This week’s installment of the IndieInk Writing Challenge was submitted by Sunshine, who asked me to tell a story about an Oklahoma biker bar and include a tumbleweed. God, if I had a nickel for every time someone named Sunshine asked me that…..I’d now have a nickel. My challenge this week fell to Stefan, whose outstanding response can be found here. So, let’s hop in the Way Back Machine, then, off we go room-a-zoom-zoom.
Oklahoma is a desolate place, which makes it the ideal habitat for tumbleweeds and large men straddling motorcycles. For the sake of gender equality, I’ll add that the landscape is littered with a respectable population of large women also doing their share of straddling. The state is teeming with robust, mobile people and dry plant life, is what I’m saying.
During my time in Oklahoma City, I saw more than one tumbleweed roll through the city proper, as well as the outskirts. In a state whose primary import is wind and whose major crops are dust and oil derricks, it should surprise no one to see the occasional ball of detritus roll across major highways from time to time. My first day driving around downtown was on a Sunday afternoon, welcomed by streets deserted thanks to the requirement for most everyone in the state to wear khakis, sing hymns, and tithe at the church of their choosing. I initially found it entertaining in a surrealistic kind of way. As time marched on, the sight graduated from surreal to sad, later becoming a little annoying, and eventually morphing into depressing.
I’d arrived in the city on the south side of 18-years old, which means that I had no concept of anything approaching self-awareness. I’d grown up surrounded by fields of wheat, beans, and corn, the latter crop providing the only thing approaching topographical fluctuation in that part of my home state. My expectation was that regardless of where the military sent me, there was no way it could be any less awe inspiring. Cue the tumbleweed.
A couple years later, I ended up moving off the base and into a large-ish house about 40 minutes east of the city. I lived with a couple dudes who were about a decade older than me and, to my eternal good fortune, willing to put up with my early-20s bullshit. When we’d head into town for minor league hockey or baseball or general ass-grabbery, we were regulars at this bar named Charley’s or Charlie’s or Chuck’s or something along those lines. It was a small place, cozy, good bar food, great bartenders, pool tables, dart boards, a respectable jukebox light on the pop music and heavy on 70s and 80s power ballads.
The clientele ran the gamut from hobo to loafer-sporting banker, which added a nice proletariat touch to the place. The owner and his wife were serious biker types and two of the nicest people you could ever meet. By virtue of these two character traits, the bar was perpetually infested with other bikers, every single one of whom set aflame 99% of the negative stereotypes my naïve little mind had ever held about them. The 1% that held true was that most of them were large and looked like the result of an unholy alliance between Hacksaw Jim Duggan (sans 2×4) and either of the en-bearded members of ZZ Top (whose entire catalog was included in the jukebox).
One of the bonuses that owning a biker bar affords is the perpetual availability of ready-made bouncers. If you’re a regular, you know these people are generally harmless and are actually closer to teddy bears than grizzlies, but if you don’t, they outwardly resemble Hell’s Angels on trucker speed. Now, there are two things about the following story that are impressive: 1) Because we were in the buckle of the bible belt, your concentration of bikers ‘Riding With Jesus’ was always going to be somewhere between ‘a few’ and ‘a bunch’, which means that they’ll generally be prone to turning the other cheek in the event something goes down and 2) Oklahoma beer is so weak that babies shotgun the stuff, then crawl away muttering, ‘Bullshit’.
From time to time, students from OU would stray outside of their safe zone in Norman and end up in the bar. One night, some polo-wearing guys sporting Ray Bans arrived, already pretty well oiled, and started mixing bud light with jaeger shots, all with the accompanying high-fives and FUCK YEAHs one might expect from their ilk. One of the bartenders on this particular evening was a lovely young lady who asked that they try and keep the volume down. One of their party replied to her request by calling her a name. She countered with some impressive adjectives and adverbs involving his noun and he started to get a little carried away with what he was going to do to her. A few of the biker/regulars wandered over and at a surprisingly low volume, convinced them all to leave, followed them out the door, and escorted them to the road where one of them kicked one of the bikes.
I normally take no joy in human pain on any level, but sometimes when I’m feeling low and the days are wearing me down, my mind carries me back to that balmy Oklahoma evening, the Spring air thick with the sound of regret, and suddenly I feel better.
Sir @ May 12, 2011