The unfamiliar wanderer

The most unlikely things can help trigger random memories and recollections for me. For instance, while I was taking a leak at a work urinal today, I looked down and contemplated how disgusting it would be if I just puked right into the urinal. Urinals have a very narrow-minded focus. They are made for liquid waste. Anything else becomes lodged in the drain holes or swims randomly for eternity as the flushed water repeatedly creates a maelstrom of swirling activity in which fluids are the only acceptable form of entrance. This is not a welcome place for solid waste. You do not squat on a urinal and take a dump. So I just imagined how awful and disgusting it would be to vomit in a urinal.

Why would anyone do this?

I remembered that indeed I witnessed such an incident at a nightclub I frequented in the late 80s through early 90s. The club was called The Safari Bar. It was a restaurant slash disco located in West Covina, a suburb about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. The Safari Bar was lodged snugly in the back of a parking lot in the Eastland Shopping Center. It was located far enough from the main street that it required some maneuvering to reach and was not easily discovered by the unfamiliar wanderer. Yet, the fantastic thing about The Safari Bar was its proximity to the Barranca freeway entrance of the San Bernardino Freeway. All hard-drinking and -driving clubhoppers know that close freeway access is a vital ingredient of a club’s appeal. Freeway drunk driving, in theory, is less risky and less prone to attracting police attention. The strategy is, you drive 5, 10 miles over the speed limit, stay in the number 3 lane, and keep your eyes open. Don’t drive too slowly or fast. Stay in an innocuous traffic lane and don’t do anything that might deviate from a wise and understated traffic pattern or construed as much. In other words, all the things it is difficult to do during street driving, especially if you’re bombed. It’s much easier to drive loaded on the freeway than on the street. The street tests your fine motor skills and there are more cops lurking in the shadows. A freeway exit/entrance is a must and The Safari Bar had this in addition to offering a suitable distance from open police view by virtue of its “tucked in” location off the main street.

The Safari Bar is now closed, and in its place you’ll find a BJ’s Restaurant. The Safari Bar was my most common go-to clubbing spot in my 20s. It was a loud, happening, eclectic crowd. It wasn’t exactly soul, disco, rock, country…it was everything. The crowd was mostly White but there were lots of Hispanics and Asians and a smattering of other unidentifiable groups populating the large dance floor. The Safari Bar was enormous. There were a gazillion places to stand and watch lustfully as women in short skirts paraded by with their feathered hair. The Safari Bar was sufficiently White that you could see groups of pre-cyber age stonewashed denim-clad people dancing to AC/DC or Guns N’ Roses. To me that has always been the prototypical mark of a club catering to the White folks…people dancing to heavy metal. Nowhere else!

The Safari Bar was the scene of a man who puked his guts out in a urinal. I didn’t see him puke but I glimped the remains and held my breath because the putrid odor filled the humid, sweaty bathroom and even the melange of circa-1990 men’s colognes could not counteract the sour stench which forced its gagging tendrils down my throat. I rushed out the bathroom quickly. The smell was so foul I felt I might very well puke. They served food at The Safari Bar, a featureless, palatable Tex-Mex verdure of staple items that every drunk could love.

The Safari Bar is where I went to not dance. I never danced because I had no courage to ask anyone to dance. I stood, watched, drank. I lied to myself that this would be the night I finally asked a girl to dance. I convinced myself each time I stepped foot in that damned club that this would be the night I would see that magical girl and she would flash me a magical smile and like magic, I might finally have the guts to ask her to dance. Magic was dead. Instead, the nights always unfolded identically to every other night. I would drink a little too much, feel the heat of the club stifle my social ambition, I would walk around the circular perimeter of the dance floor, up stairs, down stairs, platform to platform, looking strange women weakly in the eye or more often, avoiding eyes. I tried to freeze glances that I could never. And become drunker and the music seemed louder but distant and it echoed in my mind. I remember “Kiss Me” from Tin Tin, a song which embodied much of that period in my memory. The song captured the dark spiral of alienated incompatibility that marked my adjacence to this wild abandon and retreating drunkenness that accompanied me each time I tried to escape to the dance floor only to find myself trapped at the edge with a glass of something in hand.

The night over, my ears ringing, I would stumble to my car, drive home bravely, and emptily consider that in a week a might be back ready to finally ask someone to dance. It was my Moby Dickian mission. No matter how I might try to liquify the depths of my unsure swagger, I still could never summon the courage to tackle the great white that devoured my soul each of those times I went to The Safari Bar.

I think back to that period of my life, about 1988 through 1994. The excruciating wait. The electricity, the music, the…void. The nothing that always happened. The routine, the drive home, the freeway, crashing into my bed, the amps tickling my eardrums still. The piercing smell of vomit in a crowded bathroom.

Tasting a Gorilla Fart one Saturday night following an afternoon in which I fell asleep during the day and woke up to diarrhea, a precursor to the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had. Nevertheless, I went to meet my friend who urged me sip this strange drink which was really just a bunch of overproof liquors swished together in one large flammable pool sitting in a large brandy glass. He didn’t get sick even though I was bedridden for the following week with terrible abdominal cramps and a steady deluge of diarrhea. Apparently the Gorilla Fart killed all the microbes. Or there was the time one of the asshole doormen sweated me about the height I had listed on my DL, at a time I was most sensitive about my lack of vertical span. He fucking belittled me and made a big stink about the fact that I must have padded my height on the card. Humiliation.

The Safari Bar was Dickensian. It was the best of times and it was anything but.

The best of times breathed in theory, the worst, in practice.

Captures the spirit of the times. This photo was grabbed from a “Safari Bar Alumni” Facebook page.