Duke is “vaguely haunted” by the fact that the hitchhiker has never been in a convertible before and considers giving the Great Red Shark to him, but he has “plans for this car.” He wants to “flash around Las Vegas in the bugger” and do some drag-racing on the Strip. He wants to take on the locals and “challenge the bastards on their own turf.” After all, a chance like this doesn’t come around often. “Old elephants limp off to the hills to die,” Duke says, “old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.”
Obviously, the hitchhiker has never been in a convertible because he can’t afford one, which underscores the uneven distribution of wealth within America. Las Vegas is a small-scale representation of American society within Fear and Loathing, and Duke’s desire to take on the locals underscores his identity as part of the counterculture and his resistance to the traditional establishment.
The trip to Vegas is “a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character.” It is a “salute to the fantastic possibilities of life” in America, but only for those with “true grit,” and “we are chock full of that,” claims Duke. Dr. Gonzo understands this, Duke says, “despite his racial handicap,” but it is much harder to explain to the hitchhiker. Duke and Gonzo begin to snort amyls from the bag of drugs as the hitchhiker looks on in horror. Gonzo yells loudly and swears, turning the music up loudly. “Pay no attention to this swine,” Duke says to the hitchhiker. “He can’t handle his medicine.” Duke begins to tell the hitchhiker about the Mint 400.
This again harkens to the American Dream and the “fantastic possibility” that anyone can get rich in America with hard work, or “true grit.” However, Duke’s reference to Gonzo’s “racial handicap”—that he’s not white—implies that this “fantastic possibility” isn’t available to people like Gonzo. This opinion underscores the blatant racism present in American society—wholesale opportunities are reserved for white Americans.
Gonzo interrupts. “The truth is,” he says, “we’re going to Vegas to croak a scag baron named Savage Henry.” Gonzo and Duke begin to laugh hysterically. They tell the hitchhiker that Savage Henry has “ripped them off,” and now they are going to “rip his lungs out.” As Gonzo snorts another amyl, the hitchhiker “scrambles” out the back of the convertible and takes off running down the street. “Good riddance,” Gonzo yells after him.
Gonzo’s story is another reflection of violence. Presumably, Savage Henry doesn’t exist—Gonzo simply makes him up—but he does so with the intention of intimidating and scaring the hitchhiker with the implication of violence. Gonzo’s decision to invoke violence is sudden and feels natural to him.
Duke and Gonzo decide it is time to eat some blotter acid, and then Gonzo takes out the salt shaker of cocaine, spilling most of it. “You’re a fucking narcotics agent!” Duke yells at him. “I was on your stinking act from the start, you pig!” Gonzo pulls out a .357 magnum. “You better be careful,” he says as he points the gun at Duke. “Plenty of vultures out here.” They burst out laughing as they blaze down the highway. “You’re full of acid, you fool,” Duke says, noting they have about thirty minutes before they completely lose their minds. “Are you ready for this?” Duke asks. “Checking into a Vegas hotel under a phony name with intent to commit capital fraud and a head full of acid?” If they don’t make it, the Nevada Sate prison is just upstate in Carson City.
This interaction further establishes both Duke and Gonzo as members of the counterculture. In addition to their prolific drug use, Duke’s contempt for law enforcement is clear as well. As an anti-establishment movement, members of the counterculture were openly critical of law enforcement, and Duke frequently refers to the police as “pigs” or “Nazis.” The way in which Duke quickly brushes off having a gun pointed at him suggests that he encounters violence like this frequently.
Duke and Gonzo finally get to the hotel, but Gonzo is “unable to cope artfully with the registration procedure.” There is a long line, and they are forced to stand and wait. Duke begins to feel “terror” as he approaches the desk. The desk clerk tells Duke that their room isn’t ready yet, and then she hands him an envelope and tells him someone is looking for him. “No!” shouts Duke. “Why? We haven’t done anything yet!” The clerk shrugs and walks away.
The drugs are clearly getting to Duke, and he is increasingly paranoid by the time he arrives in Vegas. Even though Duke is obviously acting strange, the clerk responds with indifference and doesn’t even appear to notice, which is a testament to the drug-addled guests she probably sees daily at her job—or the fact that as long as they have money, she doesn’t care how people act.
Duke and Gonzo go to the hotel bar to wait. “Who’s Lacerda?” Gonzo asks after opening the envelope. The name sounds familiar, Duke says, but he can’t remember. All around him the carpet is a “blood-soaked sponge” and huge reptiles sit around drinking. “Order some golf shoes,” Duke yells. “We’re right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo!” Duke looks across the bar to a table of lizards staring at him. “That’s the press table,” Gonzo says. “You handle that, and I’ll get the room.”
Duke’s LSD is taking over, and he is clearly out of his mind. He tells Gonzo to order “golf shoes” so he can wear them to walk across the blood-soaked carpet that he is hallucinating. This is obviously a disturbing hallucination, and also implies the fundamental violence of Duke’s world. Duke doesn’t hallucinate pleasant images, and he maintains that most of society is violent and awful. This opinion is also clear in his hallucinations of people as “reptiles.”