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The Pig searches for Salma Hayek but finds only angry vampire zombies at Caravan

Michael Ratcliff

If you walk up to the door of a bar and it has a sign that reads, "Restrooms for customers only," chances are you're about to enter a dive bar. At least, that is the case with the Caravan, on 15th Avenue and Camelback Road.

It's a sweltering Thursday afternoon, I have the day off, and my buddy Chris finished work early, so we decide to get the hell out of the heat and search for a good dive, maybe even a hot bartender. We pull up to a little strip mall and squeeze into the only open parking spot. There are three small businesses: a smoke shop, a convenient store, and the Caravan. We notice two "restrooms for customers" signs and laugh — what are we going to find behind door number three?

Heaving open the door to the Caravan, we are immediately hit with a heavy, raging death-metal dirge that would frighten anyone. Chris gives me a smile that says he's too afraid to laugh. I nod in silent agreement and follow him in.

Overwhelmed is an understatement! I do a quick survey of the place and see that it's jammed with throbbing, moving forms. The bloodthirsty patrons are hunkered down, slamming beers and bottles and anything they can fit into their greasy palms and open mouths. It's like someone stirred up an anthill. Chris chimes in: "Like an anthill on the reservation." Regardless, we all have something in common: We love to drink. I love and respect that.

The place is packed; keep in mind it's only 4 p.m. and most everyone is drinking as heavily as the music. I feel as though I have just walked into the Titty Twister from the movie From Dusk Till Dawn. I mention this to Chris and he laughs hard, wondering when they'll turn into vampire zombies; I'm not sure but I guarantee you that I'd never visit this place after dark — unless there's a crazy bitch that looks like Salma Hayek who wants to suck something (hey, let a pig have his fantasy).

The place is just dirty and jam-packed with odds and ends that look stolen from someone's house. Take a moment . . . Think of the biggest packrat you know, and then imagine every ounce of his shit stapled or nailed to the wall in a crappy dive bar. Now picture that person as the person with the least amount of style or taste you have ever known, and throw in a dash of alcoholic. Add a death-metal soundtrack cranked to 11 and — voilà — the Caravan.

After being stunned for five minutes of awkward glances and staring at random garbage stapled to walls, ceilings, and pillars, we find two empty spots (the only two) at the bar. I get ready to order and realize that we've made a cardinal Pig error — neither of us has cash.

If my instincts serve, it's a cash-only kind of place; a place where you want no record of ever having been there. I ask the dude next to me about "cash only" and before I'm done with my sentence, he interrupts me: "Two doors down. Convenience store."

We leave the bar and pop outside, giddy as two frightened kids at a haunted house. We are wondering where we are and what the fuck we just saw. The short walk gives us five minutes to talk freely and make comments on music and taste and clientele. We both agree, before going back, that it would be best if we had only a few drinks and got out before the sun goes down.

We re-enter and find that our seats have been filled, so we stand and order two drinks. Chris is smart, as he orders a Bud, which seems to be the drink of choice. I'm not as bright, so I order a vodka soda lemon, and my chances of getting my ass kicked ratchet up by at least 20 percent (I really wish I would have donned my Metallica shirt for this one).

Chris and I grab a high-top in the back, near the two pool tables and dart game. We sit there, absorbing the place, talking as quietly as possible so we aren't overheard over the loud thrashing chords of some awful band. There is plenty of shwag on the walls, old tattoo drawings, Bettie Page deck of cards, a typewriter, stapler, Confederate flag, and Chris, a motorcycle buff, points out an old BSA bike pic . . . It's crazy — every square inch is filled with dusty, old, crusty shit.

Right before we leave, I check out the restrooms. The men's room door is wedged closed, but after a few tugs (not those kind of tugs — really) I open it to reveal a very small space with a shitter and upright pisser — and porn! I guess it's not porn, but naked old centerfolds and layouts of shaved beaver and ass. I'm doing my business when a voice comes from the stall next to me: "Hey it's freaking hot man I had to walk because of fucking OPEC those motherf*%@s."

I get back to the table, and Chris is ready to leave five minutes ago. We would both stay a lot longer if some asshole stopped playing death metal all night. It really paints an angry atmosphere to what is probably a mellow hole most of the time, a great place to hide out and drink your face off. "Let's get the hell out of here."

We leave, tiptoeing past the bar, feeling and sensing all its rage and angst. We exit and let out a sigh of relief; it's hot and oppressive but at least there's no chance of us getting our asses kicked. I'm such a pussy.


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