I turned 36 on Monday, and to celebrate I decided to go to Hurricane Harbor with a few friends, because, clearly, that’s what four grown men should do on a friend’s birthday. I’d never been to Hurricane Harbor. In fact, the last time I’d been to a water park of any sort was in, what, 1993? Two things stuck out about my long-delayed return: 1.) Your reentry hand stamp has a very limited lifespan; and 2.) Hurricane Harbor sells beer. Also, did you know that when you haven’t been to a water park in over two decades, the view from the landing at the top of that giant blue-and-yellow cone thing that’s visible from the freeway is more than a little terrifying?
I got over it. Eventually. It took me until the end of the day to get the nerve to try the other terror visible from the freeway, the trio of slides in the park’s southwest corner. Of course the prospect of plummeting seven stories down a narrow, shallow channel of teeth-clenching doom is way more harrowing now for me than it was 25 years ago. These three half-tunnels of terror are named Der Stuka, Geronimo, and Divebomb, but that’s probably only because “Suislides” was too on the nose. But Divebomb I did. Two times, even, after which I was ready for The Lazy River (or what cynics might call Pee Pee Slough). We floated only half the circuit, exiting after a lifeguard informed us that the park was closing. I was not done for the day, however, which is why we found ourselves at Hooters. I mean, where else would you go after celebrating your grown-ass birthday at a water park?
In hindsight, I should have gone with my gut and driven a mile west to Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill. Even from a thematic perspective, Bikinis would’ve made better sense, but Hooters is right there on Collins Street, you know? And even though I’ve been to Hooters many, many times and even though every one of those trips has ended with me wondering why I keep coming back, I still found myself pulling into the parking lot.
“EXCUSE OUR MESS,” read a sign by the door. The sign meant to be literal, I suppose, and, indeed, there was evidence of a remodel in progress. But central to all of my experiences eating and drinking at Hooters is the vague feeling of disregard, as if entering the door guarantees that I will spend lots of money, regardless of whether I enjoy myself.
Of course, Hooters is designed around “fun,” from the staff’s notoriously tacky yet unrefined uniforms to the Big Daddy beer steins, but for some reason, that design still manages to put the onus of having a good time on the customer. I say this because the service at every Hooters I’ve ever been to is, at best, indifference masked to various degrees by servers’ forced friendliness, a parade of tired perma-smiles betrayed by jaded eyes.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard that Hooters servers make a lot of money, which makes me wonder if the apathy is a result of taking that dough for granted. Then again, as I watched a sour middle-aged man with an imperious demeanor chat with a waitress, I realized that if I had to make nice with guys like that all day, I’d probably have pretty jaded eyes myself. Still, when you’re a sunbaked and chlorine-crusty customer who wants nothing more than to rehydrate with a couple of huge Budweiser drafts, you shouldn’t have to send up a signal flare. I’ll pay extra for the privilege of drinking overpriced macrobrews in the presence of chesty women pretending to be my friend, but at least ask me if I want another beer while there’s still a little C2H5OH floating around in my blood. I guess the easiest thing to do is to just buy beers at Hurricane Harbor, preferably between your last ascent up an endlessly spiraling staircase and your final float to the end of the day. — Steve Steward
1800 E Lamar Blvd, Arlington. 817-265-3356.
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