Saturday, May 23, 2009

But I missed the shootout

My last post got me thinking about the way that very small (timewise) pieces of our lives can have an impact on us out of all proportion to their length (that's what she said). Before I made the eventual move to Dallas a few months later, I went down to stay in my brother's house in Lewisville, Texas to see if I could hang around long enough to get hired on at SHOWCO. Their hiring strategy tended to consist of waiting until they needed x people and then hiring the next x people that walked in the door, so it helped to make a nuisance of oneself.

These days Lewisville is just another contiguous piece of the sprawling monster that is the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, but in 1977 it was out in the country. There were farms and shit. And right next to the first of the two interstate exits that were Lewisville was the O K Corral. This was a particularly Texas institution, namely a steakhouse that seated about a thousand people attached to a bar that seated about 40. The whole reason for the bar's existence was to pass drinks through a little window to the thirsty patrons of the restaurant who had paid the five dollar "private club" membership that allowed one to drink in this particular restaurant. But after the dinner crowd thinned out the bar would crank up and fill with rodeo cowboys and their big-haired escorts -- or quarry, as the case may be.

The O K Corral bar was a darkly lit room of dark wood and dark moods momentarily lifted by alcohol. There was one of those "No Firearms Allowed" signs on the door, apparently because of a "minor gunfight" that occurred a few months before my arrival. The men drank red beer*. The women drank Brandy Alexanders by the pitcher. There was a bull rider -- we will call him Tom -- who came in every night with a cast from his fingers to shoulder, sat at the bar, ordered a beer and pulled out a 100 count bottle of black mollies**.

Since I landed in Dallas with approximately thirty-five dollars in my life savings, it seemed wise to seek temporary employment while I waited for the big break to come, so I got a job as a bar back at the O K Corral bar. The bar had a long and storied history, so the police would gather in the parking lot every Friday night at around 11:00 to wait for the inevitable. At last call, the manager (I think her name was Jo Ann), a diminutive woman in her very, very late forties, would stand up on the little ledge behind the bar and shout, "Everybody drink up and get the f*ck out", or something equivalent.

A few minutes later the bouncers would start issuing personal invitations for people to leave. Some drunk and belligerent cowboy would invariably say something like, "Bitch! I ain't finished with my mo%!@#&*$^ing beer!" Well-intentioned but ill-fated friends would attempt to herd the wayward cowboy to the door, which would result in -- well, you've seen it in the movies. Tables were overturned, glass would fly, punches would be thrown, and the police would put down their pastries and come on inside to gather up the worst offenders. We would stand behind the bar wielding empty beer mugs for self-defense, and then clean up the mess.

On Saturday, most of the same crowd would be in, but chastened, bruised and hung over, they were very little trouble. This little scene repeated for most of the five or six weeks that I worked there, until my brother came to town one Thursday, said he was moving out of the state that weekend, and I was out of a place to stay. It was a short adventure, but I can still see the place in my memory today.

* A concoction of beer and tomato juice that seems to be a favorite of rodeo cowboys. I think it's how they got their vitamins. That, and cigarettes.

** This was before rural America discovered that you could make speed right in the trailer. Oh, and I don't know what those are.

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