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Playa's Paradise

Brad Garner

We're just finishing up a nice dinner at Dick's Hideaway on a random Wednesday night when I hint at the urge to slum it for a few. Carla picks up on my slobbering (and the fact that I'm done paying $9 for a glass of wine). She says she has the perfect place in mind. We leave and Carla guns the rig straight out into the turn lane, right across the street into an abandoned shopping center, long defunct and fenced off with barbed wire, to boot. Maybe Carla is hoping to park it for a bit? But no such luck for this pig: We're here.

Where? We're at 16th Street and Bethany Home, and all I can see is an empty parking lot behind a Taco Bell. I can see the Starbucks, and I'm thinking, "Hey, there's a great dive behind Starbucks called the Swizzle, what the fuck are we doing here?"

Carla opens the door and assures me that I won't be disappointed — her long time boozin' pal Lisa assured her this would tickle my pork loins. So I exit the machine and Carla points to a break in the barbed wire that has a door with a NO SMOKING sign on it. Holy shit, one of these places is actually open. We attempt to cross the lot when squealing comes ripping out of nowhere and this half-crazed security chick comes hauling ass right at us in her beat-up golf cart. The brakes lock up and the rent-a-cop security gal heaves to a stop, smiling ear to ear. (I'm guessing the cart isn't the only thing souped-up around here.)

"Good god, what kind of engine do you have in that thing?" I ask. Then we do the age-old dance where she shows me what's under the hood. Or in this case, under the seats. I watch as six giant batteries appear, all tied together and just raring to go. She is clearly proud and fidgety and fucking scary. Carla starts laughing — as the only girl in her family, she's used to this kind of macho bullshit.

Carla and the security chick get the seat back in place when our new friend notices a guy stumbling out of the bar, so she leaps in the cart and peels out after him. I'm glad she's gone, and glad they don't give her a gun; she's dangerous enough behind the wheel of that Sun City dragster. Carla and I both half-run to the door for safety and agree that woman is probably the best security guard we've ever seen. She loves her job and I love mine. We open the door and let ourselves in.

The name of this dive is Playa, and what smacks you right in the face here is the sheer size of this place. It's a 4,500-square-foot rectangle with 14-foot ceilings and a square-shaped bar right smack in the middle. The bar serves to separate the joint — the front half has a pool table, a shuffleboard game, three pinball machines (awesome), and a big-screen TV from the '80s (which, thankfully, is off). The other half of the bar is where all the action is. We grab two stools in the empty front half and sit next to a few local drunkards. The bartender is a young hip chick with tattoos and a rough "no frills" smile. No "Hello" or "What do you want?" Just a blank stare that says, "Hurry the fuck up."

Carla orders a Stoli soda and I get a bourbon 7 and both are strong and cheap. I start to make fun of the bartender's bandanna that has tacky rhinestones on it — obviously she owns a BeDazzler. (If you know what a BeDazzler is, then you are old like me). Carla gives me a quick elbow and says, "Why do you have to be so mean? Don't piss her off."

Hey: It's my job to be critical. I jump into my drink and a cartoon thought-balloon pops appears over my head that reads, "Am I really an asshole?"

And another that answers, "Fuck you, you're fine. Fuck you. Drink."

I bury the drink in my gullet and order another. It turns out those around me are doing the same. The more quiet, efficient, serious drinking types are on our side of the bar, and the young, raucous crowd is on the other side. We are in the right place. Even the scary-looking vato next to us buys us a round — Carla is hot, so I'm not really part of the deal, but I take the freebie. A moment later, I carefully flag down the barkeep and tell her to get my boy a drink to return the favor. I also ask her what's with the barbed wire and is this place going under? She laughs and says, "Hell, no, this place has been here since around 1980 and it's not going anywhere. The barbed wire is just to keep folks from breaking into the empty spaces, keepin' 'em from stealing the copper wiring." For all I know, half the folks in here steal copper for a living.  

The view we have to the back of the joint is sweet; from our stools you can see everything — it's like we're looking into a big basement of some deranged lunatic. There's a ping-pong table . . . That's right, a ping-pong table in a bar (what a stupid idea). There's a foursome playing what looks like beer pong. I'm immediately happy I'm nowhere near the table; I guess the place is big enough to pull it off, but I'm waiting for someone to get pissed off because some loud, drunk, slobbering, neutered hipster keeps reaching under the seats to find a little orange ball. (I'm secretly hoping one of those kids gets slaughtered.)

Next to the ping-pong table is a pay phone and two more pool tables and some video games, including — you guessed it — Big Buck Hunter. Right on! What is most noticeable about this night is the string of kickass tunes that keep belting out of the Internet jukebox. Carla is singing along with every song and I'm barely able to remember the band names, but this is drinking fuel and we're having a great time. I decide to hit the head and I hope Carla is still here when I get back. I've been real dark and negative lately (imagine that) and the locals are in love with her.

I walk through the loud half of the bar to the back of the joint and enter a hallway lined with ugly photo collages from the '80s. I stop to look at a couple old boob shots — turns out stretch marks are always in style. The hallway leads to the men's room and an open back door revealing a hidden rear parking lot where folks are smoking, and where the regulars park to hide from cops and that security chick. I wonder if she ever sleeps?

At any rate, I head to the john, which is missing the door knob with a nice three-inch square hole in its place. I push the thing open and I'm stunned to find a four-foot-long trough rigged up with a narrow window screen on the bottom to cover/protect the urinal cakes from being stolen. In fact, as I'm doing my biz, I look around and everything in this dehumanizing place is bolted down: The soap dispenser (broken) and paper towel dispenser are secured to the walls with metal and screws. I finish up as quickly as I can because the place reeks like someone ate four pounds of asparagus and pissed in every corner. I look up, and there is a small shelf near the ceiling that has seven air fresheners up there. They must all be empty. I snap a phone pic of the rare trough and head back to see if Carla has been kidnapped yet.

I emerge to find Carla laughing with the locals as though I'd never left. I order our last round and eavesdrop. Carla is talking to a guy about Playapods . . . Aliens! Did they slip her a mickey? Apparently, the gentleman to our right is convinced that if you stay at the bar long enough, the Playapods start coming out. Actually, we're surrounded — they're disguised as drunkards, drug dealers, and has-beens, but they are really from outer space. I laugh and make it readily apparent to Carla that it's time to flee before I abduct someone (not including myself, which I will do later).

As I'm settling up, I notice the crowning achievement of this place: the centerpiece above the bar. It's one of those old bulbous Budweiser signs with the trudging Clydesdales, and it's gorgeous. The best thing about it isn't the sign itself, it's how it's affixed to the ceiling. If you take the time to follow the chain up to the ceiling, you'll see an old green and red Christmas tree stand bolted up there to hang the sign from. I've seen a lot of rigged shit — shit with duct tape and other redneck crap — in my life, but I think this takes the cake. I'm not going to rule out the possibility of extraterrestrial life and higher intelligence, but from the looks of how this place is rigged, I'm guessing the only real Playapods are the ones that appear after seven gin and tonics; those I see all the time. In fact, I think one is outside the place sitting behind the wheel of a rotting, souped-up golf cart ready to run my ass down if I so much as swagger. She'd better hit me hard.


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