I know first hand from my recent Left Coast Crime experience that Tokyo-based Barry Lancet is the best navigator a driver can hope for on Phoenix streets. In this piece, Barry takes that skill to the City by the Bay. For those of you who don’t know Barry’s work, you’re in for a treat. He’s the Barry Award Winning and Shamus Award nominated author of the Jim Brodie international mystery-thriller series. California born, Barry’s more than two decades in Tokyo, much as an editor at one of the country’s largest publishing houses, gave him insider access to places most Japanese never see, allowing him to bring true authenticity to his novels, Japantown, Tokyo Kill, and the latest, Pacific Burn. http://barrylancet.com
These days it seems my vacations are often dictated by what locations might appear in my next book. That means I hit the Japan trail, sometimes San Francisco, and then the additional new places that might be scene-worthy.
But there are times when it works the other way around. I go someplace and the location sticks in my mind and later shows up in a book quite by accident. This happened when I finally made it out to Miami to fulfill an age-old promise to visit friend and author/translator William Scott Wilson (The Lone Samurai, Hagekure, Tao Te Ching). It was my first visit to Florida and by the end of the trip I thought, I could use this place in a book. And I did. Miami and some of its locales found their way into Tokyo Kill, alongside Tokyo, Yokohama, China, and Barbados.
This summer I found a third way—when an old friend I was traveling with suggested a place he always wanted to visit: the Seal Rock Inn because “that’s where Hunter S. Thompson hung out.” More accurately, it’s the place Thompson holed up in to write “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.” With guns, drugs, and who knows what else.
The inn is a rustic lodge on the edge of San Francisco, only a few hundred yards from where the city meets the Pacific Ocean. It is still owned by the same family. The Cliff House is a half a block away. Here’s Thompson:
"Dawn is coming up in San Francisco now: 6:09 a.m. at the Seal Rock Inn. ... Out here at the far end of Geary Street: this is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America."
From the window, even today guests can catch a sliver of the ocean. The trees lining 48th Avenue across the way have grown tall and spread since Thompson’s residence forty-plus years ago, cutting off much of the view. The buses are still there, lined up right outside “his” window, ready to take morning commuters into the city center. When the large diesel engines were fired up and left idling too long, as was the habit in those days, it’s not too hard to imagine Thompson sticking a shotgun out the window and telling them to cut the noise and the fumes or else. Bus engines have been improved, and environmental concerns have changed the way public vehicles are operated, but some things remain the same. The fog still rolls in thick as a blanket and the winds can be relentless, even when the sun shines.
That’s where we stayed during my latest scouting trip through SF for book locations, two doors down from the room. Reports have it that Thompson didn’t come out for days but had everything brought in—food, drink, drugs, and any friends wanting to party.
During the trip I confirmed details for my new book (Pacific Burn) and scouted locations for the as-yet untitled book 4 in the Jim Brodie series. Will the Seal Rock Inn find its way into a future story? Not in number 4, but maybe one day. Who knows? Either way, the visit was memorable.
Barry for Jeff