Chapter 9 begins with an editor’s note explaining, “at this point in the chronology, Dr. Duke seems to have broken down completely” (161). The editor notes that Duke was unreachable during this time and his notes on this part of the trip are so fragmented that they can only rely on his tape recording. Thompson crafts the chapter as a transcript of a conversation between Duke and his attorney following the incident in the diner.
Duke and his attorney decide to head for Boulder City and debate purchasing a snack on the way. Duke's attorney wants to stop at a restaurant advertising five tacos for a dollar, but Duke thinks the tacos will be bad because they are so cheap. After some bickering, the men enter the restaurant and incredulously note some hybrid items on the menu, such as taco burgers. They order food and ask the waitress where they are and where they can have some fun nearby. She informs them that they have already arrived in Boulder City, but admits that she does not know if there is a casino in the vicinity.
Duke explains to the waitress that they have come to Nevada in pursuit of the American Dream. She mistakes "the American Dream" for the name of a venue, and asks Lou the cook if he knows where it is. He suggests the two men visit a run-down discotheque called the Old Psychiatrist’s Club, which has become a prime hangout for drug users. Duke and his attorney agree that this is as good a lead as they’re likely to find, and inquire about the location. The waitress and Lou debate at some length about the location of the Club, and the waitress invites the men to sit inside while she calls someone to find out. The chapter ends with another editor’s note explaining that the rest of the tape was impossible to transcribe due to the ‘viscous fluid’ that had spilled on it. However, he can gather that Duke and his attorney eventually got to "the Club." It was in ruins, and they found out from a gas station owner that it had burned down three years before.
The men return to Las Vegas so that Duke's attorney can catch his flight back to California. They have trouble taking the exit to the airport because the freeway runs directly parallel to it. Duke's attorney becomes worried that he will miss his flight, and Duke relates the story of how he missed a flight in Peru and tried to catch it by running after the plane as it taxied on the runway. Meanwhile, Duke's attorney is becoming increasingly agitated, and finally, Duke pulls off the highway and speeds through the desert. The Cadillac screams across the runway at sixty miles per hour, and Duke's attorney implores Duke to let him out so he won’t get in trouble for driving on the runway. Duke agrees and his attorney makes his flight just as it is boarding.
Alone, Duke drives past the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and fantasizes about having sex with the gorgeous female students. Upon returning to the Flamingo, he wonders whether he will be arrested for his activities over the course of the trip. He reasons that the only way he will get away with it is if the authorities find his exploits too unbelievable to be true. Duke notes that it is possible to get away with felonies in Las Vegas, but people are often arrested for the most minor of offenses. He recalls the story of a friend of his who was arrested for vagrancy simply because he was dressed in a bohemian style. When the friend arrived in jail, he saw two drug dealers bribe the police officers to get an excellent lawyer, who immediately secured their release. Meanwhile, Duke’s friend only got out of jail after bribing the cops to allow him to call his father, who wired him more money for bribes, which he kept paying until the cops agreed to let him go.
Duke continues to worry about being charged with various crimes. He imagines delaying his trial perpetually by demanding that it be relocated to various remote locations. As time passes, his thoughts turn to the end of the 1960s and the uncertainty about what comes next for American culture. He notes that the LSD gurus of the ‘60s thought that they could achieve true understanding too easily, and that it is impossible to truly “buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit” (178).
Duke then broadens his focus and begins to dissect the disintegration of the ‘60s counterculture. He argues that the religious movements of the time - from Eastern faiths to born-again Christianity to cults - all emerged in response to the fundamental emptiness that plagues American culture. He attributes the youth movements' ultimate failure to the conflict between student activists and biker gangs like the Hell’s Angels.
When Duke arrives back at the Flamingo, he realizes that his hotel room is in a terrible state. There are burn marks everywhere, and much of the furniture has been destroyed. He notices vomit stains and recalls that at one point, a hotel maid walked in on Duke's attorney as he was vomiting. In a drug-induced state of fear, the attorney attacked the maid and tried to strangle her. Duke walked in on the scene and realized that they would be in serious trouble if the maid reported the altercation to hotel management. Therefore, Duke and his attorney turned the situation around by pretending to be police officers investigating a drug ring at the hotel. They recruited the maid to act as a confidential informant for $1,000 per month, and she happily agreed.
Chapter 9 departs from Duke’s typical narrative style and relates the chapter’s events as a transcript. There are several reasons why Thompson may have chosen to do this. The discussion at the restaurant in Boulder City echoes many of the men’s interactions with incredulous locals, and Thompson may have wished to avoid sounding repetitive by choosing a new device through which to convey this part of the narrative. The transcript mimics the rhythm of a stage play or a sitcom, which is fitting for its relatively light tone. This is one of the few moments in the text where the men’s interaction with strangers is not hostile; the shift in format reflects that.
The transcript format gives Chapter 9 an air of greater authenticity, since Thompson presents it as an unembellished recording of real events. Unlike the rest of the text, the chapter is unmediated by Duke and/or his ‘editor,’ whose notes appear at the beginning and the end of the chapter. It is notable that Thompson chose to use this method of storytelling for one of the few chapters that takes place outside of Las Vegas. He seems to be implying that the ‘small-town America,’ as represented by Boulder City, is fundamentally different from Las Vegas or Los Angeles and therefore requires a different method of storytelling. Furthermore, Thompson appears to be fascinated by cultural conflicts; through Duke, he frequently dissects the clash between hippies and the police. In this section, Duke blames the conflict between biker gangs and student activists for the breakdown of the counterculture. It makes sense, then, that he would emphasize the differences between urban and small-town life in his brief sketch of Boulder City.
Of course, Thompson does not exempt Boulder City from the images of decay that appear throughout Fear and Loathing. When Duke and his attorney eventually arrive at the Old Psychiatrist’s Club, they find only “a huge slab of cracked, scorched concrete in a vacant lot full of tall weeds” (168). There are a variety of interpretations that readers might apply to this moment. In the restaurant, Lou and the waitress noted that the club had become a hangout for drug users and bohemians. The burning of the club might represent the decline of the counterculture, which Duke analyzes in the following chapters.
The burned club could also reflect the economic stagnation that plagued America during this time. When Fear and Loathing was published in late 1971, the United States was on the brink of a major economic recession. Consumer spending declined and high inflation resulted in an increasing divide between rich and poor (Okun 207-209). To this end, the dreary, decaying Boulder City stands in sharp contrast to opulent Las Vegas. Although Thompson does not discuss economic issues as overtly as he examines cultural shifts, the juxtaposition itself reveals the stark inequalities of American capitalism.
As Fear and Loathing nears its end, Duke begins to address the book’s themes more explicitly. The text depicts American culture as deeply fragmented, with many characters finding that they have little in common with people from other subcultures. Early in the novel, Duke presents these divides as a source of dark comedy—consider, for example, his treatment of the bohemian hitchhiker or the police officers at the conference. When he discusses cultural divides in Chapter 11, though, he is deadly serious. He argues that all of the social movements of the 1960s were based on people seeking escape from the same existential dread. Duke seems to view this feeling of malaise as an inescapable part of the human condition. He blames conflict between subcultures for the decline of the youth movement, and, more generally, for the dissolution of 1960s utopianism.