Three of the rooms had zero dittoheads in attendance, and one had just a single couple parked in front of the large-screen TV (Channel 12 reruns Limbaugh's television show at 11:30 every morning as a lead-in to his megapopular, three-hour radio show, carried locally by KFYI-AM). The most populated Rush Room had a whopping attendance of four people, who, by appearances, were as interested in the all-you-can-eat buffet (chicken cordon bleu patties, Cajun meat loaf, sweet and sour chicken) as they were in He Who Talks.
If the results of this survey can be trusted--a moot point with Rush's media-despising followers--it's the first indication so far that Limbaugh may not be en route to total world domination. Limbaugh's syndicated radio show is the most successful venture of its kind, ever, and is single-handedly turning its carriers into ratings giants. Rush's daily half-hour TV show has been a lollapalooza, as well, quickly attracting a huge audience of couch-potato conservatives who can't get enough of their gay-, feminist-, liberal-, environmentalist-bashing hero.
And The Way Things Ought to Be, Rush's book, refuses to fall off best-seller lists. One caller to Limbaugh's radio program last week postulated that the tome's recent rebound in sales is attributable to followers buying graduation presents--to fill what Limbaugh deems young "skulls full of mush."
Speaking of mush, there are also the Rush Rooms. These enterprises began springing up around the country in recent months, allegedly to give Limbaugh lunatics a place to commune, show off their polyester duds and cackle along with their leader. The rooms have been hailed as yet another manifestation of the steamrolling Limbandwagon.
To test this last notion, we started in the far-west Valley and drove east, visiting all of the local Rush Rooms in one day, during the prime Rush hours of 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. We learned that all five of the local Rush Rooms serve Snapple, a brand of beverage advertised heavily on Limbaugh's show. All serve food of some kind. And all were all but empty May 18, known to Rush's Bill-'n'-Hillary-hating followers as America Held Hostage, Day 119. Our report: Mallaro's Crestview Restaurant, Lounge and Ballroom 19051 R.H. Johnson Boulevard, Sun City West
The denizens of the Sun Cities--retired military types, retired business types, retired conservative types--would seem to be prime candidates for membership in the Cult of Rush. At 11:45 on a weekday morning, visitors would expect to see this Rush Room filled with gray dittoheads, gearing up for three hours of Rushmania. Visitors would be wrong. The Crestview, located just down the hill from the giant Sundome theatre, is one of several massive dining-and-drinking establishments serving Sun City and Sun City West. Rush Room festivities are contained in the Crestview's bar, a lush little room that hosts cocktail-lounge entertainment and dancing on weekend evenings. On the morning of our visit, though, two couples talked over lunch at a table far from the big screen, while one old gent quietly tackled a club sandwich at the bar. Only two patrons, a couple dressed in complementary tennis ensembles, appeared to be interested in what Rush was saying on the big screen (an attack on right-to-die advocates, a favorite target). "It's not really rushing," said Crestview boss Tom Mallaro of his Rush Room, which has been in operation for about six weeks. "It's created some business. Some days I might have ten or 12, up to 20 people. Sometimes it's just two or four." La Perla Cafe
5912 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale Just a short, unpleasant drive down glamorous Grand Avenue--accompanied by the loping bass line of Rush's opening theme music, a Pretenders "B" side called "My City Was Gone"--sits La Perla, a Glendale institution and one of the Valley's premier Mexican restaurants. La Perla's Rush Room is La Perla's bar, which in a few hours would fill up with Phoenix Suns fans and which on weekends fills up with people who come to dance and party to Mexican bands. At half past noon (12:45 by the bar's clock), the corner bandstand was empty and the bar was occupied by two bearded men drinking beer at one end of the bar, a bartender behind it and us at the other end. Rush played quietly over the PA system, although nobody appeared to be listening. MTV played soundlessly on the TV screens around the room, though nobody appeared to be watching. Approximately 30 colorful fish swam in the tank behind the bar. Exactly four Spanish-speaking guys played pool in the game room. One woman fed quarters into a video game. "What do you think of this Rush Limbaugh guy?" asked the bartender of the bearded beer drinkers. "I dunno," said one, his response surrounded by several seconds of contemplative silence. "Three hours of talkin' ain't easy." According to manager Gloria Pompa, La Perla was the Valley's Rush Room pioneer. "We were the first, the original," she said. "They used to come from Scottsdale. They came in to have lunch and listen." Business boomed until other restaurants caught on to the gimmick, Pompa adds. La Perla's room still attracts "maybe 20 customers, on average," she said. "It varies." Kricket's
401 North First Street
Several more six-way, five-minute stoplights down Grand Avenue sat downtown Phoenix and the downtown Ramada Inn, home to Kricket's, a restaurant, lounge and Rush Room. Accompanied by the Rushmeister himself (after an opening shot at Hillary Rodham Clinton's new hairdo, he had moved on to shoot at her husband's tax plan), we made the trip in time for a 1 p.m. arrival at Kricket's. Which was, as we had come to expect, eerily quiet. One table appeared to be littered with the remnants of a dittohead brunch (four empty bottles of Snapple, all the plates clean, not a single uneaten French fry in sight) and a couple of guys brooded at the bar, but there were otherwise no visible signs here that Rush Limbaugh mattered. Rush wasn't even playing on the PA. "No Rush?" we asked a harried waiter, while surveying the room's many empty tables.
"The radio," he said, scooting off to do something. "It's broken." Fibber's
7043 East McDowell, Scottsdale
In less than two hours, we had visited an upscale lunchroom for geriatrics in Sun City, an authentico Mexican restaurant in Glendale and a hotel bar in downtown Phoenix. The next logical destination, then, was a country-western disco in Scottsdale. The Rush Room here was set up in a side area, away from the dance floor. Two couples occupied most of the dark space on Day 119, while Rush's voice--booming over the PA system--filled the rest. Country videos played on TV screens around the club, and the music filled the big room next door. While we diners made repeated trips to the all-you-can-eat, steam-table buffet (a Rush Room exclusive, at $4.95), Rush questioned a caller about the meaning of morality. We questioned Heidi Haase, not officially the manager of Fibber's, but someone who takes calls when the manager is out, about how Fibber's picked up on the Rush Room concept. It was a couple of months ago, she said, at the suggestion of a customer. "Some guy came in and told us about it," said Haase (pronounced "Hoss"). "Our lunches were kind of slow." Rush sparked plenty of lunch business at first, Haase said, though the Rush rush has started to ease. "On a typical day, we average about 30 lunches. It's been slow this week." Not slow, said Haase, has been Fibber's sales of specially made Rush Room tee shirts. "I can't believe how much we sell."
Neither could we. Sir George's Royal Buffet
1744 West Main, Mesa
We arrived here at 2 p.m., and the Rush Room, a clean, well-lighted banquet space behind the buffet line, was completely unoccupied. A large-screen TV, mounted at one side of the room, was black. Below it, an 8 x 10 glossy of Sir Rush looked out on several dozen completely empty seats. The sound of Limbaugh's voice, still talking about Bill Clinton's budget, bounced off the green-and-white-striped walls and out into the main dining area, which still held several customers. Without making a mad Rush to judgment, it seemed as if Limbaug-eddon had struck, wiping dittoheads from a part of the map--the conservative East Valley--that should show a high population of rabid Rushdies.
Despite chilling evidence to the contrary, Sir George's manager, Mark Starley, claimed his Rush Room is an unqualified success. "We get 20 to 30 customers a day, Monday through Friday. It kind of slows down after 1 to 1:30, because people have to go back to work," Starley said, perhaps suggesting that Rush is not popular among the coveted unemployed-welfare-dependent demographic group.
The only chink in Sir George's armor came when a group of "Democratic ladies" who had been meeting in the back banquet room arrived one day to find a portrait of their archenemy mounted on the wall, Starley said. "They were kind of mad. But we moved em to another room, and everything is okay now.