Free at last. Scraping the last of North Carolina's red soil from the soles of my shoes felt really damn good. No more waking up angry and hung over. Now I just wake up hung over.
After a few weekends spent sorting out the new apartment and visiting the local bars, I was ready to check out the scene over by the Ohio State University campus and hear some live music. Some friends down in Athens provided a suggestion: The Reverend Horton Heat and two other bands were going to play the Newport the following Saturday. I immediately offered to put them up, not least in the hope of balancing the scales tipped way over by the number of times I drooled into their couch cushions.
It was a wet white early March afternoon when Danny, Karen, and Pat finally rolled up. After the nickel tour we ate some of the chicken paprika I'd made, drank some more beer, bundled up, and walked down to catch the #10 COTA bus for High Street.
The trip was a mix of catching-up and momentary weirdness. Three mentally-challenged -- and I'm using that term in the clinical sense here -- youngsters played out a strange psychosexual drama between James Road and Champion Avenue. Apparently, frustrated Him was diddling punk-look Her before she met dorky Him #2, but because their vocabularies were a mite limited, animated gesturing and loud gutturals took the place of the expected expletives. I found it captivating, and was sorry when they all got off and chugged into the snow together.
A few seconds after getting off the bus at the junction of Broad and High, we turned the corner to head north and had a Chicago moment as all of our hats were ripped off our heads by a minimum 30mph wind. An ill omen for what was to come. We leaned forward and started into a really nasty winter storm. Within the first quarter mile the weather changed from freezing rain to snow to sleet and back, always with that southbound whip rattling our teeth. Danny suddenly decided that he just had to take a leak (why he demurred from anointing the bus is beyond me), so we walked into the first place that looked open. The brass fittings, new plush carpeting, and faux mahogany tipped me off, but Danny walked up to the first fancy guy he saw and asked where the pisser was. Well, you see, the restaurant was reserved for a private party scheduled to start shortly, so no alien wee-wee could be tolerated.
Danny turned on his legendary charm, but could not get the guy to budge, so we had to motor to a Wendy's almost two blocks up, forcing Karen to repeatedly dissuade her husband from taking advantage of several inviting alleys and dumpster blind spots along the way.
We moved on to the Char Bar, permitting us to knock long cartoon-style icicles off of our clothing and finally suck up some more alcohol. This really hot brunette sat next to me at the bar, so I chatted her up until her stevedore boyfriend muscled close after getting shut down at darts.
After the much-needed reprieve we started rolling again, for what Karen assured us would be only another eight or nine blocks (she used to live in Columbus during her between-college years, y'unnerstand), so we blew off a convenient campus-bound bus and headed deeper into the normally, um, vigorous Short North neighborhood. It passed without incident since everyone else apparently had the good sense to stay out of the driving crud.
After an hour of frigid miserableness us guys started grilling Karen about whether she had actually ever made this trip before. Well, she most certainly had -- in a car. Further, she remembered that the Newport was around the intersection of High and 12th Street, so since we'd started just before First Avenue that meant we only had to go about twelve blocks, right?
We refrained from dragging her out into traffic and forcing her head under the tires of a passing truck. But the language grew pretty ripe.
The long trudge was finally broken by a blessed stop after Pat caught sight of a prominent yellow sign promising "Pitcher Specials Until 9PM". As soon as we opened the door we heard a bunch of folks shouting at each other, which is generally not a good sign, but after the condensation cleared from my glasses I saw that all the patrons had grins on their faces, making it more than OK. And when Danny got a pitcher for $3.50, I figured that I was home for the night. The Stube is a class-A joint.
But it was getting late, and we had already purchased our tickets. We killed another pitcher and then made the final short stretch down to the Newport just in time for a half-hour wait -- after the doors were supposed to have opened. Good thing we were already numb.
The place was big and looked like it could be fun, and I was cheered by one particular beer option, a humungo plastic cup of Sam Adams for $3.75. Not great, but compared to the rest of the offerings it was a heck of a deal.
I don't remember the name of the first band, a Proto-Punk Lite outfit with few distinguishing characteristics. At least they dug back to Dead Boys-era snottiness, with the "singer" trying his damndest to act all Stivvy.
The Dance Hall Crashers came on next. Their throwback sound was helped immensely by the pair of cherubically chubby gals enthusiastically vocalizing back and forth. I'd go see them again . . . but not for seventeen friggin' dollars at a TicketMaster venue.
Horton Heat came on next. Now, I've been a casual fan for years, but it seemed to me that the dude is milking it a tad. I mean, his set went well, and the crowd was appropriately enthusiastic and all, but there just wasn't anything new. Eight years in North Carolina gave me a real appreciation for the trailer trash sound, but the difference is that I never spent more than six bucks to go see Billy C. Wirtz at the Brewery or the great Southern Culture On The Skids at the Cat's Cradle. Herr Heat was fine, but for $17, I expected a heck of a lot more.
Get this: Some time around midnight the bar ran out of PLASTIC CUPS! It would've been nice if the boobs in charge had thought to announce that fact on the PA system so that folks holding one would know not to toss it before bellying back up to the counter. Personally, I stood in line for at least fifteen minutes before getting the news. A $2.75 bottle of Rolling Rock was piss-poor compensation.
We stumbled out after the show and wandered around High Street. Tried to get into Bernie's, but they were still charging full cover. After 1am, mind you.
So we called it a night, and waited for another bus. After two false starts we finally got on the right one. Karen signalled the driver to stop while we were still in the Short North, kicking the rest of us into auto-bitch mode again. But she reminded us of what we already knew, that the #10 back to my place was no longer running, so we had to come up with another resource. We ended up in a ritzy watering hole with three types of stout on tap.
Karen took charge of the taxi hunt, parlaying her natural sweetness into twenty-some minutes of time on the bar's phone (the pay one was busted).
Muhammad al-Jaeebetwon, cab driver extraordinaire, was in really, really good spirits when he finally arrived twenty minutes late. He made up for his tardiness by continuously straddling the white line separating the first and second lanes of eastbound 670 for the entire length of the route. We smoothed over the wild ride by loudly speculating whether his experience with automotives in his native land was limited to toy slot cars. No worries about pissing off our chauffeur, though, since he was so zonked on khat or whatever he brought over from Somalia in his cardboard luggage that Karen won back major esteem points by engaging the lad in constant conversation to ensure that he wouldn't go on the nod. She sat next to him, her left hand poised to grab the steering wheel at the first sign of a slump.
After making it back to my apartment we were so relieved and exhilarated that we killed many more drinks and gabbed into the wee hours. I woke up at 8, made breakfast, then we all moved to the patio and tortured the ducks and geese that infest the small man-made lake out back. Then my guests had to go. Too bad. We were all just getting started.