I have the hardest time shopping for my dad. Every year, when I visit my parents in California for the holidays, he’s always the last person I buy for. Though I carry his phenotypes in my face, waist, and hairline, non-genetic similarities between us are difficult to find. I like music. He listens to talk radio. I love weed. He spent 27 years in law enforcement. I think it’s offensive that Sarah Palin “writes” books. He says, “Well, you obviously haven’t read any of them.” Not surprisingly, my dad collects guns, so gun-related gifts are a, uh, safe bet, which is why I found myself the other day rolling into Cheaper Than Dirt.

If you’re unfamiliar, Cheaper Than Dirt is a big gun store inside Loop 820 West, between Mark IV Parkway and I-35, a pocket of the city I’ve mentioned before for its unusual number of strip clubs. There are four of them, in case you’re wondering what constitutes “unusual,” though the term, of course, is relative. A resident of, say, Portland, Tampa, or Vegas would probably find four strip clubs in a square mile sadly deficient. Anyway, I walked around Cheaper Than Dirt for less than five minutes and left empty-handed. My dad already has tons of guns, and he makes his own holsters, and there’s no way my mom would let him leave the house with a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Gun Control Means Hitting Your Target,” not that he doesn’t already have that aphorism on a sign in the garage.

Failing in my mission, I decided to get a drink. I almost hit up Texas Cabaret, which advertised $1.50 beers and no cover ’til 3 p.m. It was 2:55, and I had a wad of cash on me, but imagining how little I’d have left after a few beers and lap dances steered me elsewhere, specifically a block west to Tumbleweeds Sports Bar.

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Seeing as how Tumbleweeds is near a bunch of topless bars, industrial-equipment rental places, truck depots, and the businesses that appeal to truck drivers (cheap motels, fast-food joints), I kind of expected it to be, well, seedy — the kind of place where you could probably find hourly companionship for rent if you were so inclined. But once I rounded the corner of the entryway wall, I discovered that Tumbleweeds was the opposite of sketchy. In fact, it was actually pretty nice. Clean, spacious, and staffed by a couple of affable bartenders, Tumbleweeds turned out to be way better than I could’ve hoped.

In addition to dartboards, six pool tables, Golden Tee, Big Buck Hunter, and an air hockey table, Tumbleweeds also has bar trivia and poker. (The remotes are behind the bar. Just ask your bartender for one.) My Budweiser was only $2.50, and the bar, an expanse of maple that seemed half a football field long, was populated by friendly blue-collar folks who had ducked in out of the cold. One was a long-haul trucker from Oregon who blew in and ordered a double shot of tequila and a tall draft. In his late 50s, sporting a biker’s do-rag and a handlebar mustache, he looked like he’d come straight from Central Casting, rather than the Days Inn nearby. I shot the shit with him for a little while. He was from Anaheim originally, grew up surfing, saw Zeppelin at the Forum in ’75. Apparently, Keith Moon had shown up during the middle of Bonzo’s drum solo to guest on tympani –– the performance concluded in typically Moony fashion when he started stabbing his drumheads with his sticks.

The bartender asked me what I’d been doing, and I told her about my abortive shopping trip and of Cheaper Than Dirt’s cringe-inducing, trigger-happy t-shirt selection. “Oh,” she said, giving me an appraising look. “You must not be from around here.”

I smiled ruefully. “Not originally,” I said. I wished the trucker good luck, got in my car, and entered 820’s traffic, deciding to take the long way home, heading west into the waning light. –– Steve Steward

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