What better place to cure that hunger than in a place named the Roadrunner in a godforsaken desert? The Roadrunner has been a fixture for decades, and I'm excited to experience the real Scottsdale — before the breast augmentation and face lift. I want to feed off the scarred, gnawed-raw nipples that weaned this town. I'm also stoked that my buddy and drinking prophet Craig has joined me on this special night.
Craig and I spot a "cocktails" sign in an old strip mall just north of Thomas on Hayden Road. We get out of the car and hear some music coming from an open door under a large, white, lighted sign that says ROADRUNNER, framed by large martini glasses. This must be the place.
Craig says, "Damn, it has a window! Does this really constitute being a dive?" Good question, but I'm not sure it technically qualifies as a "window." It's a 4-by-2-foot stained-glass desert scene of a roadrunner, and it's protected by steel bars.
We step inside — and back 30 years — to a better place and time, when folks were drinking gin martinis and doing rails off toilet seats, when the locals actually liked Scottsdale. This place is long and narrow with the bar to the right and a couple of high-top tables to the left, with huge mirrors on all sides to try and give the place a bigger look. It's dark and cozy and graced year-round by strings of lights in the shapes of chili peppers, mini tequila bottles, and martini glasses. There is even a bottle of Belvedere vodka that has been converted to a lamp next to the register; I feel as though I'm getting ready to party down in someone's basement.
Craig is starving, so we order some snacks. We get a bag of pistachios and a bag of cashews and I go for some muy sabor pork rinds. I jokingly ask Jay the Seasoned Barkeep if he has any mayonnaise. Unexpectedly, Jay says, "Hold on," and disappears into the walk-in fridge behind the taps — and returns with a half-full jar. Holy shit, I was joking, but he gives me a knife (and he went to the trouble) so I slather up my rinds and, damn, if I ain't eatin' like a Posh Pig. I get some stares, but man, that shit's tasty . . . this earns the place some large Pig Points!
At this juncture, we need booze, and Jay fixes us up with two drinks: a vodka OJ for me and a vodka press for Craig. As Craig puts it, "Jay has a strong forearm." I concur — the color of my drink is light yellow (no more crappy mimosas). We toast to drinking real liquor again and let it fly. I am lost in euphoria to be in this homey bar with Craig.
Craig tells me in his usual upbeat way that health has more to do with happiness then anything else. "Man, there are studies that prove that happy people live longer and are healthier . . . dude, it's a quality-of-life thing."
He's right and, shit, he's always happy. I can never tell which is bigger, his liver or his heart. So, WTF: We order another round and the jukebox kicks in for another song. Craig goes out to the smoking area and I get lost in my drink until I hear the chorus blaring, "And this bird you can't change . . . Ohhhhh, Lord knows I can't chaaaange." I chuckle at the absurd tackiness and irony that I'm back on the road to drinking, listening to "Free Bird" in a bar named after a bird. I laugh out loud and ease into the evening.
There are plenty of games, including an old table-top Pac-Man, a Golden Tee game, electronic darts, and a pool table in the back, which has better lighting — so you can see the shitty photo collages that line the walls all the way to the small restrooms. The men's room is clean but stinks like urinal cake and pisswater. It has a sit-down shitter and a wall john with no divider between the two. The women's room is just about the same except it has a stall with a door. (I know because I pissed in there, too. I even sat down.)
I emerge from the bathroom and blend right in with the middle-aged crowd of mostly couples and a few old men. The place even has one super-hot girl playing pool. As Craig aptly puts it, "If she's 21, it's by a couple of hours." I start wondering if I could fake being a photographer, or if she'd fit in my trunk (let a pig have his fantasy).
I finally end up out back, chillin' in the makeshift smoking area that looks out onto a big empty parking lot — like all good dives, a secret area to park your car out of view of the road. Damn, I'm better than this; from now on, I'm going to park out back. Not that I need to hide from anything. Or anyone. Or that blue Nova with the bald tires and the human skull dangling from the rear-view mirror.
This small smoking area has a big mural on the block wall — a mural of a beach with a roadrunner sitting in a lounge chair smoking a cig and drinking a Bud. I finally feel as relaxed as that bird when it occurs to me: Sometimes in life you need to just kick back and take it easy. Freedom is maybe found in moderation because if you don't slow down once in a while to soak in some happiness, then that Wile E. Coyote is gonna get ya! Beep! Beep!