Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Study Guide

Hunter S. Thompson

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Part 2, Chapter 8 : Back Door Beauty ... And Finally a Bit of Serious Drag Racing on the Strip | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Gonzo and Duke spend the evening driving around in the Las Vegas Strip, and Dr. Gonzo has been sick. Duke pulls the white Cadillac, covered with vomit, next to a Ford with Oklahoma plates at a traffic light. Dr. Gonzo offers to sell them some heroin. When the light changes, Duke accelerates with them while Dr. Gonzo keeps screaming at them about heroin. Near Circus-Circus Duke uses a move that leaves the Ford stalled in the middle of an intersection. As he drives away, Duke hopes the driver will be arrested for reckless driving.

Duke and Dr. Gonzo wander to North Las Vegas, a rundown area outside the city limits. Duke describes it as the place people end up when they're no longer welcome on the Strip or downtown. He describes the power structure in Las Vegas, explaining how casinos employ armies of security to remove pickpockets, drunks, and other undesirables from the premises so they don't disturb the high rollers. For the people who work in the casinos it doesn't matter if they are run by the mob or businessmen. These workers only care if they get paid. Duke says, "A week in Vegas is like stumbling into a time warp, a regression to the late fifties." He alludes to the conservatism and casual racism of typical casino patrons.

Duke and Dr. Gonzo go to a diner called the North Star Coffee Lounge. They are the only customers, and they are attended by a waitress with dark hair and large breasts. Duke orders food and reads a newspaper. Dr. Gonzo asks for ice water. The waitress is tense and becomes furious when Dr. Gonzo slips her a note, which reads, "Back Door Beauty?" She threatens to call the police, which prompts Dr. Gonzo to cut the wire on the payphone. He asks her how much to buy a whole pie and leaves five dollars on the counter. He takes the pie out of the display case while the waitress watches, frozen in shock. Duke believes the site of Dr. Gonzo's knife has "triggered bad memories" and speculates her throat has been cut in the past.

Analysis

Before he arrives in Las Vegas, Duke hopes to do some drag racing in his shiny convertible rental car. He finally gets a chance against a car from Oklahoma. Dr. Gonzo provokes them by shouting about drugs, which angers and inflames the car's occupants into speeding alongside Duke's Cadillac, hoping to even the score. The out-of-state license plate from some distance away implies these may be more officers in town for the drug convention, which explains their desire to teach Duke and Dr. Gonzo a lesson. Ironically, they criticize people like Duke for breaking the law, but when given the opportunity, they are all too eager to break the law themselves in a way that presents a clear hazard to public safety—hence Duke's hope they are subject to the same punishment he would face if caught in their position.

In previous chapters, Duke has alluded to the violent underpinnings that maintain order in Las Vegas, and the narrative has offered occasional anecdotes to support those allusions. When describing North Las Vegas, Duke's description of the Las Vegas hierarchy becomes more explicit. In Duke's estimation, Las Vegas boils down to a very simple dynamic: people who are not of use to the system are not welcome. This includes misfits like Duke, who threatens to disrupt the order of business every time he walks across a casino floor, but it also includes aging prostitutes, people with bad credit, and drug dealers without connections. When Duke talks about the city being like a time similar to the 1950s, he means Las Vegas is a city where the ethos of the 1960s counterculture—free love, harmony, caring for your fellow man and woman—never caught on at all. These principles would only hurt the profit margins in a place like Las Vegas where human life is cheap.

The waitress in the diner illustrates how cheap human life can be and how roughly Las Vegas treats vulnerable people. Duke speculates about her life before the diner, thinking she may be an aged prostitute or a former biker mama. Her former life is less important than the fact that she has aged beyond whatever looks she had that made her useful. Duke doesn't compare her with a pit bull as he does with Lucy in Part 2, Chapter 3, but he does recognize this woman has aged past her prime. What she has lost in youthful appearance, she has made up for in toughness in the domain she rules—even if it's not a great domain.

Dr. Gonzo's note to her is motivated by boredom more than anything else, but it has a profound impact on this woman. The note uses the term "back door," which is a slang term for the anus, so the note appears to be a proposition for anal sex. If Duke is correct in his assumption she used to be a prostitute, the note hearkens back to a different life left behind. His speculation about her throat having been cut indicates she has been subject to violence and abuse in the past, and she is terrified of the potential of its happening again. Dr. Gonzo is unaware of the trauma he is causing, or he is aware and enjoying terrorizing this woman. Duke makes no move to stop Dr. Gonzo's traumatizing actions, but the recounting of this event uses language and tone sympathetic to her.

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