Suki’s behind the bar, eating cocktail weenies out of a can.
“Gimme your sheets,” she says. We hand over our Monster Crawl checklists and she slams her rubber stamp down. “You staying over?”
“We’re at the Anchor,” says Grimlock. “Car’s not moving till tomorrow.”
To show her approval, Suki sets us up with some kind of Korean liquor. Tastes like plums and rubbing alcohol, and I’m not sure how it’ll mix with my rabies vaccine.
I don’t actually have rabies. What happened is a bat flew into my bedroom. When I woke up it was fluttering over my face, leaving tiny bat scratches with its tiny bat claws. To me this seemed like a perfectly normal pastime for a bat, but my doctor disagreed. He thought maybe it was rabid and insisted I get vaccinated. When I asked him if I could drink beer on rabies shots he frowned with deep disappointment and said, “Would it make any difference if I told you no?”
So here I am at Survivors Club, a brew and a shot in, feeling mellow, but a bit lightheaded. It’s a lazy, early in the Crawl moment—pleasant buzz, plenty of time. Suki pokes way down in the tin can with her fork and spears a pink weenie. She admires it for a second then chomps it in half.
A guy in a tank-top staggers through the door, waving his checklist and a lit cigarette. There’s a mullet hanging out the back of his Browns cap and it’s not one of those nuevo hipster jobs. Vintage ’88 at least.
“Oh, no,” says Suki. “No booze for you.”
“Needta getta shirt,” he slurs, laying his list on the bar.
Suki pulls a Lake Erie Monster Crawl t-shirt from behind the register. “Here. Take it.”
“No, ma’am. Hafta earn a shlirt. One drink every bar. Rules. Principle of the thing.”
“You’re too drunk. Just take the shirt.”
“Not till I earn it!”
He lurches towards us, red in the face, stabbing his finger around. “Got money. Money for everybody. Whatever you want, dudes.”
He tosses some bills at Suki. She sighs and gets us all drafts. The guy slaps me on the back.
“Easy,” says Grimlock. “He’s got rabies.”
The guy howls like a dog. “Me too! Ow, ow, ooooh!” After Suki stamps his sheet, he stumbles out, hollering, “Woo hoo! Got the rabie-scabies! Crawl on, dudes!”
A retired-looking couple down the bar laughs. “Geneva-on-the-Lake,” says the male half. “Redneck Riviera.” They’re both wearing white and red visors. The lady’s says Ohio State, the man’s, MerCruiser. “You should see this place when they have the biker rally,” he says. “What’s it called?”
“Thunder on the Strip,” says Suki.
“Yeah. Total trash train from one end of town to the other. God knows what holes those A-holes climb out of.”
“We’re here for Pat Dailey,” I say. “He’s playing Sportsterzs at five.”
“Pat Dailey,” moans the lady. “Didn’t like him when he was at the Beer Barrel and don’t like him now. Pat Dailey. God. He must be a hundred years old.”
I tell her Pat Dailey is a legend and that he’s only seventy-something.
“A legend. Sure. In his own mind. A-haw-haw-haw!”
We drain our drafts and say goodbye to Suki. “Remember,” she says, “you don’t have to finish the whole list in one day.”
“We do,” I say. “It’s the principle of the thing.”
After a couple longnecks at the Cove, we backtrack to Mike’s Bermuda Triangle, where we drink our beers and get our stamps from a surly old woman who smells like fish chowder. Don Ho is on the juke: “Oh the nightlife ain’t no good life, ah but it’s my life.”
Grimlock takes my photo next to a life-size naked lady picture on the back wall. This lady must’ve been painted sometime in the late ‘70s because her hair is feathered like an extra on Charlie’s Angels.
The soup-smelling woman is not amused by our photo session. Who knows, maybe that’s her in the painting? Forty years behind a bar can be rough on the complexion. And other things. “You got your stamps,” she says. “Now get going.”
“Goodbye,” says Grimlock, waving as we leave. “We’ll miss you naked lady!”
When we get to the GOTL Brewing Co. the wind is picking up and there are whitecaps on the lake. We sit outside drinking Irish Reds, looking out over the water.
“Angry seas,” says Grimlock.
“She’s taken better sailors than you, my friend.”
Grimlock belches and rubs his chin contemplatively. “Do you think there’s really a Lake Erie Monster?”
I kick a stone off the bank; it tumbles into the muddy surf. “Bessie? Sure. Haven’t seen her, but sometimes she talks to me when I’m out there fishing. Only during an east wind. Kind of a low murmur.”
“Never heard it. Must be your new bat senses kicking in.”
By the time Pat Dailey starts his set at Sportsterz we’ve got over half the checklist finished. We snag a table up in front of the outdoor stage and order a heap of chicken and beer. Pat has a bandage on his forearm. White hair, white beard, but still sprightly, strumming an amped acoustic and prowling the stage. He plays all the classics: “Out Drinkin’,” “Legend of the Lake,” “I’ve Got to be Drunk to do That.” He even does “Plano Joe—” five full minutes of continuous word flow without a single blown lyric. He might be old, but he sure isn’t senile.
A younger fan, about our age, sees us singing along and comes over. “You like Pat Dailey?” he shouts over the music. “We love Pat Dailey!” I shout back. The guy gets all excited. “He’s the best! The BEST! What about Westside Steve? He’s playing at the winery later.”
“Westside Steve’s here too? Incredible.”
“He’s the second best! The SECOND BEST!”
Pat goes into “Perfect Woman” and a couple college girls join him onstage, balancing full cups of beer on their head. “I want a rich, dumb, young nymphomaniac, who’ll ride me around in her Cadillac. When she’s not on her knees she’ll be flat on her back. I want a rich, dumb, young nymphomaniac.”
After the show we say howdy to Pat, ask about his arm (“Ah, that’s nothin’.”), and get some pics with the Coolest Son-of-a-Bitch in the World. Then it’s over to the Swiss Chalet, a club I wrote up years ago as nightlife columnist for the Erie Times-News. You can still find yellowed clippings of my articles in taverns across the tristate, moldering away on bathroom walls, pinned to corkboards behind jars of pickled eggs.
We sit in the dark bar, surrounded by dark wood, studying the antique steins and bottles on the shelf. “Is that a Howdy Doody decanter?” says Grimlock.
“Mortimer Snerd,” I say. “One of Edgar Bergen’s dummies.”
“You’re one of Edgar Bergen’s dummies.”
He hits the head, and I drink alone in the shadows, trying to determine how much of my buzz is beer and how much is rabies vaccine. A bat would love the Swiss Chalet. Old European woodwork, riddled with nooks and crannies. So many places to hide. Just as I’m about to spread my wings, Grimlock returns.
“Hey,” he says. “I was wondering something at the urinal in there.”
“Clear discharge, chlamydia. Green, gonorrhea.”
“Seriously. I was thinking maybe Pat Dailey has been a bad influence on us. All that nymphomaniac stuff. Women don’t like those songs.”
“Working blue is an old nightclub tradition. It’s all tongue-in-cheek. You think those college-educated young ladies would be up there on stage with him if they thought he was serious?”
Some tech people come into the barroom and start setting up karaoke junk. I take an extra pull on my beer—have to get out before the singing starts. Should be just enough time to give Grimlock my Pat Dailey speech.
“Pat isn’t a legend for his dirty humor. He’s a legend because of ‘The Great Lakes Song.’ ‘Here in the North.’ ‘Vermilion.’ ‘Put-In-Bay’.”
“‘Here Comes the Cold’.”
“Exactly. He writes anthems about where we live, what we do. Partying on the islands, getting caught in a gale out on the lake, closing up the cottage for winter, fishing through the ice… If it wasn’t for Pat who would be our voice? Kid Rock?”
“Kid Rock did catch walleye off the dock.”
“And sang ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ while he did it. What a pud.”
The first karaoke star steps up to the mic and starts in on “Don’t Stop Believin’.” We’re out the door before he hits the chorus. After quick Buds at Yankies and the Sandy Chanty, we chart a course for the Old Firehouse Winery.
It’s night now and the joints on the strip are aglow. Eddie’s is packed. “Jailhouse Rock” blasts out of the jukebox and people spill onto the sidewalk, munching foot-longs. Hotrods and motorcycles tool by, mufflers growling. Skee balls clunk in the arcade, pinball machines chatter. Gangs of kids shove and trip their way to the Ferris wheel. It could easily be 1957.
Sure enough, Westside Steve is at the winery, sitting out back under a trellis, picking away. He’s singing “The Battle of Lake Erie.” Everyone is clapping along. The libations are flowing and there’s sporadic, tipsy dancing. Blue collar folk cutting loose. After “Back on Put-In-Bay” Steve takes a break and heads for the bar. His long red hair has acquired some gray streaks since we saw him last.
“Everybody’s getting older,” says Grimlock. “Most of the guys we went to school with have wives and kids now.”
“I know. It’s sad. But they probably deserve it.”
Westside Steve comes back with a glass of wine and plops down on his seat. When the glass is empty, he picks up his guitar and starts taking requests. Everyone yells.
As Steve goes into Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right,” this tall, tan girl comes over, grabs me by the shoulders, and pulls me onto the dance floor. She’s at least as intoxicated as I am, but we do pretty well, twirling and dipping and rubbing body parts. When Steve sings “It might just be a looooon-a-tic you’re looking for,” she really goes wild, breaking loose and doing some kind of unhinged spin-o-rama. It reminds me of Denis Savard, the great Chicago Blackhawks center, which isn’t who I want to be thinking about when I’m dancing with a girl. Grimlock is getting down too, though he looks a bit lethargic and is having trouble keeping up with his partner.
After the song ends, the tall girl leans against me, her arm around my waist. We’re both sweating and breathing heavily. I ask her where she’s from and she says Boston. I tell her I have a sister in Boston. She asks me where.
She laughs. “SLUMMERville!”
“So how did you end up here?”
“We’re driving to Cleveland, but we had to stop and jump in the lake! It’s so freaking hot!”
Steve plays a tune neither of us like, so she heads back to her table to grab her wine. As she’s going, I say, “Come drink with us! We’re doing the Monster Crawl!” She says, “We had to jump in the lake! Jump in the LAKE!”
Meanwhile, Grimlock has crashed out on a picnic table. He’s wheezing. Westside Steve sees him and says, “Dang, man. I thought you were in there with her. What happened?”
“I’m fat,” says Grimlock.
“So am I,” says Steve.
“Yeah,” says Grimlock, “but you have a guitar.”
The crowd cracks up. When I look back at the tables, my dance partner is gone.
It’s 1:30 when we reach the High Tide, last stop on the Monster Crawl checklist. We’re drunk and disheveled, stink like sweat and suds. The bartender says we can’t sit at the bar…that all those empty stools are reserved. We order a couple pounders, get our final stamps, and claim our t-shirts. Bessie, the Lake Erie Monster, is emblazoned on the front. She’s water skiing, holding the rope in one claw and a draft beer in the other.
We sit in a booth, but I feel like fluttering around in the dusky corners where no one can see me. Grimlock lays his shirt out on the table.
“You’re going to spill beer on that,” I say.
Three minutes later he spills beer on it. This is followed by a period of silent despondency. Then, abruptly: “Hey. I don’t want to grow old in these bars like Pat Dailey and Westside Steve.”
“You won’t,” I say. “Your liver’s already on borrowed time.”
This doesn’t improve his mood. “I’m kidding, man. We’re just beer drinkers—your liver is fine.” He chugs off the rest of his brew and says, “Hell with it.”
I’m getting tired. Where would a bat roost in the High Tide? Ceiling’s no good. Too smooth. Nothing to cling to. Maybe back by the dartboard. Or under the pool table. Have to find someplace good before the sun comes up.
Grimlock rises unsteadily. He takes his soiled shirt to the bar, sits on one of the “reserved” stools, and lets out a glorious belch. The bartender scowls at him.
“Two more for the road,” says Grimlock. “And a new t-shirt. I earned it.”