On Greenway near 19th Avenue, just north of the Chino Bandido's Takee Outee Chinese and Mexican Food and across the street from Turf Mobile Manor trailer court, the Cadillac Cowboy Club free stands in a fading strip-mall lot.
It is the sort of shopping center that serves as a traditional suburban junction, joining one section of city sprawl to another. The kind of apparition that sees only a few good years before the proliferation of "Going out of Business" and "For Rent" signs appear like afterthoughts to a corporate will.
A strip mall is a disposable American phenomenon, as common to the suburban experience as cell phones, TVs and the dusty aura of homes hastily thrown up around swimming pools in the desert. As ugly as they are, they have, at night at least, some ghostly, seductive appeal.
And at night, the Cadillac Cowboy Club, with its red neon outline and beer-sign glow, takes on a kind of lonely stucco splendor.
Inside, an airy blond-wood motif marks an otherwise blandish set of the usual: dart boards, pool tables, jukebox, beer logos in neon. A sign reads: "Hangovers, installed and serviced." An outer lounge hosts the DJ and karaoke.
A few soft-faced redneck types wearing cowboy hats gather near the bar, and couples seemingly versed in the "Achy Breaky for 2" are sprinkled about. Various beepered women with feathered hair file in and out.
The bartender is a preternatural Graduate-era Katharine Ross double--doe eyes, undiluted features and all.
Sliding a karaoke-song menu down the bar, a big Budweiser devotee gives me a once-over and bids, "Ain't ya gonna sing? I just did a rendition of 'You Got the Touch.' Yeah, it's an old one, all right, but I got up there and did it."
I don't say a thing.
"You look like you could pull it off."
"Not tonight," I reply, focusing on my beer's silvery label. By avoiding eye contact, I assume he will resume conversation with the guy on his right.
He just sits there, two stools to my right, staring directly at me, smoking a Marlboro. He is a tee shirt under a black leather vest, with jeans, boots, hat. A cliche. He says, somewhat disgustedly, "Okay, but I'm gonna keep botherin' ya all night. You will sing."
I have a gnawing apprehension, one that had arranged itself in my head prior to arriving. One borne out of an idea that Phoenix cowboy bars don't particularly pride themselves on patrons who are of the skinny-white-boy-weaned-on-punk-rock breed. An uneasiness that says Phoenix cowboy bars are clearly without a sense of irony.
A minute later, the Bud devotee puffs a sigh upward as if he's blowing hair away from his face. He swings around to face his crony. In unison, the two shake their heads in a predictable snicker, then resume their wince-inducing conversation--a dialogue filled with colorful images of cement mixers, construction-site hierarchy and the precise anatomical probing of some woman married to a fellow employee.
A stout, puffy-haired blonde in a striped shirt tackles Jewel's "Hands," thus inviting all hair on the backs of necks to rise and salute. I move to a table in the back of the well-lit room, wondering what could be propelling a person to such atonal heights.
Between mike wielders, the lanky, cheerful DJ crows familiar patter ("Hey, let's hear it for Cindy!") to the sparse crowd while cuing subsequent songs. He keeps track of those who have signed on to "sing" while making sure the song's lyrics are plotted on the TV screen in time with the music.
Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" gets a worthy swish by an eager young woman in a blue dress and sweater, who, moments before, was heard chanting, "I got a promotion today, I got a promotion today." She even tossed in a few drink-inspired moves that prompted one to crack, "Let's see a table dance."
A man, maybe 60, in a white cowboy hat, puts a listenable spin on a Roy Acuff tune in a good voice and is greeted with hearty hoots when finished. An unlikely Bon Jovi fan gives said band's "Bed of Roses" a blue-collar take, including an odd, countryish twang on the higher notes--an effort that led a few girls to swap high fives and boisterous woo-hoos.
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Jimmy Buffett's "Why Don't We Get Drunk" gets crucified by one excitable ham who shouts to the thinning herd, "Turn it up, turn it up, mon. Everybody wake up." The DJ does turn it up, and the hopeless cacophony plays well against the singer's drunken wobbles. Barely grasping a sense of his own footing, falling, even, the erstwhile crooner still sports a massive grin of the shit-eating variety.
"Is anybody ready for a little fun?" says one springy, golden-haired karaoke gal, her enthusiasm barely contained in the moment. "You gotta have personality to do this stuff. You gotta have it . . ."
She then breaks into a rousing rendition of the Brady Bunch theme. A sing-along ensues.
I walk out the front door and into the light of the Circle K, the slow, unregarded night along 19th Avenue. I see no cowboys.