The colors sported by Columbus’ only major league sports team – well, unless you count the Crew, that is, which I guess we should – weren’t always union blue, goal red (must be a new crayon, as I’ve never heard of this shade) and silver. We did have a navy, lime and crimson phase for quite some time prior to that. And as originally drawn up, the decision makers having not yet stumbled upon any sort of neon green, these Blue Jackets were to actually feature yellow instead, believe it or not. A true Buckeye fan could then be heard howling about this a mile away from that first press release, not that they’d have to look very far to find a detractor: so okay, geniuses, what you’ve done is given them Michigan Wolverine outfits, with a tiny splash of red.
This would be but the first of many missteps bringing this franchise to life. I like the Blue Jackets name, it has grown on me and stands out in an era when it’s increasingly difficult to come up with new sports monikers. But though they are now claiming this was always officially tied in from the outset with a Civil War theme, this isn’t my recollection of how that came about at all. I remember newspaper articles where team officials were being asked point blank what a Blue Jacket was, anyway, and the best anyone could come up with was that maybe it had something to do with…labor unions…and Columbus being a blue collar town…and stuff like that…you know. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that they launch with Stinger as a mascot, a bumblebee, so they can hedge their bets a little with the whole yellow jacket connection. And actually this is probably how yellow almost made it into the color scheme to begin with.
In reality, as sponsored by Wendy’s, the team held a franchise naming contest, and Blue Jackets was chosen as one of the finalists. I’m not aware it’s ever been publicly established who submitted that entry, and why. One of the local rags, either The Other Paper or Alive, conducted their own poll, during which the Mad Cows emerged as a fan favorite. I too thought this a pretty sweet idea, possibly even shortened to just the Cows, or not – Anaheim still went by the Mighty Ducks, so Mad Cows wasn’t too far out of line, and of course well into the early 2000s, a lot of people still referred to Columbus as Cow Town. But out of some 14,000 entries, a handful were chosen as finalists by more serious minded officials, and there was a period where these were bandied about, with endless conjecture as to which they wound choose. If they decided among themselves that there was “definitely” a Civil War connection to the name, either before or after they made the announcement that they were running with Blue Jackets, then it sure seems like somebody would have been talking about this.
But no matter. More serious issues loomed ahead, and they’d already conquered so much just in getting approved for an NHL expansion squad. Though on the short list in late 1996 for possibly landing a team, and scheduling a referendum in May of ’97 to publicly finance a new stadium for this theoretical squad, league commissioner Gary Bettman visited Columbus and wasn’t exactly convinced. Issue #1, as it’s called, and its .5 percent sales tax hike, will apparently half to pass in order to seal this deal.
Lobbyists peddle this arena with a fervent belief that erecting such will land us a franchise, enlisting mayor Greg Lashutka and even OSU president Gorden Gee to pander for support. But intent as our elected delegates are upon nabbing an NHL team, I get the feeling, whether shot down or passed, the whole charade is chiefly undergone to convince hockey officials we’re a major league city. That an adequate number of trash can lids are banged together, creating a large enough ruckus, that prominent local businessmen, that members of our executive and legislative branches sufficiently care. And thus the referendum was not absolutely essential per se.
Issue #1 fails anyway, which spares us the half percent sales tax hike. Neither I nor anyone else in my acquaintance can comment much more than halfheartedly, however, for while taxpayers all, none of us voted. And whatever the case, only a handful more than that care one way or the other. Call us irresponsible citizens, but the interest just isn’t there, a representative sampling, I’m sure, of the general malaise. Perhaps, assuming they considered public opinion at all, city officials equated our avoidance of the ballot box to granting them a free pass, as if shrugging our shoulders and saying, “eh, sure, do whatever.”
Mostly, I attribute this inattention to stubborn mobility. I have yet to confirm one soul among us who was actually born in Columbus, and the number apt to reside here five years from now I gauge about the same. Talk is talk, granted, but that’s just it: nobody mentions flight. Just a premonition I have, that we are not long for this city, none of us, that the landscape already has and will continue to alter so harshly from month to month as to make itself unrecognizable by quarter’s end.
Within a few weeks of the referendum being shot down, Nationwide Insurance enters the breach. They and the Dispatch Media Group eventually announce a plan to partner in financing this new stadium. Four thousand hockey enthusiasts show up for a street party downtown, celebrating where construction will soon begin. Four thousand kind of sounds like a decent amount, except you have to consider that if they only drew this many in attendance per night, the team would be bankrupt in a year. And while, yes, a street party is not a hockey game, and therefore you can only infer so much, I am certain that a similar announcement in, say, Cleveland, would have created complete pandemonium in the streets. Or even anything related to Buckeye sports whatsoever. Yet as expected, the NHL confirms that they will now approve the Columbus franchise.
Fast forward about a dozen years. The Blue Jackets are complaining they are losing money under the current stadium deal, and seek to get out from under this burden. Mayor Michael Coleman is hinting around in the papers that the city might have to buy the stadium, and it is eventually acquired by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. You could argue they made the steal of century as far as the purchase price is concerned – $42.5 million, where it cost about four times as much to build – but I can’t fathom high fiving them right now regarding that, as my blood is boiling when I read about the stadium’s tremendous tax breaks. Shortly after acquiring the arena, the convention authority were able to move from their existing tax abatement plan into the current one where they’re now paying no property taxes at all.
As far as on the field play is concerned, they got out of the gates in that inaugural year of 2000 and posted a better record than anyone could have expected. However, they seemed to take a step backwards from there. The 2016-17 season marks their highwater mark to date, with a 3rd place finish and 50 wins, but so far they’ve never won their division, obviously, and they’ve only made the playoffs three times, only advanced past the first round once. But Erin and I did attend one game, one game so far in seventeen years of play, so I guess that means I’m not permitted to complain about any aspect of team or stadium conduct.
This is what its proponents would claim, anyway. But I’m not convinced. Our one game attended was pretty laughable – and actually, I can’t even recall who won – because it was pretty obvious that the miserable Columbus team and equally horrific Atlanta team were quite aware they both sucked, and figured they might as well start as many brawls as possible rather than worry about winning this stupid game. It’s an interesting concept. I wonder what might happen if they allowed a handful of vociferous locals to suit up with sticks, against those who’ve been responsible for this debacle through the ages, and set them loose on the ice.
Based upon the photos, one might suppose that we had a bang up time at COSI on this blustery winter day. And yeah, it was certainly fun, possibly even a little educational. However, though the “new” location has been open for about two decades and those responsible have surely heard it a million times by now…I still kind of prefer the old place.
This isn’t pure nostalgia. Sure, I only visited the former location, up the street and on the other side of Broad, once, many moons ago as an 8 year old. What struck me then and still sticks with me now, though, is how many neat little exhibits were crammed into a tiny space, most of it both thrilling and enlightening. It was kind of like some eccentric local scientist’s kooky attic laboratory, and we were fascinated by every inch of it, the kids in our party every bit as much as the adults.
Contrast that with where they are now, which is gargantuan, to be sure, yet also appears to have not nearly as much stuff. The layout of this place is actually a little baffling, for it’s difficult to conceive how any less could have possibly been done with this vast tract of real estate. You are reminded along certain lonely stretches of its massive, blinding white hallways of distant hotel corridors surrounding convention areas and banquet rooms in some lonely, half dead city. In fact this whole enterprise looks as though the designers were specifically tasked with doing their best to mask how little would transpire inside these doors. And so now we have the hallways that are half a football field wide, these giant open spaces of nothingness.
Okay, so on to the specific points of our visit. The old-timey town exhibit is kind of cool, actually this is almost certainly the highlight. Emma is of an age to be sufficiently fascinated by such antiquated sights as a pay phone booth, and really, to be honest, this does seems plenty bizarre even to those of us who remember the 80s and 90s well. But there are curiously few people strolling through these mock atomic age streets, which lends a spooky, Twilight Zone vibe to the proceedings, making your skin crawl with the distinct urge to get out of here before someone seriously does drift out from the kitchen to take your order at this fake 1950s diner.
I thought this one massive reptile exhibit was kind of cool, though the ladies, perhaps understandably, were a little less enthused. And what else is there? Some “interactive exhibits” – glorified toys – for the little ones, such as the road construction playset, or the giant Lite Brite knockoff. Emma is sufficiently entertained by these, as am I, joining her, but realistically we might have done just as well at home.
Maybe the situation has improved. Currently I see there’s a dinosaur exhibit, and a hands on human body examination experience – don’t worry, though that might sound like your last night out clubbing, it’s nothing that scandalous. It’s only a very G-rated chance to conduct an autopsy. If you’re looking for 21 and over fun, well, oddly enough, that would appear to be the Wizard School, whatever that means, the latest “COSI After Dark” event. You are even invited to bring your magic wands, according to the website. In other developments, the winter movie series does offer a nice schedule of family friendly classics, and there are more educational offerings in the planetarium as well. The Science Of Big Machines, meanwhile, appears to be spill out into the streets if I’m looking at this correctly, a chance for normal folk like you and me to climb aboard real life bulldozers and such.
Still, I’m not convinced. I think it’s telling that as we examine the pictures taken inside here, it turns out we snapped more of ourselves than we did the attractions on display. You know it’s bad when the exterior of the building is more fascinating to you than anything offered within. Unless you count these thought balloon exclamation points, dangling from the ceiling at one juncture, which Erin and I found pretty humorous – although then again, this does play more into the selfie trend than it does anything with science or industry.
The original COSI, opened for business in 1964, lasted 35 years. At that rate this means we are halfway to the next incarnation, and it can’t arrive soon enough. I’m well aware that this battle was fought and lost in the late 90s, yet to reiterate the question..how can such a tremendous undertaking amount to so little? I already remember less of this visit than the one made as an 8 year old, in the cramped confines of that kooky scientist’s attic.
When the next wrecking ball hits and palms are greased to make that enterprise happen, here’s to hoping the pendulum shifts back in the former direction. As it stands, I’ll tell you what the current incarnation reminds me of: it’s like when a local sports franchise owner swindles the taxpayers into building him a brand new stadium…and then he guts the team, spending even less on the product than he had before, pocketing all the profits and refusing to become relevant again. Fans are outraged, but at that point there’s nothing any of us can do.
Don’t allow yourself to be the next victim. Think twice before you walk alone down this wide but desolate street.
A new co-worker I’ve only recently met – and actually, am training, laughable though this may seem – is the first person to clue me in on Studio 35. And maybe her true calling will somebody be in advertising. Because the way she’s drumming up its merits, I basically want to chuck aside this lunchtime shift and race over there right now. Instead, I am stuck with daydreaming.
A dilapidated dive tavern, she says, in the heart of church solemn Clintonville, which just happens to hoist a full size movie screen against its back wall, which buries the whole tacky Flickers franchise beneath a mound of shame. Studio 35, surely I stumble into your dim, smoky aisles some evening on my own accord, with or without the intervention of this righteous nymph, surely I wrap popcorn buttered fingers around a frosted mug of ale while seated on a barstool I can’t even see. Conning roommates along for the freakshow thrill, we’ll crane our necks to imbibe the latest reel of film, as vicious cramps creep slowly up these same necks, absolved only through the continued application of still more alcohol. Surely, o holy tabernacle, surely.
Shortly hereafter, a few of us manage to check it out. Studio 35 collides against the eastern rim of Clintonville’s dry district, able to serve alcohol by a matter of feet. Dating from the 1930s, this building features a wedge shaped marquee, dangling above the street where we park, and a glass bubble ticket window expanding out into the sidewalk. Each night, three paltry dollars buy a triple bill of second run features, the most reasonable admission in town. And while we’ve missed the first of these, whatever it was, the heavily hyped horror flick Scream awaits us, followed by some unknown comedy titled SubUrbia.
Here, the movies themselves might garner lowest priority. We’re five minutes late for the second leg of this triad, yet it scarcely matters, for the main attraction is a dark, smoky tavern occupying the theater’s back third, allowing full view of a regulation size screen. Beyond, rows upon rows of traditional seating flesh out the remaining space, but we don’t give those small, uncomfortable chairs a second glance. Stools around the bar, they speak to us. Falling into line astride them, we inspect their sizable array of bottled beer, ultimately settle upon some reasonably priced drafts. The bartender also brings forth a menu from the relocated Papa Joe’s, which has this unique arrangement with Studio 35, which operates next door in a tiny, lifeless pizza shop galaxies removed from its once riotous, now legendary, campus institution. Sympathizing with their plight, we order a large pepperoni. Our heads crooks sidelong to enjoy the show.
With equal frequency, our heads also tilt in the opposite direction. Lured by her salacious rasp, the blonde at the bar’s distant end has us captive. A voice more lewd, animalistic, than any we’ve ever heard, she leans on the bartender’s every word, responds in kind with her own. Punctuates each offering with a husky, kittenish chuckle. Damon, for one, chain smokes anxiety away watching her, as if aware he can’t match the seductive film noir cool of her own graceful drags, lazy exhalations, and won’t even bother trying. Just as we’re certain that, with every chair between her and us resolutely unoccupied, our drooling leers must hang all too obvious in the aquamarine glow of the small, sad fishtank behind this bar.
“I swear,” Damon says, “I could sit here for hours and jack off just listening to her talk.”
At intermission, having dusted off the pizza, we stand to stretch and look around. A row of booths line one side wall, and then the lobby, where a flimsy film of red carpet daubs the ground, worn raw by week after week of cutrate attractions. Smokers head outside now to mingle fresh air with their flaming butts, but we interrogate the contour, from the countertop popcorn machine to the pair of 1980s video games, one on each wing, to the movie posters lining every square inch of these walls. The profiles, titles, and slogans adorning these advertisements are cut out, overlapped, stacked atop one another with impressive originality, and taped on balloons stream famous soundbites from select actors’s mouths, so that even a trip to the restroom stall requires facing off against Clint Eastwood and one of his timeless lines.
I envision this as a hideout you’d visit alone to disappear for a few hours, inviting and anonymous. Contrasting so distinctly with the tacky, fading prefabrication of other quote unquote independent operations, this kind of dogeared character you just can’t fake.
Of course, these days you can’t smoke at Studio 35, either, because you can’t smoke anywhere. I’ve never been a smoker, yet I believe that this law did chop off one leg of the tripod from this place’s charm. Even so, it has become a rite of passage through the years. Chances are you’ve brought every girl dated to this place exactly once, and chances are they hated it. A couple of times you’ve even bothered to drift down and sit in the actual theater. In the days before internet, without a paper handy, you would call and listen to the recording delivered by some jaunty sounding fellow, one whom I never met – even now, any time I see a sign for Weber Road, I think of it in the almost singsong manner he pronounced it on those recordings, and often say it aloud: Weber Row-uhhhhd!
During the height of Studio 35 mania, our presence here became so predictable that one friend dropped in, believing on a wild hunch that he might find the rest of us here, and he was correct. I must admit I haven’t attended in way too long. As always, Columbus’s oldest, best indie theater keeps itself afloat screening a nice mix of mainstream and independent fare, and here’s to hoping it continues to do so until my next visit.
During the most recent snowy blast, Erin and I decided to venture out and stave cabin fever off at the pass. She’s not from around here and was somewhat unconvinced that people would be out driving as if nothing ever happened, and that pretty much every business would be open. As we were driving right by it in search of lunch, I couldn’t resist popping into my favorite local bookstore, the Village Bookshop in Linworth.
I’ve been coming here for at least 20 years, and the lady who owns it – manning the cash register herself today – says they’ve had it for 34. It’s been in operation something like half a century, however, according to her. Keep in mind that this isn’t entirely a “used book store” as this phrase is commonly understood. Rather, they mostly offer books – both new and old – that are in brand new condition, sold at a steep discount from the cover price. There’s plenty of room to move around in, the place is well organized, and it has a great atmosphere. Having said that, it does get a little overwhelming after a while and you almost always wind up leaving before even getting through everything, as their selection extends all the way up to a second floor.
Here are some snapshots of the visit. I don’t know how a couple of these turned out black and white, but it’s a cool accident:
“Well, Christ,” Damon sighs, after we’ve finished chucking a sack full of potatoes at Alan’s door, door our stairwell, and finally at some apartments across the street, “we might as well walk down to Insomnia, see what those freaks are up to.”
Sobered fully by this exercise, both men toggle into altered emotional states. Damon achieves a restless wanderlust closely matching my own, while Alan levels off into the humorless, all business mien he’s always confounded me by assuming, sometimes, at the drop of a hat. Sudden collisions against a moment where nothing is funny, and everyone must leave. Due at the airport five short hours from now, he and Nicole are retiring, and could the rest of us kindly refrain from making any noise. They clean and tape their wounds, and our factions realign. In the brief instant spent exchanging prisoners, I notice Alan’s name spray painted in shaving cream upon his wall mounted mirror, the other army’s lone act of rebellion. September splits and the bedroom door slams shut behind us, as we remaining four begin our quarter hour hike.
A favored shortcut steers us south on Indianola, meets the sweeping arc of East 16th. In the orange radiance of streetlights struggling through the trees, parked cars clog both sides of the narrow street, ass to mouth. Past the nation’s first ever junior high school, still functional, and a brand new building OSU erected to accommodate its Jewish student body, where broad, crescent shaped brick steps bow before a glorious glass foyer. Bands forever carrying gear through the Bernie’s back door, as 16th dead ends with a club foot against the High Street sidewalk. A unique configuration that lessens traffic, abets our breezy stroll.
Regardless of hour, Insomnia is perpetually jampacked with bodies. Tonight, a few geeks studying even, as other clusters of bored roommates stoop over Jenga, cards, chess. Mostly, however, as is often the case, belligerent skinheads comprise a solid majority here, with a healthy dose of Maxwell’s goths thrown in for good measure. The Goff siblings share an uneasy glance, as Damon and I imagined they might. But for guys like us who live to keep the pot continually stirred, pairing our redneck allies with the weirdo contingent at this all night coffee shop is too rich a prospect to resist.
The only one among us with so much as a nickel in his pocket, I spend nearly every cent I have on a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Feeling sorry, as I do, for K.C., who looks about ready to cry over these croissants behind the glass case.
“Man I wish I had some money,” he whimpers, rocks on his heels, licks his lips, “those look good.”
We find an available seat near the room’s center, sneaking surreptitious glances at the pierced punks. Just as we marvel at the industrious students able to focus here, where the wondrous fragrances of a million varied coffee blends waft and mingle with an equally diverse conversational mosaic. Yet with the exception of my steaming hot beverage, we collectively have nothing else to hold our interest. Lacking other means of absorption, we’re the true freaks here, the only ones in the room paying attention to anybody else.
To our left, a well-dressed, clean cut kid, head shaved bald, stands talking to a pair of OSU pupils. Nearby, this black bum wanders in and out of the store, he shuffles around inside, mumbling to himself and harassing the customers with an occasional, unwarranted rude comment. He passes the kid with the shaved head, hisses “nazi!” before drifting outside again.
Slamming on the brakes mid sentence, the kid’s features harden and he follows the homeless figure, flying through the doorway with one hard shove. Located below ground level, with its entire front wall a sheet of glass, the layout here fulfills our voyeuristic impulses honed through years of channel surfing. A tidal wave ripples through the patrons as they too are glued, for this instant, to the scene unraveling outside. Lying just beyond the glass, ten or twelve cement steps rise to meet a half dozen exterior tables. Filled near capacity, this cramped arena hosts the bum and the skinhead, slinging incendiary threats at one another with commendable gusto. Sensing trouble, the counter help leaps into this potentially explosive fray, sprints out of bounds before this heated exchange escalates into something else. An employee escort removes the combatants from Insomnia’s culpability zone, though all parties involved continue sparring on the sidewalk.
“You guys ready to leave?” I ask.
On a recent visit to the newest Used Kids Records location, I picked up a live CD documenting the 1997 edition of Comfest. While disappointed that their local section has shrunk considerably, I understand that they’re not running a charity and must do what they can to stay afloat. Nonetheless, I am thrilled to pick up this gem, as ’97 also marked the year I first moved to C-bus. And it’s always kind of haunted me that I had plenty of opportunities for attending Comfest that year, but didn’t.
Though living only an hour or so away for most of my life, and theoretically able to drive down since at least the age of sixteen, the ’97 event is the first clearly blown opportunity. In fact, I remember one guy walking around at work that weekend asking if anyone planned on attending, because he needed a ride – and I had no idea what he was talking about! In later years I would catch a number of these bands playing out around town, but listening to this disc now is kind of like glimpsing a spirit on the periphery…perhaps whichever one these people are dancing to on the trippy album cover!
I wouldn’t actually get around to attending a Community Festival until 2001. As a result, examining documents such as this will have to fill in the gaps. Here’s a rundown on the highly enjoyable 1997 souvenir. As far as I can determine, this album isn’t available for streaming anywhere, nor are any of the individual live tracks. So any clips featured below would be studio versions of the song:
- Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments – Down To High Street
A terrifically infectious track and one I should probably embed as the theme song for my High Street post. Perfect opening selection for this CD.
2. Watershed – Half Of Me
I would witness these gents playing a couple times and even meet them at a house party. They were always considered – nothing personal, guys, because I happen to disagree with popular sentiment – a bit cheesy and unimaginative. If listening to this track, however, the impartial observer will note that they serve up perfectly fine Midwestern rock tunes, kind of like if the Smithereens and the Jayhawks both moved to Ohio and a couple of members of both created their own supergroup in 1995. Or something like that. You get the drift.
3. Johnson Brothers – Chocolate
Energetic party jam from this legendary outfit, replete with horn section. The first conversation I ever had with my good friend Miles, o trivia buffs, centered around this band. He had seen these guys recently and was explaining to me the difference between them and 1970s band Brothers Johnson, of Strawberry Letter #23 fame.
4. Ekoostik Hookah – Lady Vanilla
I never actually caught these dudes live, but did see Cliff Starbuck once at Andyman’s Treehouse. This starts out like a rollicking almost bluegrassy or at least Allman Bros type number, but soon devolves into Dead-lite. It’s decent but nothing I’d go out of my way to hear.
5. Hoo Doo Soul Band – Love and Happiness
These cats were a fixture of Oldfield’s every Sunday night for years upon years – and might still be, as far as I know. If you ever wondered what kind of band might theoretically cram 386 paying customers into a room the size of your grandma’s assisted living kitchen, and keep them in palm of hand all night, well, here’s your answer. They would deliver a clinic on that topic every time out.
6. Tater – Want And Need
This sounds kind of like a garden variety angsty mid-90s rocker. But it’s pretty good, for what it is.
7. Scrawl – The Garden Path
I was never a huge fan of theirs. As far as I’m concerned, Marcy Mays’ greatest contribution to this fine city is the Surly Girl Saloon. It’s great that they eventually punched through to a major label deal and all, but, well, whatever. Having said that, this has to be the best song of theirs I’ve heard.
8. Rymocerous – Asleep On The Can
Wow, I know nothing about these guys and can’t find much online, either, but this sure is a fun track.
9. Moxie – Impressions
Nifty jazz tinklings which I didn’t expect based on the name of the group. The piano and sax players in particular are really smoking on this selection.
10. Ishkabibble – Tinker
Okay, it’s a little disconcerting to see that even fairly memorable acts like this haven’t bothered getting their music onboard for online streaming yet.
11. Triggahappy – Get A Job
These guys too. I suppose things disintegrate and it’s tough getting everyone on the same page, but…they were kind of popular back in the day, yet Googling this track yields nothing. It’s kind of sad, really.
12. Willie Phoenix and the Voodooz – No Woman No Cry
Willie is of course a Columbus institution at this point. The only time I remember actually seeing him play live was at Andyman’s Treehouse also but he’s one of the few guys who was semi-famous around town to where people would throw his CDs on just chilling at their houses or whatever. Here he presents a Bob Marley cover and of course does a fine job executing it.
13. Th’ Flyin’ Saucers – She’s Evil
These guys were a big deal too. They do at least have a Facebook page. But the website mentioned on said Facebook page is out of commission, so it would seem this isn’t a going concern for anyone involved.
14. Action Family – James Alley Blues
Entertaining enough scuzz rock, all things considered.
15. Salthorse – What D’ya Say
A funny story about Salthorse is that, if you have read my posts concerning 1990 1/2 Summit Street, the “skate punks” who lived there right before us – just a guess on our part, as we didn’t actually know who they were – must have counted Dan Focht among their members. We continued to get mail for him over a year after living there. In fact I would see Salthorse play live who knows how many times before making the connection.
In summary, as noted by the number of working links I was able to track down, most of these bands are now toast, or were possibly just local cover operations. It’s interesting to note that out of the 15 tracks, it’s definitely front-loaded in the first half of the disc with more groups who have taken themselves seriously all these years – that’s true now, but it must have been obvious even at the time. All I can say to these outfits who are no longer around, is that you should pretty please find a way to get your music online in some capacity, because this stuff still matters.
Grabbing seats inside the half empty room, we’ve paid standard admission though this theater is a 1970s era antique, our chairs a trifle rough to spend two hours in. A round, oversized table before every three or four seat cluster frees hand and elbow room, however, a creature comfort tilting the situation tolerable. A waiter comes out to take our order, beers for the boys, yet diminishing any thrill this luxury might have offered is that fact that after that one quick trip to our table before the movie starts, the waiter deposits our drinks and collects his money but is never seen again. Ordering refills means heading out into the lobby again at some point during the movie, which negates the point of having tableside service in the first place.
Jerry Maguire, the film we’re seeing, figuring the sports angle will outweigh any chick flick schmaltz. A misguided notion, it immediately becomes apparent. Fortunately, a pair of painfully gorgeous females, tall, graceful, dressed ballroom splendid, sit a few rows ahead of us, appear mighty comfortable in one another’s company. Arms upon shoulders as they talk, snickering playfully over untold intrigues, the house lights dim and we’ve plenty to speculate, whispering theories to one another as the film unspools.
“I think they’re dykes,” Damon insists, but while a nice concept to fantasize over, Alan and I are not so sure.
Long after the lights come up we remain in our seats watching them pass, and as they spend an inordinate amount of time milling in the lobby, we stand outside waiting for them to reappear. Loitering, a familiar face from our high school days drifts into the parking lot, along with a buddy of his. The kid from our hometown’s name is Ryan something or other, the kind of upperclassman jock who would never speak to us in the classroom or the hallways back then but brightens to spot someone he recognizes down here. Engaged in small talk for a moment with these two, Ryan asks what we’re doing just hanging around.
“Ah, we were watching that movie and we’re waiting on these two chicks to come out, they’re pretty fuckin hot,” Damon explains.
“We think they might be dykes!” I cheerfully announce. The two girls shuffle onto the sidewalk and we point them out, extolling their virtues to Ryan, that we hope to see them kiss just once.
“Oh really?” he smiles, raising his eyebrows. The girls pull closer, eventually drift into our midst, as Ryan and his friend place an arm around each.
“See you boys later,” they tell us, chuckling in the night as the four of them amble off to their vehicle.
Itching for adventure, we latch upon Maxwell’s, across the street from The Edge. Though passing this club a number of times in pursuit of others, we have nonetheless absorbed and pondered those tantalizing tunes emanating from its mysterious pitch black interior, we’ve seen scores of lovely ladies swallowed up by the same. Rumor has it that Thursday is 1980s night and as such we can no longer resist.
After the twenty minute walk here and a wait in line very nearly as long, we finally gain entry into the club. Struggling to adjust, our eyes initially protest this unrelenting onslaught of black, not only the absence of light but also the predominant shade in both hair color and clothing among the freaks that populate this place. Goth kids, in other words, though accentuated with a plentiful dose of meek freshmen females, cowering in corner clusters, making us feel at home.
Aside from a remote DJ booth perched in a loft above the dance floor, reachable only by a wall clinging ladder, the layout is fairly standard here. Near the entrance, a number of tables and chairs, a couch by the DJ’s ladder. A u-shaped bar enclosed by the building’s front wall, with one lone pool table underneath a swinging lamp on the other side of it. Beside the pool table, the establishment’s only window, a giant plate glass affair affording a splendorous view of High Street.
Occupying much of the room’s center is the dance floor, elevated about two steps up from the rest of the club. Beyond lie two more couches and another pool table in a relatively well-lit section, the restrooms, and then a patio for fresh air whenever the weather allows. Assaulting our ears with panoramic supremacy, these golden pop nuggets such as Little Red Corvette, Just Like Heaven, and 99 Luftballoons. Depeche Mode’s Blue Dress, The Bangles reworking Hazy Shade of Winter, and seemingly every cut from the first two Beastie Boys albums. Given, these girls are less attractive than the selections at that subterranean club across the street, but they’re also less included to give us any grief when we approach – and we avoid the top 40 dance music prevailing over there.
All told we spend fifteen minutes surveying the establishment, at the conclusion of which Damon and Paul announce they’re leaving in favor of The Edge. I don’t care much about where they’re headed, because at long last we’ve finally stumbled onto a scene with substance and potential, the fleeting pot of gold, and to bail now is laughably insane. I have a seat on the back couch to soak it all in while Alan’s off at the john.
An overweight youth with wire rimmed glasses and bowl cut dirty blonde hair flops onto the couch beside me. He’s dressed like an overzealous sports fanatic, in the jersey shirt of a Chicago baseball team. The kind we cater to in the clubhouse at my restaurant, he admittedly appears as out of touch as us in this murky habitat. My eyes are momentarily riveted, though, to this short redhead in a tight black dress nearby, and I’m paying the corpulent White Sox fan no mind. Until, that is, he expresses his incompatibility with the place by launching this half full cup of ice into the air, impacting the pool table felt just as this musclebound thug with a shaved head is lining up to take his shot. Incredibly, no punches are thrown, but he’s attracted attention plenty.
“Ever been here before?” he asks, lounging still in perfect unflappable ease.
“Me neither,” he says, “and I’m never coming back.”
“Oh really?” I return.
“Yeah,” he says, “my girlfriend dragged me here. Some friends of hers come here all the time. We were over at their house and they were all doing coke and shit, so they decided to bring us here. That’s them over there,” he elaborates, nodding toward a group of three girls, among them my redhead in the tight black dress.
He introduces himself as Brian, and I’m suddenly interested in becoming his best friend. As this entire exchange has transpired in the time it’s taken Alan to secure a stall in the john, it seems ridiculously easy, though I suppose we are due some good fortune. At any rate if Chicago fits in here we no longer have any worries about assimilation. And if only this Brian will bridge the gap between me and the strawberry princess, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief, I’ll gladly endorse the notion of love at first sight.
From the group, he calls his own woman over, introduces her as Kathy. With a naturally attractive face readily given to smile, and a dash of makeup that, while sparse, is more colorful than what the other freaks are wearing, she’s a comely brunette in her own right, friendly and by turns either self effacing or putting down this place. But I can see no reason in beating around the proverbial bush, particularly with strangers I may never see again.
“I think your little red headed friend is hot,” I admit.
Kathy whistles to her two friends, who immediately join us. Like my redheaded beauty, the raven haired goddess beside her wears another tight black dress, clinging to a body only marginally less sensational. Their names are Tonya and Valerie, respectively, and to my astonishment after just a moment the redhead grabs my hand, leads me out onto the dance floor.
“Come on,” she says.
Just then, his timing immaculate, Alan returns from the restroom. I shout to him and point at Valerie and tell him to follow us on out onto the floor, which he does, he jumps right in beside her. Amidst the swirling lights and the throbbing beat, we claim our tiny parcel of land, as Alan’s beside his babe and I’m all over Tonya.
Our bodies grind together and the whole time I can’t help but think this is it, I’ve finally arrived. She pulverizes my crotch with her ass and I’ve got a hand on each of her hips and it doesn’t matter that we’ve barely spoken five words to one another, total. All that matters is the moment, every twitch our bodies make to the music, every ounce of sweat, the way the occasional pinspot light sets her lustrous hair afire and her green eyes dancing in the dark alongside us.
We maintain this frantic lockstep for two or three more songs, then separate. Needing no coaching of his own, Alan fixates upon Valerie in much the same fashion as I have upon Tonya, and now’s he’s priming me on the finer points of seduction. The girls are still dancing and Brian’s kissing Kathy on the couch while we hold up the back wall, three distinct islands within eyesight of one another but playing this scripted game of social conduct.
After ignoring our prey awhile, we spot them walking out onto the back patio. Alan turns to me and says, “come on, let’s go talk to them.”
Meeting the girls outside, we converse with them a short while. If club time is expressed in songs rather than minutes, then this discussion clocks in at approximately one and a half. Eventually, they hear a beat they can dance to, or maybe the well of our conversation runs dry, the flames of discourse momentarily extinguished. Either way Tonya and Valerie make a beeline again for the floor and as the crisp air around us feels like a splash of cool lakewater after sweating indoors, we’re in no hurry to follow.
“Now when we go in,” Alan explains, “we need to act like we don’t even know them. Don’t even look their way.”
“Okay,” I nod, as we step inside ourselves.
We besiege the dance floor again, this time without the girls. Neither of us are especially fleet of foot, but he insists this is our best ticket, and as I don’t known one tenth of what Alan does about girls this becomes our next grand maneuver.
He comes off like a genius, then, when the hottest girl in the entire bar swings her hips over to where we are. A tall skinny girl with sandy hair, in untucked white tee shirt and tight black slacks, she immediately begins dancing with us. Beneath those pants lies the most amazing ass I’ve ever seen, a feature made no less incredible in viewing it under such intimate circumstances. She jumps frantically up and down with the big 80s beat, inching closer and closer, until that luscious behind is flush against my crotch, grinding out the rhythm of the song. I do my best to keep up and move along with the girl, rubbing her wondrous rump with my hands.
The song ends and she wanders off without a word, but it doesn’t matter, her impact has been felt deep and wide. Tonya and Valerie are against the back wall, eyeing us and talking in what appears even from this distance as conspiratorial plotting. That the skinny girl with the tight ass deems us worthy enough for a dance only improves our standing with these other two, it seems.
“Look at them,” Alan says to me and nods his head in the direction of the cigarette machine, against which Tonya and Valerie are standing, “they haven’t taken their eyes off of us.”
The house lights come up and it’s time to leave. Bouncers in black shout venomous instructions herding everyone to the door, and meanwhile, our two girls are still staring at us with an expression equal parts wonder and awe. I can’t wrap my head around the luck we’ve enjoyed this evening, but do my best to act as if it is an everyday occurrence, sensing this is a front worthy of Alan. Brian and Kathy are nowhere to be found, but we offer Tonya and Valerie some perfunctory goodbyes before stepping out into the night. Euphoric, Alan and I scarcely notice the winter chill biting our extremities.
“Dude, it’s in the bag!” he cheers.
“You really think so?”
“It’s in the bag,” he repeats, and I believe.
Needless to say, the next time we run into these two, they don’t even remember meeting us. Such is the scattershot nature of these unhinged outings in a half dark room stuffed with strangers. The lame attempt at conversation with this Tonya is one of the more awkward, dorktastic moments of my life and I soon enough retire this charade.
We have plenty of other adventures on the docket to keep us entertained, anyway. Mondays for example mean goth night at Maxwell’s. We arrive to check it out hot on the heels of our Thursday adventure, and encounter about one third of the crowd. In a sea of black inkier even than 1980s night, we gape in open amazement at the handful of pierced loners in dark clothing and raccoon mascara, writhing along to Nine Inch Nails, trying to act mysterious. Howling till our sides hurt for nearly two hours, before calling a much deserved end to our evening.
A pair of additional, unexpected complications will append any voyage to these clubs. One such issue is the matter of coats. Wearing a coat to this strip of bars, if walking as most do, is always a tricky strategy to navigate. You could do without, although the weather will not necessarily permit this. Otherwise, it’s either wear the thing around, carry it with you, or find a place to stash it. Each of these options has its obvious faults. Paul and I try hiding ours behind this couch at Maxwell’s, only to have them both disappear. The other challenge to navigate is the attitude of the bartenders if attempting to order a water. Though considerable lip service is donated to taking care of the designated driver, or even just the sensible babysitter, in today’s society, these dudes apparently didn’t get the memo. Open hostility awaits you at first, followed by being ignored outright once they begin to recognize your face. The weird thing about this is, there’s no guarantee of a tip even if these (underage?) drinkers are ordering beers and cocktails. On the other hand, plenty of folks would tip on a water if delivered without an attitude. And it isn’t like tap water is more difficult to pour than a draft, or a bottled one tougher to lift from a cooler than your 12 ounce Bud Light. Unless these barkeeps are business owners, which I seriously doubt is the case, it shouldn’t much matter to them. Actually even if actually owning the business, it shouldn’t matter – Maxwell’s for example was collecting three dollars a head on Thursday nights, minting a small fortune in the process from that revenue stream alone.
But these are minor blips. Maxwell’s offers a veritable cornucopia of delights, depending upon the night and your inclinations. Learning the what and when of this outrageous campus spectacle prove equally important to the who and how, all chapters of our own ongoing education. Wednesday nights each week, this club hosts a one dollar door charge techno gala, termed Maxwell’s House, while every Tuesday and Sunday, they sell pitchers of draft for the rock bottom price of twenty five cents. None of these hold a votive candle to Monday’s goth night, however, which itself dims literally and figuratively against Thursday Big 80s. For factors you can never quite determine, certain elements resound better against your own interests, the arc of your ambitions. In theory nothing should surmount scraping together a few dimes and nickels for the plastic pail drunkfest, but we feel most comfortable here on Thursdays, networking our faces and names then, without ever resolving why.
Quarter pitcher night, it must be pointed out, is somewhat of a gimmick. Oh, the prices are real, but the problem is they keep running out of pitchers. You must maintain a death grip on yours at all times or else risk someone stripping it from you in a beer fueled frenzy.
“I wouldn’t even waste my time with those quarter pitcher nights,” Paul advises us after the fact, having had the sense to avoid this scene, “all it will ever be is skunk beer they’re trying to get rid of.”
A plate glass window in front of the pool tables, wedged into that street facing corner behind the bar and before the dance floor, affords awesome opportunities for people watching. Another Thursday, we’re bringing a couple of newcomers to this freakish scene which has somehow become our surrogate home, in the form of Damon’s girlfriend Shannon and my buddy Doug.
Enduring the customary block long wait, the clock above the bar already reads 12:30 and much of our night is shot. Alan and Doug go in on a pitcher of the cheapest brew available, and, hitting it off as well as I envisioned they would, stand in our normal central observation post, by the cigarette machine. Shannon’s suddenly not feeling well, on the other hand, checking Damon’s own enthusiasm, and I’m not compelled to drink at all. With an impressive adaptability he rarely extends, meanwhile, Paul’s good cheer survives the bartender’s word of a Heineken outage. Though detesting the skunk draft beer, as he calls it, Paul orders a plastic cup of foamy Michelob, and, continuing his astonishing if potentially short lived transformation, agrees to join me as partner in a game of pool.
For a change of pace we put some quarters upon the front table, in this corner of the bar we rarely occupy. Waiting our turn, joined by Damon and Shannon, through the mammoth plate glass window we watch college student swarms file past en route to other watering holes. Two clean cut, carbon copy males, constituents of that same army, have run this table for a while, but my first turn out I sink five consecutive balls. Though a considerable liability, my partner has little work ahead of him as we quickly swat these lads from their pedestal.
“He’s awesome,” Paul whispers to Damon, who nods in polite disinterest, as if plotting his escape. Addressing me, Paul adds, “that was cool how you came out of the gate like that, showed em who’s boss.”
“Hell yeah,” I grin.
Paul never plays pool and watching him stab at the cue ball with his feeble left-handed shot always provides some much needed humor. Occasionally he strikes gold, but for the most part represents a pure handicap. Still, as the ring of onlookers gradually morphs, aspirants to the throne, we’re now up against a pair of tall cheerleader types, their abilities neatly delineated into the same demographics as ours. The sandy haired one, she’s a shade worse than Paul, while the Nordic blonde, squinting when she speaks, introducing herself to me as Amy, has impressive command of the table. We promptly dispatch them, impressive in its own right, doubly so considering the relentless force of Paul’s chatter.
Under normal circumstances, Damon we could not pry from an opportunity such as this, even in his strictly observational role. But citing Shannon’s mysterious illness, they evacuate. When the rotation of turns permits, Amy and I stand against the bar’s backside, separated from its cooler by a thin plywood wall, spray painted black, cracking wise about the world outside this window, those dressed with unintentional hilarity within, the ineptitude of our partners.
But Maxwell’s will suffer a curious fate, before eventually shuttering and being reduced to rubble. Always a freaky place to begin with, as soon as school breaks for the summer, it somehow transforms into a gay bar overnight. Alan and I drift up there one night, but unearth little to hold our interest outside carnival attractions such as a seven foot tall bald guy wearing a frilly pink dress, and our go-go boot girl making out with some other chick. Figuring it must only be a summer thing, we give the place a rest until school resumes in the fall, and yet for whatever reason, Maxwell’s never does revert to its prior form. That rainy Thursday in September will mark the last time any of us set foot inside those doors, the end of what had been, not even three months earlier, a weekly ritual.
Beyond the provisional gate of our I-270 outerbelt, we find Club Dance, nestled like a newborn amidst the runaway, half diseased strip mall sprawl between ghetto Whitehall and redneck Reynoldsburg. But Club Dance is no baby, having thrived here for nearly twenty years now, under a litany of names, and the same could be said for most of the strip clubs and restaurants lining this commerce laden section of Brice Road.
Living where we do, the more prominent downtown skyscrapers visible from our front yard, and the distance out of town north a known, mentally traceable one, it’s easy to lose sight of our fair city’s heft, to downplay reports we keep hearing of its ever increasing size. But to navigate a course out here to the eastern extreme, to log the miles and chart the minutes, and only then reach the trembling lip of this outlying suburban wall, is to have these notions reduced to rubble on impact. Fleshed out months ago by our few trips to the western extreme, my earlier, grandiose pronouncements concerning this city appear horribly misguided. Flashing like cameras somewhere deep within, the lights and landmarks I’ve absorbed during this lone jaunt to Club Dance disabuse me of the thought I’ll conquer Columbus in a lifetime, or for that matter in ten of them stacked end to end. And in terms of these ends, the east to west variety, they stretch so far I can’t wrap my mind around them.
We can’t have it all, so each night we cast our chips onto the most promising square and give the wheel a spin. Weigh our options, the information based upon a continually evolving field, recalculated hourly. Nicole and September call, they tell us to meet them at this bizarre but insanely popular club, and we’ve no reason not to.
Half hip hop hot spot, half urban cowboy watering hole, these polarly exclusive elements juxtapose with minimal friction. Within the former, red brick floors and dim lighting, throbbing strobes and ribcage shattering beats entertain the baggy panted masses, while the latter houses, underneath a bank of bright white lights worthy of our sun, a gleaming wooden floor full of line dancing zealots, surrounded by a near perfect oval of passive onlookers. In each half, the corresponding disc jockey panders the preferred genre and lingo, and the always rotating hordes engender the most stimulating hybrid either of us has ever seen.
Cowgirls with amazing asses saunter past, waggling those prized possessions in pairs of impossibly tight jeans, the retroactive majesty of their tiny red boots, hair sprayed golden locks and exquisitely rendered mascara breathtaking to behold. But just then some wicked young thing in skimpy shorts wedged snug against her crotch displaces that view, chest caroming unrestrained beneath a translucent, ill fitting tank top, skin tropical island tan, as if rendered for holiday feast, and gymnast taut, body language wavering somewhere between carelessly fluid and inner city nasty. We’re expected to patrol these grounds, under these conditions, which counts also four functioning bars, a pizza joint, and a pool hall among its holdings, and somehow locate the two girls who summoned us here.
Eventually, Alan and I find them at a table above the hip hop floor, buried in relative shadow. September a few drinks into a passably cheerful mood, claiming she’s finally over Robert, even though for some odd reason she’s brought his cousin Scott along. I’ve never met this Scott kid before, a lanky youth wearing football jersey and blue jeans, though he immediately inquires whether I care for a game of pool.
Upon securing a table, Alan and Scott are paired off as partners against September and me, with Nicole, fulfilling her apparent niche in life, the smiling, passive observer. My roommate and I, new arrivals, have not yet finished our first beers and are only halfway into this initial nine ball foray when September, standing in the middle of the room, begins bawling out loud. Shielding her face, she then sprints out of the building and into the night.
Despite the extra cargo she’s carrying, Nicole is first to follow, dashing in her best friend’s footsteps. Unsure just how to proceed, we males exchange quizzical glances, sip our beers for a wit gathering moment, then set our sticks down and waltz outside as well. No sooner have our feet hit asphalt does Nicole’s car come streaking up to greet us, as she rolls down her window and instructs Scott to climb in. Then, with only a perfunctory goodbye tossed Alan’s direction, she exits the parking lot, bound for Mansfield, the last we’ll see of them.
“What the fuck?” he mutters, mystified. We debate reentry no more than a moment, before calling it a night ourselves.
It’s funny, but my initial impression of Pockets Sports Bar on Kenny Road is that I won’t be logging many hours here. I could not have been more wrong on this front.
One black mark against it in the early going is that it’s located in Upper Arlington, during an era where I’m completely spellbound by the OSU campus. Suburban in every sense of the word, placid and refined, this northwest end of town differs acutely from the university mayhem I’m accustomed to. Yet with sophistication there comes an offsetting loss of character, and the further I drift from campus the more pronounced this disparity becomes. Maybe the condos up this way have clean carpets and all their windows intact, but in the exchange you lose that gap-toothed low class charm.
Of course, a little over a year later, I will wind up moving within about two blocks of this establishment, to the apartment at Merrimar Circle N. But this was all still in the murky, unpredictable future the first time I visit Pockets Sports Bar. At the behest of a coworker I’ve only recently met, Doug, I drive us there one night along with his roommate Mike Nelson, to watch a boxing match. Proudly touted upon their parking lot marquee, this boxing match, while featuring two figures I’ve never heard of, draws about a thousand drunken assholes with the same idea as ours to Pockets’s numerous mammoth TV screens. In actuality, having forgotten my state ID at home, I’m forced to drop the two of them off, as they alone claw their way through the jungle of bodies.
When I return more than thirty minutes later, locating their table to the left and sandwiched between two gigantic wall mounted screens, Doug lets out a roaring mocking cheer. Timing immaculate, a pitcher of cheap domestic beer sits between us, and the fight is just beginning. I still can’t swallow more than two or three cups of this hoppy swill in one night, but the match offers my taste buds distraction enough. Besides, with the bar too dim to peer deep and our backs to most of the compact crowd, I don’t have much choice. A burly Latino – Oscar De La Hoya, as it turns out, whose star is only rising – squares off against this wiry black, Pernell Whitaker, and I instantly take a liking to the Mexican American’s style, the deliberation of his motions. He wins in twelve rounds, our hero, which is exactly the amount of time it takes us to kill three pitchers.