Well, let me start by saying that the hole in question used to be called the Copper Coin and, back in its day, it was my favorite dive in town. The old place had booths, an oil painting of a naked lady, and thousands of pennies, embedded in Lucite — like those kitschy tourist paperweights of scorpions frozen in synthetic clear domes — down the length of the bar.
The Coin was a place with old bartenders named Gloria who'd give you gum before you drove home. The Coin holds many fond memories of girls dancing on the bar with old guys who had huge knives strapped to their legs. Memories of almost getting my ass kicked by three construction workers in the restroom, dudes trying to give me weed at the pool table, and my car almost being stolen from the parking lot! Needless to say, I'm always glad to pay a visit to the old haunt to see how it's changed, and to create some new memories.
So it's 4 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, and it's hotter then hell; what better place to feel like you're in the Old West then historic downtown Gilbert? This small stretch of Gilbert Road north of Guadalupe, just south of Elliot, is home to many small businesses with tacky faux-Western façades that remind you of Tombstone, minus the dusty dirt road and swaggering, drunken tourists.
One such business is the home of Champions Sports Saloon. There is no parking in front, so I pull around back and wait for my buddy to show.
I can't help but laugh as I sit in my car and admire the makeshift smoking area erected in back. One thing is for sure: The place is still owned by a typical dive bar owner — a cheap-ass, ruthless penny pincher. Upon closer inspection, the smoking section is a portable canvas carport supported by thin metal poles that are sunk in concrete-filled 15-gallon plastic buckets. Under the canvas, I see a few picnic benches and an old man smoking a fag in the sweltering shade. Going to The Office is probably a good excuse to just fucking quit smoking!
I disregard the old guy and walk in through the wide-open back door. I hear a creepy echo in my head: "Shut the door, are you trying to air-condition the whole neighborhood?" I shake the shrill parental voice of the past and realize that the door is open because the A/C isn't on. Are you kidding me?
I sit down (it's semi-cool and humid, thanks to swamp coolers) and kindly ask, "What the fuck is up with the A/C?" The innocent-looking bartender, Victoria, laughs and informs me that the A/C never gets turned on — not ever! Holy cheap-ass bastard is the only thing that comes to mind; business must be bad. I guess it's tough enough to get folks to drink and drive nowadays and, hell, how many of this joint's working-class clientele can really afford to drink with gas prices all sky high?
This becomes apparent because there are only six other folks in the place, mostly old men hunkered down for a brew in an ice-cold mug. I'm guessing all the folks in here are locals, and they'll put up with the heat in exchange for the cheap drinks: $2 for cocktails and about the same for brews. Time to drink your face off!
I wonder whether anyone would mind if I were to take my pants off? (Hey, let a pig have his fantasy.)
My longtime friend Zep shows and we start reminiscing and pounding drinks. I order my fourth bourbon press, and Zep is on his third Bud when I switch to water backs. I'm not sure whether it's the heat in the place or just that it's plain depressing, but I'm in no hurry to get smashed tonight. Zep mentions that they have a new Family Guy pinball game, and I'm psyched to see a Buck Hunter Pro. We both agree we'll come back just to play a bunch of the games.
So here it is — I'm glad to be back in the Coin! I'm not psyched about the plethora of TVs and the NASCAR cronies they attract, but I'm glad to see that the old bar with thousands of pennies frozen in some space-age synthetic goo is still here. In fact, the bar is plenty sticky and gross; it feels like whatever the pennies are stuck in is finally deteriorating from years of booze. Shit, I wonder what it's doing to my insides!
I take one last scan around the old haunt and figure the main sport they play in the place is darts. The bar is long and narrow with one whole wall devoted to five standup electronic dartboards. If you want to play darts, well, this is the place for you. Besides the darts, there are two pool tables to lose your money at, as well.
Zep and I stick around 'til the night shift appears — and, lo and behold, it's Lauren from the good ol' days! We have a few good laughs and talk about who's married now, who has kids, who's in jail. I feel as though I've aged plenty — I'm fatter and more an asshole then ever. Zep is moving forward with his family and successful career, and Lauren is as sexy as the day we first met her, nearly a decade ago.
It's time to go, and I can't shake the longing of wanting to be one of those pennies, just sitting — frozen in time, in a bar with drinks and laughs and unfinished dreams — as though a single day hadn't gone by.