this fine-looking fellow is cowboy. he's not from hollywood -- he's from lebec. but he's clearly got star quality, showing me his profile just before i snapped this photo outside rocky's roadhouse in that little grapevine town. how very oscar-night of him.
but i'm getting ahead of myself.
i met cowboy on sunday, day three of the epic celebration that was coiledsoul's 35th birthday. the party began on friday, about as far away from lebec (at least conceptually) as one can get: in the bowels of the higgins building in downtown l.a. contained therein is the edison, an underground wonderland of a nightclub. you enter through historic harlem place alley, near second and main, and descend a long, long staircase to the bottom of what feels like a ship's hull (impression gleaned from being inside the depths of the queen mary during all tomorrow's parties a few years back).
the sprawling space pretty much embodies the definition of "cavernous," and it would make a fabulous hunting ground for any nosferatu (which is what i was thinking as i prowled the place in my full-length leather spike jacket and shockingly low-cut black bustier). but the set-up is surprisingly cozy. every nook and cranny is filled with comfy seating and soft lighting, perfect for intimate groups to gather and enjoy meeting, conversing, and imbibing -- conversation is totally possible here, which is a nice switch from the loud clubs of hollywood where discussions are usually limited to "huh?" and "what?" and vague smiles of semi-comprehension. also unlike hollywood, it only cost me three bucks to park, two blocks away. there's no cover charge, so the drink prices, while quite on par with the hollywood hotspots, seemed more reasonable. (or less outrageous?) plus they were twice as big and much stronger. the security guards were plentiful but friendly. even the "dancing girls" were classier than the usual bruise-splattered suicide-girls types seen all too often in the hollywood fleshtanks. (nevertheless, some asshat tossed a crumpled-up bill on the stage as they performed their first number; it was swiftly removed and returned to him by a friendly-but-firm security staffer.)
i got fairly drunk but not as trashed as i could have, as i was saving myself for the main event: a saturday road trip to bakersfield for dinner and a show at the crystal palace. this would be the country-music castle that the late buck owens built, and where his buckaroos keep the flame of bakersfield twang alive. last weekend, for this occasion, i even purchased a fine pair of gorgeous deerskin cowboy boots from the used boot shack known as kowboyz on beverly. making the journey were CS, me, and another friend ... let's call her hard driver. as she was our chauffeur, and boy does she like to drive fast.
we set out in mid-afternoon and made good time on unclogged freeways. checked in after a surprisingly long wait, but the best western crystal palace was loaded with soccer-playing preadolescents and other large groups -- all seemingly checking in at once.
soon enough we pointed our boots in the direction of the palace, right next door. the place is sort of like a cross between frontierland and the house of blues, a themed restaurant/performance space designed with the trappings of an old western town and, naturally, filled with buck owens memorabilia. including giant iron statues of folks like willie nelson, bob wills, elvis presley, and (duh) buck owens. not to mention an awesome great big cadillac poised above the bar. with a saddle mounted in between the seats, steer horns, and even a rifle on the trunk (pointed, confusingly, toward the driver's seat, which didn't seem right...). giant video screens beam out classic images of buck and the band. the large, multileveled room is dominated by the stage and dancefloor, and ringed by a series of glass cases containing photos, costumes, instruments, documents, and other buck stuff. my favorite things were buck's red/white/blue striped fender guitar, the last one personally made by leo fender before he died, and his cowboy-boot golf cleats.
the food seemed overpriced, which was not unexpected, but my filet mignon was delicious. a perfect medium rare. we split onion rings for an appetizer, and CS had the chicken-fried steak (served with sausage gravy, boo). HD had a steak sandwich. we didn't drink to excess -- the kids were feeling the effects of friday night even more than i was. service was a little inconsistent, but what the hell? we weren't in a huge hurry.
the buckaroos went on a little after 7:30, kicking things off with the bellamy brothers' "redneck girl," which brought instant squeals of delight from the birthday girl. "i love this song!" she sparkled, brandishing her shotglass with glee. they proceeded to reel through an array of popular country songs from various eras, many of them tunes you might've heard on pop radio (like the sappy "the most beautiful girl" by charlie rich or chuck berry's classic "roll over beethoven"). the female singer/MC encouraged folks to bring up notes with announcements of whatever special occasions patrons might be celebrating, so's she could share them with the crowd. somewhere between the 82nd birthdays, 40th wedding anniversaries, soccer-tournament-bound visiting teams, and local senior citizens centers, she proclaimed "happy 35th birthday to jenn, who came all the way from texas... ." well, i wrote on the note "she's from texas!" as a sort of honorarium (you know, like "PhD" or something?), but the singer took it different, which was fine, and sorta funny.
the best part was watching the dancers. couples who'd been together so long they were like extensions of each other, not even needing to look where the other was as they sashayed and two-stepped effortlessy as one. a wizened little old man who was spry beyond belief, squiring half the ladies in the room around the floor with elegant gusto. a big ol' good ol' boy in a giant cowboy hat and silver-tipped boots, who must've weighed 250 but had the grace of a ballerina. a tall, thin young man with two different girl partners, each one with her own style -- one more reserved and fluid, the other all full-bore arm-waving energy. at different points the whole floor seemed to shift spontaneously into the electric slide. it was a blast just to look; with all that talent out there, i didn't dare ask CS to teach me any steps.
we stayed for most of the music but split a little while before the show ended. our plan was to go back to the room, regroup, and then head out to one of the local honky-tonks for some more music and fun. but upon returning we decided a slumber party might be better. so we laid in supplies at the mini-mart next door and channel-surfed until we found the perfect backdrop movie: from dusk till dawn. thus we got our yearned-for bar fight, george clooney, and salma hayek undulating sexily with a giant albino snake. and really, how ya gonna see somethin' like that in bakersfield?
well ... as it turns out ... a similar entertainment might have been available at the "teaser pleaser," the strip bar a couple doors down that we passed on our way to check out the boot barn the next morning. but probably not.
sunday bargain shopping completed, HD pointed the honda homeward. but we had one more pit stop in store, at the aforementioned rocky's roadhouse in lebec. headed toward the flying j truckstop off the 5, HD immediately detoured, beeline-like, for this homey joint. "let's go in and have a beer!" enthused our girl. (what the hey, it was at least half-past noon.) a family restaurant on one side, pool hall/pub on the other, it was already welcoming NASCAR fans on the bar side of the action. the lady bartender greeted us real friendly, and soon we were drinking beer (tequila for me) for lunch, plus noshing on amazing chili fries (a gooey mess of steaming cheesy goodness for under four bucks!) and a hamburger. CS got pallsy with the resident mutts: our red-bandanna'd scrapper cowboy, and the mellow, lion-like canine who answered to the name of rocky. (hmm. guess it was his place.)
but family and household obligations beckoned, and soon we were back on the road. HD put the pedal to the metal, and we hurtled back to el-lay at breakneck speed. "go faster!" she demanded whenever the car in front of her slowed to 85 or so. impatient, she shifted lanes at will for optimum velocity. the car swayed with the forces of gravity and the wind. i swung with it in the back, a big grin on my face as i watched the landscape go lurching by.