I reckon my cheeks are redder than Elmo's ass, the cheeks closest to my grill-piece, that is. It's a Saturday night at Tempe's colossal, 28,000-square-foot Graham Central Station (www.grahamcentralstationtempe.com), the four-in-one nightclub that includes the karaoke bar Alley Cats, a Top 40 dance hall called South Beach, an '80s room named Confetti's, and a huge country-western bar, Rockin Rodeo. This last section of GCS includes pool tables, a danceteria about the size of a basketball court, several bars, and, to my ultimate embarrassment, a mechanical bull in the center of a red, white and blue air mattress, an air mattress that's supposed to painlessly break the fall of all the wanna-be urban cowboys who give this bovine robot a ride.
See, like a chump, I got played by the ambisexual Eva Mendes, a.k.a. Jett, who challenged my manhood by stating, "If you really had a pair, you'd ride that bull, fat boy." Now, here I am trying to lift my 300-pound frame onto the friggin' thing, with little or no success, as the crowd watching me grows larger by the second. Flash back to junior-high gymnastics classes as our battle-ax of a teacher Mrs. Sandpaperpanties tells us we've all got to make it over that pommel horse before we break for lunch. That's usually when I'd feign a groin pull.
"Goddamnit, don't they have stirrups on these things?!" I cry.
"Keep jumping on the mattress, Kreme, and maybe you can bounce up there," advises the Jettster, chuckling.
"I'll bounce you, you bisexual bee-ahtch," I mutter under my breath, when the two cowpokes who run the machine come to my rescue, and gallantly boost me onto the bull. For one magical moment, I'm riding high, my right hand in the air, poised and plump like Hoss in those Bonanza reruns. Then they turn the machine on, and three seconds later, I'm flat on my back, counting the stars circling my cranium. Jett's pretty puss appears overhead.
"You know, they say it's a lot easier if you ride the bull backwards," she relates, matter-of-factly.
Now she tells me. But I ain't the Johnny Knoxville of the PHX. That's enough punishment for one night, so I lift myself from the blow-up mattress, thank the cowhands who've helped me, and head for the nearest bar, where there's a large beer with my name on it.
The nearest waterin' hole happens to have as a barkeep a cowgirl named Cassie in revealing black chaps, a zebra-striped bikini top, and little else. I ask for the coldest brewski she's got, and let Jett fend for herself. I suck down some suds and watch a good portion of the 2,000 party people in the hizz-ouse line-dancing to Brooks & Dunn. Folks pay $6 to gain entree to GCS on a Saturday night. And according to GM John Dubose, the two-year-old Tempe GCS is part of a nightclub chain of 33 similar clubs, owned by the Texas-based Graham brothers. Some of the venues have more than four clubs, and GCS itself plans to add a Coyote Ugly-style bar called The Cooler sometime in March.
GCS is filled with both male and female hotties, with those in cowboy threads mostly congregating in the Rockin Rodeo section. I see Jett's abandoned me to go chat up some cowstuds, so I decide to confabulate with some college-age cuties nearby, Jennifer Fateley and Angel Munlz. Both have brown hair past their shoulders and look like they're out for a good time.
"What do you think of the club?" I ask.
"We love it," they both say, nearly in unison. "We come here often."
"So what do you like about it exactly?"
"Cowboys! Woo-hoo!" shouts Fateley with a big smile.
"What do you like about them?"
"Their butts," says Munlz.
"Their boots on my bedroom floor!" chimes in Fateley.
"Dang, maybe I can swap my gators for a pair," I smirk. "Have you ever made a love connection here?"
"A few of them," claims the felicitous Fateley, taking a swig from her Coors Light.
"So what do you do when you want to talk to a guy you like?"
"Well, they've got to approach us," she says.
"Yeah, but how do you get them to do that?"
"Just smile, and make eye contact," she tells me.
"If it were only that easy for the fellas, especially me," I comment.
"Now don't go around smiling at chicks, Kreme, or they'll think you're retarded," spits the J-girl, coming up on me from behind.
"How'd you make out with the cowboys, chuckles?"
"Eh," she shrugs. "They're fine 'n' all, but sort of, uh, monosyllabic."
"Well, let's do the rounds; maybe you'll have better luck in one of the other rooms," I tell her.
We're closest to Confetti's, the '80s room, so we hit that first. It's dark and loud, with a big ol' mirrored ball over the dance floor. I'm feeling the music, a lot of Prince and Rick James, but it's hard to conversate in here, so we move on to club South Beach on the other side of GCS.
Now, this is more our style, four dance cages filled with honeys. Palm trees painted on the walls like something out of Scarface. Top 40 hip-hop and R&B. The crowd is younger, flyer and slightly more diverse. Perhaps the illest couple on the scene are Raymond and Michelle. Michelle's a fair-skinned, redheaded Valleyite, and is sportin' a low-cut, black-and-white top, while Raymond is from the Dominican Republic originally. Raymond is muscular, with wraparound shades and a short-sleeve mesh shirt that shows off his LL Cool J-like six-pack. Both say they've been to GCS before.
"The environment is really cool," says Michelle when Jett inquires as to why they come to GCS.
"Yes, they have everything here from '80s to country music," explains Raymond in his island accent.
"I love the way you talk," says the sometimes het Jett, getting frisky.
"Ha-ha, thank you, I love it, too," joshes Raymond. "I've been in the U.S. 10 years. Right now I'm in New York. This is my girlfriend, so I hope to be moving here [to Phoenix] soon."
While we're standing there, some dood walks up to Raymond like he's gonna ask for his autograph. The guy goes away disappointed when he learns Raymond isn't famous.
"That's because you look like a rock star," oozes the Jettster.
"I do my best," laughs Raymond. "Actually, I work as a cash manager, and my girlfriend is a nurse. I dress like this for her. She picked out these glasses for me."
"A hella-fine nurse with a passion for fashion," I remark. "You better move on out here, Ray, before I take her from you."
Ray laughs and promises to do just that. Jett spots a cute girlie in a white wedding gown who's making her way toward the exit, apparently looking for her groom. So we follow her out to the hallway and sideline her. She's Angela Hewitt from Chandler, and she just got married to her beau Rick Hewitt today at a church in Gilbert.
"We went to the reception dinner, and we were still partying afterward when it ended, so we decided to come here," parlays the booful bride, longneck in one hand. "Everybody wanted to go here, because there's something for everyone. My favorite's the Rockin Rodeo."
"So where's hubby?" queries Jett.
"I don't know where he's at right now," she replies, grinning and looking around.
"Was it a big wedding?" I wonder.
"Over 100 people."
"And are you two going on a honeymoon?"
"No, we decided to buy furniture instead," Hewitt tells us. "We furnished the whole house with brand-new everything."
"Sweet," I drawl, just like my hero Cartman on South Park. We congratulate Hewitt, and make our way to the last club on our list, the karaoke bar Alley Cats, which has a stage on one end, a bar on the other, and tables and chairs in the middle. Alley Cats sits in the center of GCS, with all the other clubs situated around it. The stage features paid performers and amateurs, and when we enter, it's American Idol time, with amateur Herbert Giddens belting out the George Strait tune "Blue Clear Sky." Usually, karaoke singers suck donkey. But Giddens' voice is exceptional, mellifluous, with a perfect country twang to it. I mean, y'all know, I'm no big fan of country, but Giddens is the Charley Pride of the Zona. If there's ever a person who should be reppin' us in Nashville, Mr. Giddens is that man.
"I'm 31 and I've been singing country music since I was 11 years old," explains the genial, African-American gent, who's a transportation officer at the Florence Correctional Center. "No matter how big the crowd, when I start singing, everyone stops and listens to what I have to say. That's respect."
"How did you become so passionate about country music?" asks Jett.
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"I'm the baby boy of five kids," he divulges. "And for some reason, my sister fell in love with country music. My mom had cable, with a country channel, and she had a rule that whoever had the TV, you had to watch what they watched in the living room until they changed it. My sister would sit there for hours, never leaving the room. I hated country at the time, but once I started listening to the words, I started to understand them, even at a young age.
"That's how I got into it. Then when I turned 21, I went to a karaoke bar, and my sister kept saying, 'Sing, sing!' Even though I loved it, I didn't want to sing in front of anyone else. But I didn't know them, and they didn't know me. So I sung the song, and everyone went crazy."
"Have you ever thought of going to Nashville?" I inquire.
"No," he shakes his head, thoughtfully. "I don't mind working for a living. Everybody has to. But I would love to sing country music for a living. Actually, I can't even sing R&B good."