Many Worlds Inside One Continent
Though rumors continue to swirl concerning a potential comeback for this one great shopping center, to date nothing much has happened. Yes, after a brief shuttering, someone did swoop in to revive the movie theater, but that’s been about it for positive developments in this century. That this space still exists at all, however, with its sign continuing to tower above I-71 in the heart of town, is as triumphant as it is bizarre, and I think to have hung around this long can only mean one thing: the Continent will close this loop and survive to see better days, whatever those might be. Safe to say whatever form it takes will scarcely resemble those which have come before. To my mind there are three distinct eras for the Continent, each of them (sadly) a little less spectacular than the previous.
- French Market heyday: everyone raved endlessly about Easton when it dropped, that whole outdoors strolling at a shopping mall thing, despite the French Market here having preceded it by more than two decades. Growing up in the Mansfield area, we would load up a car full of people on occasion and make the hour drive down just to visit this place, because there was nothing around quite like it. My girlfriend at the time, Heather, loved the candle shop – I once took a vacation day from work and drove down to buy her this elaborate dolphin candle, for an Xmas present – and we also liked sampling the various restaurants. Though dining at many a franchise, this particular Damon’s, The Place For Ribs location always seemed the most happening and upscale one in town. A handful of us also caught Dumb And Dumber at the theater here in December of ’94.
2. Happening Nightlife Destination: The mid to late 90’s meant you were most likely showing up here no earlier than 10pm, because they still boasted a handful of extremely popular clubs. Sometimes you’d be standing in line looking around at the shops, most of them surely closed by this hour, elbowing your buddies with a “heh heh, check it out!” type maneuver as you pointed to a business you couldn’t believe was still hanging around. You knew the situation didn’t look pretty, necessarily, for these retail offerings, but figured some would continue to do okay, mainly because the masses still swarmed here by night. Crazy Louie’s, the Yucatan Liquor Stand, and the Funny Bone comedy club were mainstays of this era.
3. Low Rent Apartments And…Not Much Else! At present, and ever since about the year 2000, yes, we have the aforementioned Screens At Continent, a couple of lesser torches that keep the dance club flame alive, and that’s about it. Unless you count these swell apartments, of which I think I’ve actually set foot inside three. These were all coworkers of mine at Kroger, degenerate single dudes who liked to throw parties pretty much around the clock. As far as retail is concerned, when Gospel Outlet is your most intriguing option, you might have reason to worry. Then again this enterprise does have teamjesususa.com in its corner as one of the coolest website names ever, and also even more hilariously lists two locations, a north and a west – both or which are located on Busch Blvd.
As far as specific memories of visiting the Continent are concerned, I remember a shopping outing on a warm, sunny October day in ’94 with Heather and her good friend Jennifer, just the three of us, the trip inspiring me to sneak back days later and pick up the dolphin candle. We had been here before then, however, and it was always basically an all-day adventure, despite the relatively small space, walking around shopping and grabbing a meal or two. Another night in December, Heather, her sister Laura, and Laura’s boyfriend and I did the whole ribs and trivia bit at the Damon’s, then took in Jim Carrey’s breakthrough bit of buffoonery.
And that was it for a little while. Did the decline make us all stay away, or did our staying away create the decline? I suppose both sides, collectively speaking, were culpable in this downfall. In retrospect however it’s almost as though set pieces were being changed in a play, and none of us were willing to return until that process was complete. Hence our next extended run here, from ’97 to ’99, during which time we might visit these dance clubs on a weekly or even twice weekly basis…but it was pretty much the only reason you had for coming out here.
The night of my glorious return, we had rented a party van for someone’s birthday, and began the evening downtown. However after a brief foray there, the next destination was decided in near unanimous fashion, this being the Yucatan Liquor Stand. I didn’t know enough to say one way or the other, but everyone else seemed to agree that this was a major spot we couldn’t miss, and its next door neighbor Crazy Louie’s existed only a slight notch below. This one probably cracks my top 3 in all-time most ignorant Columbus outings. Both my friend Maria and I inaugurated the place by peeing in some bushes before we even entered it. Then I found myself inexplicably shoved halfway across the dance floor while making out with and groping the girlfriend of another person in our party. Needless to say we were both quite wasted…and “snuck” off to a quiet corner, where she and I were busted again. After unsuccessfully attempting to vomit in an upstairs bathroom, I sat down for a quick little snooze on some steps and was bounced from the place. We haven’t been here very long at all, but I retreat to the van and pass out. Will spend the remainder of the evening there, though the bus rolls on to other destinations. But yeah, this pretty much summarizes the Yucatan Liquor Stand Experience.
The maiden voyage into Crazy Louie’s won’t disembark until a few months down the road. This time around it’s mostly a bunch of coworkers, along with my roommates and a couple other random characters. Standing in line outside the incredibly happening night club, we advance in five minutes’ time to the indoors foyer, where the first of many musclebound bouncers checks our progress. Encased behind a glass kiosk he checks ID, one after another, though as expected Virginia hits a snag in trying to gain admission. Seized by a sudden jag of doubt she flashes him her proper New York ID, and while as luck would have it he too hails from the Empire State and they strike up a quick rapport, she pushes her luck trying to spring Danielle’s bogus driver’s license as an afterthought.
“Sorry,” he laughs, amused by her effort, “if you’d have had the guts to show me that first, I’d have let you get by.”
Instead he marks both hands with giant black magic marker Xs, while the rest of us, over the legal drinking age, receive neon colored wristbands as if gaining entrance to an exclusive country club. Of course Virginia and I already have plans for combating this unfavorable turn of events, but for now we’ve got to bide by this charade to make it past another pair of bouncers, guarding the double front doors to the club proper, their snarling faces dripping venom. Once past them, however, she dashes off to the ladies room to scrub away the Xs before they adhere, while I’m working the wristband off of my arm, where it grates against the flesh and bone structure but eventually comes off.
“Here, I don’t need this,” I tell Virginia, upon return, “you use it.”
“Jay…..are you sure?” she hesitates.
“Yeah,” I insist, “I’m not drinking.”
The club is stacked a mile high and just as deep with bodies, flailing around on a dance floor that basically never ends, because there is none, it snakes instead through every spare nook of space available. Aside from one small, pointless balcony at the far wall which accommodates exactly one table, there’s an elevated platform with a thatched room in the middle and four bars scattered throughout and that’s it, everything else is fair game for these gyrating bodies because the rest of the room is level.
Unique for a dance club the lighting here is mostly an ordinary white, of a sufficient wattage to allow visibility from one end to the other, and as such the balcony becomes a highly sought after vantage point for the horny male contingent. For everyone else, however, enough would be strippers climb atop the bar to showcase their talents, and a rotating track mounted on the ceiling boasts so many pairs of panties and bras that it’s obvious these Crazy Louie’s patrons have a long history of flinging off their clothes.
Alan and Leigh miraculously manage to secure an abandoned table, an oasis near the throbbing heart of traffic. Damon and I stand alongside the northernmost bar, weighing our options, with the remainder of our party in various configurations upon the dance floor. Frank and Lauren are dirty dancing over in a remote corner but a stone’s throw away from us, in the magnetic center of this utopian universe, Virginia sways to the beat with no less than five male bodies surrounding her, motionless themselves, drooling over her every move. John H and L, Mehlman and Mill Run and Sean, they’re trying to look as casual as possible standing there, a feat some manage more than others, but any way you slice it I see no reason to join them.
“Fuck that,” I tell Damon, “our best bet is to hang back.”
“I agree,” he says, as we join Alan and Leigh at their table.
We’ve no sooner sat there and the other three are ordering shots of 151 proof high octane rum, mother of god. In knocking his back Alan lets a few loose drips slip from his shot glass to the table, and after setting the empty slug aside he produces a lighter from his pocket, sets those wasted drops aflame. They smolder momentarily, an engrossing display that scars the table with black char marks when it’s finished.
Panting so hard his chest is about to cave in, John H appears at our table, announcing a change of scenery. “J Dog, Damon, we’re heading next door to the Yucatan,” he grins, not so much bored with all the fabulous treats this place has to offer as he is curious with what the other might hold in store, “you guys wanna come along?”
“Yeah, sure,” I tell him.
“Why not,” Damon says, half blasted already, “I wouldn’t mind checking it out.”
Alan and Leigh decline our proposal, preferring to sit where they are, and as we’re waiting for John to rustle up everyone else Damon and I bide our time by the exit, enjoying one last look. Mehlman’s standing there with us as well, looking either bored or pissed off, I can’t tell which.
“Heading over to the Yucatan with us?” I ask.
“Nah,” he says, citing his preference for country bars, “this isn’t really my kind of place.”
John L rides off into the night with him, too, but the rest of us slip outside, trudging across the spacious parking lot which owes its entire crowd to these twin towers of nightclubbing. The salad years for this once bustling French market are long gone, and apart from a popular restaurant named Houlihan’s, this outdated movie theater, there’s little left. Even their Damon’s, The Place For Ribs location is on its last legs. Dave Weinle famously walked out midshift as a manager there, before Mark Stokes threw him a lifeline and invited him to our restaurant, the first of many defections. Most recently, a month or so ago, they brought over head cook Mike Soter, and I feel he won’t be the last.
Our ragtag crew drifts around a corner and up the handful of steps into the Yucatan. Some sneering chick attired in beach comber clothes with her long black hair tucked up into an Oakland A’s hat – a look I almost always hate, too, on females, that hair under the hat thing – is working the door and allows most of us passage, but freezes in front of Virginia. Judging from the nasty smirk she’s wearing I wonder if this girl isn’t related to Wiseman, and I categorize her reaction as the cheap offshoot of jealousy.
“She’s drunk,” our bouncer friend declares, “I’m not letting her in!”
“What?” we curse, the night suddenly seeming doomed, somehow, irreparably damaged, a lost cause.
“What’s the problem?” a second bouncer drifts past, a weightlifter with bazooka arms, standing as tall as the ceiling.
I sniff impending disaster but John H has connections everywhere, he’s quick on his heels and in fact he’s sought out this other bouncer, an old frat buddy of his. This shining armored saint beams and winks at us, nodding his head at Virginia, telling the chick in the Oakland A’s cap to cool out and have a seat. Now that this ordeal is finished to satisfaction we have to wonder why we bothered, though, as in a far cry from my previous visit here this place is nearly deserted. Even circa 1997, you still had to pick and choose your spots at these clubs.
On a vibrant Saturday evening the surf and beach motif fits this bar like a glove, a shelter against the encroaching season of harsh Ohio winter. But on a night like this, lifeless as the county morgue, the dangling surfboards and Hawaiian employee attire ring false, tacky even, a miserable condition compounded further by the obscure dreck their DJ is spinning and the murky overhead lights shrouding most of the club in shadow. Despite the tropical theme here Crazy Louie’s is far sunnier, with its popular dance hits of today, luminous as an exploding star, and it’s easy to deduce why Yucatan is sinking deeper by the day.
“Whew, talk about a change of pace,” Damon whistles.
“I was in here once on Saturday, though,” I tell him, “and it was wall to wall, just like Crazy Louie’s is now.”
“Man, a frozen daiquiri sounds good,” he says, “you want one? I’ll buy.”
“Yeah, sure,” I reply.
Two hours have passed since my lone beer over at John’s, and I don’t see how one small daiquiri can affect my performance the least bit. An average looking barmaid, elevated to supermodel status here by the dearth of valid competition, whips out the blender, all smiles as she compiles our cocktails and tops them off with whipped cream, the kind of first rate service you can never get on campus or for that matter any bar where’s there’s an actual crowd to deal with. Drinks in hand, we stand by the dance floor railing, watching the dozen or so bodies shimmying below.
Sean’s standing along the railing about twenty feet down from us, but everyone else is trashed and tearing up the dance floor. Wiseman takes offense at my standing around and yanks me, with considerable force, until I’m out there alongside him. Lauren’s approach is much more subtle, as she waves to Damon, encouraging him to join us. But in his camouflage jacket and horn rimmed glasses he looks ill equipped for a night of shaking booty, plus he’s trashed, and so he just stands there idly watching everyone else.
“There’s two whores!” Frank announces, well stewed by alcohol himself, and shoves me into two overweight chicks dancing nearby, “come on! They’re throwing it out like it’s CHRISTMAS!”
Plowing into them all three of us nearly topple, though to their credit they look relatively unruffled by this transgression, and I manage not to spill my daiquiri all over the place. Through their half grimaces I spot a glimmer of mild entertainment, but it’s not the kind of open arm encouragement one typically looks for, so I retreat. Continuing to slurp my frozen cocktail, I lightly sway to the strains of this otherwise unlistenable techno track, watching Lauren as she tries, to no avail, yanking Damon onto the floor much as Frank had done me.
“Man, get rid of your drink!” Wiseman bellows, as though greatly outraged by my style – or lack thereof. “I’ll teach you how to pick up some women yet!”
But despite Frank’s protests my eyes are on Virginia, dancing just a few feet away, near the three carpeted steps leading up to the rest of rest of the room. Her cyclone of motion leads her into these steps, where she stumbles and falls, sprawling onto the blood red carpet almost precisely at Damon’s feet. Perfect opportunist he is, Damon doesn’t hesitate before swooping down to her rescue, hoisting her to her feet again.
Time always passes much too fast in these clubs, and the next thing any of us know the house lights are warming to life, it’s two a.m. The barmaids and bouncers shout menacing declarations meant to goad us into finding the exit, knowing full well it will take approximately twenty minutes for anyone to arrive there. As a preemptive strike they move their clocks ahead twenty minutes, thus engendering the same result of everyone out the door by the magic hour.
Forgetting this for one costly moment I meander outside, spotting Sean there shivering on the stoop, hands in pockets. Standing in just our tee shirts the autumn wind chills us down to the marrow, and after a few minutes like this we attempt to gain reentry, only to find the front doors locked and our smartass bouncer in the Oakland A’s cap on the other side, waving to us as she beams with sarcasm, finally capitalizing on her golden opportunity for retribution.