With Hansen, you never knew where the fun ended and where real life began.
Despite the ominous passage of time, the police aren't sure about the disappearance either. Authorities have searched the shallow waters under the bridge (three feet at low tide) and searched the bay from a helicopter. But the police, who have received 500 tips that Hansen has been sighted in Canada and Utah, among other places, seem to believe that Hansen is alive. "Of course, there is always the chance he is not O.K.," said city of Alameda police lieutenant Greg Garrett last week.
As the days go by, theories bloom and die. The idea that Hansen, who has been convicted of drunk driving and reckless driving, might panic at an accident scene is not unthinkable. But it seems highly unlikely he would stay away from his family so long once he knew no one was seriously injured. "I know it sounds odd, calling Ron a party animal and a family guy," says Kaenel, "but he had the energy for both." Says Judice, "Come here, look at his locker. Pictures of him and his wife—at Caesars Palace, of course—and his son." Hansen's wife says she's baffled. "Blake keeps asking Mommy to find his daddy," she told a reporter last week. "I just keep telling him that I don't know where he is. I'm clueless."
The theory that Hansen disappeared into a drug-rehabilitation facility has also been put forth and does not seem implausible. He has admitted checking himself into a Salt Lake City facility in 1984 for treatment of cocaine abuse. But McDonnell says that as far as he knows, Hansen wasn't using anything stronger than beer. "Listen," says McDonnell, "I've suspected everything, but nothing fits."
Certainly Hansen did not seem suicidal. Fellow jockeys describe him as terminally upbeat. "Quick-witted," says Judice, "always with a good comeback." Says another jock, Gary Boulanger, "He makes you laugh a lot. If you screw up, he'll tell you and then laugh about it."
If there was occasionally dangerous behavior—he once shattered a mirror with a shot glass at Spenger's, another race-trackers' hangout—there was more often evidence of fun-loving generosity. "People in racing loved it when he walked into a room," says McDonnell. "You wanted to be there just to hear what he'd say. I'm telling you, he'd just walk down a shed-row, and he'd make some groom's day." And not just with a joke. Kaenel says that if a backstretch worker came up to Hansen and asked for $50 or for a ride across the bridge, it was as good as done.
Friends want this to be just one more caper—"Top of his list, if it is," says Judice—and they're willing to forgive him for it. But the days stretch into weeks, and the little man Judice calls a "Jesse James guy, a little outlaw" begins to seem more like a victim than a scamp.
"I cross that same bridge every day," says Judice. "And every day I glance at that spot. I can't get it out of my mind." And the days pass, without Hansen striding down a shedrow, headed for an early morning workout. It's disquieting, but somehow you hope the laugh will be on us. And no matter how many days have gone by, everybody who knows Hansen agrees that that's the way to bet.