Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Elite Fleet Hits the Road

I ran around with Paul and Steve throughout the 80s. Sometimes other friends or the guys we dated came along. Most the time it was just the three of us.

Steve rarely dated or hooked up. It wasn't that he couldn't, he just wasn't interested. He'd rather just drink and dance. You could tell the time by the number of buttons undone on his shirt.

Paul was the ringleader. We were all at least a little bit in love with him. We went wherever he wanted to go and did whatever he wanted to do.

A lot of it was his attitude. Paul was arrogant, cocky, and sure of himself. He was very gay, but not the least bit effeminate. He never told his parents he was gay but brought his lover home with him for the holidays. Somehow, it never came up.

Lexington's 1 a.m. closing time never slowed us down. After the bars closed we'd hop in Steve's car and head to either Louisville or Cincinnati. Both had a Badlands that stayed open until 3 or 4 in the morning.

The Cincinnati Badlands was my favorite. It was a huge complex. Just inside the entrance was the leather/cowboy bar. From there you passed through a little anteroom with a jukebox into the piano bar then down two ramps to the stainless steel dance floor. There were cocktail tables and restrooms on the landing between the ramps, and a basement level that opened up for after-hours.

We'd dare each other to walk all the way around the leather bar. You had to squeeze between two rows of big scary-looking guys wearing leather harnesses, chains, and ass-less chaps. Guys like them ate guys like us for breakfast.

Paul wasn't the least bit afraid. Steve and I would hit the dance floor while he flirted with the leather dudes and cowboys. He was so consistent about his type we called anyone he ever liked Jed Clampett.

Most of the time, when the bars closed we headed home. Before leaving town, whether in Louisville or Cincinnati, we always stopped at White Castles to load up for the ride. The sun was usually coming up as we hit the parking lot at The Cloisters.

Now and then one of us would meet someone and want to stay. With one car and no cell phones, staying could get complicated. Sometimes two of us would share a hotel room while the other went home with his new friend. Sometimes a hotel wasn't needed.

Whatever we did required an extremely high level of cooperation and coordination. Phone numbers had to be written down and deadlines determined. Over time we learned to agree on the consequences for missing important deadlines ahead of time, too.

One weekend Steve and I stayed in a hotel room while Paul went home with a friend. The plan was for Paul to call us at the hotel before check-out to arrange a place for us to pick him up. He never called. Steve had to work so we hit the road and returned to Lexington without him.

When we got to Lexington there were furious messages from Paul on answering machines all over town. Since Steve had to work, I had to go get him. Great.

Trauma car wasn't interstate-worthy. I forget what was wrong with Paul's camaro. It was bad enough we never took it anywhere. Steve's car was the only option.

I dropped Steve off where he worked and headed to Louisville in his beat-up Chevrolet Impala. The speedometer didn't work. You just went with traffic and kept your fingers crossed.

Paul chewed me out all the way back to Lexington. Somehow it was my fault he didn't call the hotel before we had to check out. Yeah, he was a little self-centered, but we loved him anyway.

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