I love coincidences. Even if you think of them as the random convergence of completely unrelated trajectories, they’re still pretty cool. I thought about this on Sunday, because I heard sirens go by while a guy at a bar told a story about a fire.
I’d been sitting at home sifting through my records, having finally gotten around to hooking up an old stereo I’d acquired. I had Abbey Road in one hand and The Adolescents’ self-titled debut in the other, and it occurred to me that organizing one’s record collection in any way other than alphabetically by artist is kind of a pain in the ass. I put Abbey Road back in the B’s and noted that I probably need to buy “The White Album.”
The first side contains “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” one of my all-time favorite songs (and my main motivation for owning the LP), but it was “The Continuing Saga of Bungalow Bill” that popped into my head as I headed out the door to kill time before I had to go to work. This chick I knew in high school used to sing it during freshman English, and she’d added me on Facebook that afternoon; between her and my musings on Beatles records, I drove around asking the titular Bill, “Why did you kill?”
Swinging through Westworth Village and onto White Settlement Road, I headed east without a destination, but at the corner of White Settlement and Roberts Cut Off was this place I’d passed countless times, a dilapidated icehouse called The Bungalow. Of course I pulled over.
The building sported window-unit air conditioners and a faded facade, the bar’s name painted in red above the cheery, eerie tagline “Ladies welcome!” Behind the building was perhaps the hottest-looking patio I’ve ever seen, its fiberglass picnic tables desperately awaiting the shade from one of the (low-lying) nearby structures. From outside, I could hear people laughing. It sounded like a big crowd, but when I opened the door, there were only six folks inside, including a white-haired bartender named Cowboy and a guy with a handlebar mustache apparently named Big Boy.
As Cowboy cracked jokes across the bar from Big Boy, I sat down and asked for a beer. I noted the thick vinyl pad on the edge of the bartop, the absence of liquor bottles, one sign that said, “Cash only” and another that put the kibosh on open tabs. I laughed, listening to these two dudes crack each other up for an hour or so over the busy electronic din of some video poker machines near the door. Every so often, the woman playing them would chime in with a detail relevant to one of Big Boy’s stories, one of which had to do with the kitchen fire that burned part of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro.
Noticing that my shirt advertised local hip-hop act Rivercrest Yacht Club, Big Boy recalled another famous fire, one that burned much of Rivercrest Country Club in the mid-1980s. As he described the damage, I heard the throaty blast of a fire engine’s horn against the wail of its siren, dropping in pitch as it Dopplered into the west. Big Boy didn’t seem to notice, but I sure did. I wondered if I’d hear some fire-related news on the radio when I got back in the car.
I ordered another Budweiser and listened to Cowboy talk Vietnam-era body armor. (He’d been in the Marines, back when bullet-proof vests weren’t made of Kevlar.) On the TV, Independence Day had reached that scene where Jeff Goldblum demonstrates how to penetrate the force-field on a captured alien spacecraft. Cowboy finished his story.
“Body armor’s come a long way,” he said.
Big Boy chuckled. “Don’t matter, if they shoot you in the head.”
I glanced up to the movie right when a character shoots a Coke can off the ramp of the newly vulnerable ship.
My cash ran out after two beers, so I said my goodbyes and got in my car, hoping I’d hear “Smoke on the Water” when I turned on the radio. Van Halen came on instead, and I headed toward town looking for the meaning of “Panama.” –– Steve Steward
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