K.

“It’s not about just getting high — it’s about breaking the stereotype by actually coming out and supporting activism, marching in the Million Marijuana March and writing letters to your congressmen,” said K. “We must unite, vote and make the older generation respect the choices we’ve made. And this man coming up to the stage is going to help us do that — Bobby Black!”

“Hail to the Chief” thundered from the monitors as I swallowed the lump in my throat, chased it down with the last of my brew, and approached the podium.

“Hello … my name is Bobby Black, I’m the senior editor for High Times magazine, and I’m running for president. And yes, I am high right now.”

The audience was composed of 30 or so local activists and fans, including members of the Front Range Norml chapter and Captain Cannabis of Generation Fucked News. As might be expected, the crowd was highly receptive to my agenda.

“If you smoke weed, if you live a lifestyle where every day you’re worried about getting busted, if every day you’re sneaking around and hiding your weed usage, then you have an obligation to join NORML — you have an obligation to write to your congressmen, your senators. Because how dare you complain if you’re going to just sit there and do nothing?

“I’m running on the Freak Power Party ticket, which I’m sure you guys here in Colorado are familiar with. An idol of mine—Dr. Hunter S. Thompson—invented that political party when he was running for sheriff of Pitkin County back in 1970. Considering my platform, I thought it appropriate to revive the party.”

I rambled on for half an hour on a range of topics, including drug legalization, federalism, the separation of church and state, sexual freedom and the two marijuana-decriminalization bills currently in Congress. After my speech, I opened the floor to questions.

“Do you consider your marijuana use medicinal or recreational?” asked one activist.

After a moment’s reflection, I replied: “I’d have to say that it’s spiritual. It is to create and to celebrate—to medicate, meditate and masturbate. It serves so many uses in so many ways that I think the only word is ‘spiritual,’ because that encompasses everything. Anyone else?”

“How about hemp and industrial uses?” asked another.

“Since global warming has finally been accepted, the media talk a lot about alternative fuels — especially ethanol, which is ridiculously ineffective and actually uses crude oil to process. But nobody mentions hemp! During the debates, not one candidate said, ‘How are we going to break our addiction to foreign oil? We’re going to use hemp — it’s a renewable resource.’ That’s my position.”

When the Q&A was over, it was time for the membership drive.

“I don’t want anyone in this room to leave here without joining NORML,” I demanded — my first executive order. Then I hunkered down at a table in the corner, chatting with the fans, autographing magazines, handing out swag and signing up 25 new NORML members (including the MJ Radio staff).

When the conference concluded, I was given the official Marijuana Radio bong and asked to partake in a ceremonial hit. Unfortunately, decades of prolonged abuse have severely diminished my lung capacity, which makes emptying a large chamber a brutal chore. But for the sake of appearances, and with all eyes upon me, I fired that sonofabitch up and sucked it down. What ensued was a 10-minute tear-drenched, red-faced, chest-collapsing choking frenzy. I felt the Fear coming on… My head was swirling in a vortex of disorientation and panic … I was unable to move, process sensory input or  internal dialogue in any reasonable manner. It felt like my cerebral cortex had been injected with a massive dose of ketamine. Jesus—I was going on the air in 10 minutes! How could I go on like this? I’d sound like a brain-damaged, dope-addled buffoon! I’d be a laughingstock! My campaign was done for ….

Fortunately, FFL sensed my predicament and came to my rescue—leading me to a dark office where I could decompress.

“Breathe, baby, breathe,” she said as she kneaded my shoulders lovingly. But 20 minutes later, her demeanor had changed from gentle maternity nurse to pissed-off locker-room coach.
“You can’t just melt down like this!” she chided. “Those people out there listen to you. You’re Bobby Black — your fans are counting on you. Smoke the Vote is counting on you. So get your shit together, get back out there and act presidential!”

Spoken like a true First Lady. I got to my feet, shook it off and stumbled into the studio, where the interview went far better than I’d expected, and ended on a high note.

“I’m sure every stoner thinks pot should be legalized …. The goal is, how do we get these people active? That’s what this campaign is all about: getting every stoner to stand together and vote in a bloc and show that we exist as a real culture and should not be persecuted.”

“For a guy who doesn’t consider himself an activist,” Saurini observed, “you sure talk like an activist.”


After a triumphant rally in Denver, FFL and I were off to South Dakota—where, about a month later, the final votes in this feverish primary battle would be cast. We drove all day — up into Wyoming, then east into the Black Hills, finally arriving at the antique mining town of Keystone. We feasted on buffalo steak, sarsaparilla and fresh fudge, then raced up the road for the main attraction: our greatest shrine to presidential majesty, Mount Rushmore.

We reached the monument just before dusk. Sweet baby Jesus — there they were! Larger than life, staring down their noses at us: founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — champions of liberty, authors of a revolution, and growers of hemp. Beside them, Teddy Roosevelt, who battled corporate corruption and ushered in the Progressive Era, and Abe Lincoln, who ended slavery and held the nation together through civil war. Sadly, in a cultural sense, we’re still fighting that war. Last year, while surfing the internets, I came across something that nearly made me download in my pants: two maps of the US side by side, the first a modern breakdown of red states versus blue states, the second a map of the North and South during the Civil War — and they were practically identical. Then it hit me: Some of these pigfuckers are still fighting that goddamned war! That’s what all this Dixie-flag horseshit is about — the Confederacy is alive and well, slithering along just below the surface of the Republican Party like a hungry gator waiting to pounce. Christ — maybe we should’ve just let those filthy reptiles secede.

As the sky darkened along the Presidential Trail, we ducked into a small cave below Washington’s nose to smoke a joint. For a brief moment, I allowed myself the indulgence of imagining my own face carved beside them into the rock—joint, aviator shades and all. Bobby Black: the first longhaired, pro-pot president, emancipator of the stoners, fags, pagans and prostitutes! A seed in every pot and a bud in every bowl! Now that’s change I can believe in.

After the lighting ceremony, it was back to the motel—we had a grueling 15-hour trek to Chicago ahead of us in the morning, and we’d need all the rest (and weed) we could get….

Watch video clips of the conference here.

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