Thursday, November 14, 2013

Drinking Sacramento

Without reading Amtrak for Dummies, you will have no idea about my original failed attempt to reach Sacramento by train to meet up with some friends for a long weekend of drinking; but that doesn’t matter. This is the rest of the story:

I left Hanford at 8:30 AM for a four-hour train ride on Amtrak to Sacramento. Just the night before, I had a true “glass is half full” experience and I intended to ride that wave of up-beat optimism. But honestly, I was pretty fucking hung-over and just wanted to get a little sleep on the train. But that was impossible. This was the first official day of a long weekend and the train was full of families – all with noisy little kids - heading north, up the valley for a bunch of individual-sized mini-vacations. Sleep was not an option.

Thank God for the bar car. I was able to relax with a decent Bloody Mary and three Captain Morgan & Cokes as we passed through towns like Fresno, Madera, Merced, Modesto, Manteca and Stockton. We reached Sacramento at 12:30 PM. Not too bad, I thought to myself. Plenty of time to salvage my plans for a full-on drinking weekend.

Somewhere around Modesto, I had called Khan to tell him that my train was on schedule and that I’d be there in about an hour and a half. I’m pretty certain that I woke him up. The loose plan was to start at his house, which would be the meeting point for a small group of friends who all planned to experience California’s Capitol City from the bottom of a glass.

Khan lives in a small house just a couple of blocks from the Sacramento Amtrak station on “I” Street, just a few blocks from Downtown, Old Town, and the thirty or forty bars that are located there.

When I arrived at his house, I found him mixing up a cocktail. He had only been awake for ninety minutes but he was obviously hammered. I’m not sure who he thought he was racing, but the drink he was making was number eight in a series of Gin & Tonics.

“It’ll go bad,” he claimed as he finished stirring the cocktail with his index finger, “gotta finish it.”

Apparently, Khan had started drinking right after I called him from Modesto, and within an hour and a half, he was in no shape to get dressed, drive, walk a straight line, or speak English.

Oh fuck. This will not end well. There is nothing more recklessly impulsive than Khan in the throws of a Gin and Tonic bender. No sir, this will not end well.

I had to make a choice right then and there. Was I going to turn the day into an unbuckler – an opportunity to totally let loose, to stop holding back, stop worrying about anything and start drinking until someone makes you stop or you pass out. Or, was I going to babysit Khan?

It was, after all, Sacramento. One of the greatest drinking cities in California. There is a rich history of drinking that was born there back in the summer of 1849, after gold was discovered a few miles up the American River. Prospectors began to arrive in droves and a large number of saloons, gambling houses and brothels opened as entertainment venues. To this day, Sacramento’s citizens and visitors have no problem locating and consuming liquor.

Part of me said “fuck it all! I’ll get just as drunk as Khan and do it just as fast. We’ll work out the logistics later on.” The other part of me said “Goddammit! There are too many moving parts here. Khan needs to stay close to home, closer to a bed, further from the danger that we could create.”

But throughout all of this mad desperation, I failed to formulate a real plan. Somehow, I managed to forget that we were waiting for a small group of friends… and I began to drink.

At some point between 1:30 PM and 2:00 PM, Steve arrived. He was sober. A few minutes later, Larry called. He and Jeff were going to meet us at the Pre-Flight lounge. I think they were still sober too.

I’ve known Steve for several years. We were roommates for a short time in college and I actually met Khan through him. I knew Jeff pretty well too. But I had only met Larry once before, at a Christmas party back in December. I liked all of these guys and appreciated their bullshit. They were all sarcastic fuckers who could be trusted to turn on you at any moment.

By the time we were ready to head downtown, Kahn had finished off two more Gin & Tonics and it was clear that he was, in fact, going to be a problem. He was giggling like a lunatic and speaking in tongues. He had refused to ease into our drunkenness and, instead, faced it head on. Maybe he thought this was his best offensive move. Maybe he thought he could win a game of “Chicken” with the Gin. And then again, maybe he only intended on having one crisp and cold Gin & Tonic but was quickly put under the spell of the spirit and whisked away to the path of no return. Either way, I was not going to be held responsible for anything he said or did. I also knew that, at some point in the near future, Larry, Steve and Jeff would all try to saddle each other or me with the responsibility of keeping Khan safe and sane. So, I decided that my best defense against this would be to stay a few drinks ahead the three currently sober guys.

I believe there are two types of people in this world. Those who are drunk and those who are not drunk; alcohol is the great equalizer. I was somewhere in-between, and still sober enough to talk Steve out of driving to the Pre-Flight. Our destination was only a few blocks away but I convinced him that this would be better, “just in case we had to get Kahn’s drunk ass home… We certainly don’t want to walk him home and become human crutches for him, do we? This will force Larry into having to drive. We don’t need that kind of responsibility.” I guess I made a pretty good case, because he agreed to the plan. But the real fact of the matter was that as long as Larry was the only one driving, he would have to be less drunk than me. Therefore, I could begin my unbuckler. I was proud of myself for being the owner of this plan.

About a half-hour later, we all met up at the Pre-Flight Lounge. It’s a strange little dive set in an almost secret location. I’m not sure that I would have been able to find it with a map, but it was very cool. The owner, Jason, knew all four of my Sacramento buddies and greeted them with delight. Clearly, my friends were regulars there and have spent enough money to put his kids through college and buy him a boat. The drinks were strong and cheap and the regulars were friendly. I could have stayed there all day, but we knew we had to move on. So after about 45 minutes, we were out the door.

We walked around the corner to Chambers Room, another dive. This place was dark and dank and right up my alley. Again, the drinks were cheap and stiff. After two beers and two cocktails, I started to feel the drunk coming on. I always know when this is taking place because there’s this thing that happens to me. I excuse myself to use the restroom and while in there, I think of a few really important things I want to tell the other guys about. Ideas, observations, theories, solutions… all sorts of things. But by the time I get back to the bar, I get sidetracked and all of those things slip my mind. Even with a clear head, I still can’t recall what any of those thoughts were ever about. But they were, at that moment, the most important and most brilliant thoughts of all time.

The one big issue with Chambers Room was that while we were there, it started filling up with hipsters.  I often think about taking out a full page advertisement in any major newspaper that would be an open letter to all of the hipster sissies and their ugly, clueless hipster girlfriends

Dear Hipsters: I hate you. You make the world worse by being around me. Every time I see all of you Pabst swilling posers sitting there at the bar with your shitty attitudes and stupid clothes I really want just want to beat the fuck out of you. But it’s cool. At least you can blog about it later.

But then again, they’re too cool to read newspapers.

So there we were. The five of us swimming in a sea of dickheads. Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers; vintage dresses with rain boots even though the sky has been clear for days; skinny jeans; stupid hats; shitty haircuts; scarves; and ironic facial hair. Those motherfuckers have ruined mustaches for everybody. I used to think a mustache was cool and something I’d wear when I was a badass 50-year old, like Burt Reynolds or Billy Dee Williams, but those unemployable twenty-something-year-olds ruined it for me with their waxed handlebar mustaches like they just walked off the set of some Coen Brothers set.

At that point, Khan had ceased communication except to interrupt other customers’ conversations with absurd and insane remarks. Through the darkness, he spied a young couple making out in the far corner of the room. He staggered across the room and sat down next to them and initiated a conversation. They were polite, but the rest of us could tell the couple was annoyed. Still, we didn’t stop Khan because it was too fucking funny to watch. We couldn’t hear anything Khan was saying except for “Sorry for fucking up your shit,” which he must have said ten times before shaking the guy’s hand and walking away. When he got back to our side of the room, he told us that he had palmed a five dollar bill and passed it too the guy when they shook hands… You know, for fucking up their shit.

We visited a few more places and Khan seemed to get a second wind and started perking up a little.

By this time, we all agreed that we really needed to find a place with some food. Otherwise, the night was going to end too soon for all of us.

Our next stop was the Three Fires Inn, located at the Residence Inn Hotel. Supposedly the bar is great and the food is delicious. I didn’t get to sample either one. The bartender was an immediate dickhead – probably because we forgot to throw out our lit cigarettes before we walked in. But even after that, he was a true fucker. He recognized Khan’s condition and informed us that he couldn’t serve us. Any of us. WHAT. THE. FUCK?

We were there to drink. The way I see it is that this was our right. We all work hard. We all pay taxes and we all contribute to society. The long weekend provided us an opportunity to let loose, to relax and to have a little fun. Who in the fuck would want to prevent us from having a little fun? Who in the fuck thinks they have the right to stand in the way of five guys spending their hard-earned money on legal drinks at legal businesses? This is, after all, the United States, not some god-damned communist country. America, for God sakes. We were going to drink and we were going to have fun. And all this bullshit only served to make me want to drink more.

The bartender wouldn’t back down. “Nope, you’ve had too much,” the little fucker told me.

I’m not sure what his problem was. Maybe it was me. But I’m pretty sure it was him. After only thirty seconds, I wanted to kill him. Well, maybe not kill. That’s a strong word. But I didn’t like him one bit and wouldn’t stand in line to piss down his throat if his stomach was on fire. I was ready to leave.

This is about the time that our whole Sacramento drinking experience began to break down. There are probably too many moving parts in the rest of this story, so please try to stay with me…

Jeff wanted to walk over to Old Town to a place called Fanny Ann’s; Larry and Steve wanted to stop at a Mexican restaurant for some quick tacos and beer; Khan was starting to fade into idiocracy again; and I didn’t give a shit. In the end, we split up. Larry, Steve and Khan would go to the Mexican place and meet Jeff and me at Fanny Ann’s in about an hour.

Fanny Ann’s is an interesting place. It’s only about fifteen feet wide, but it’s three stories tall. Basically, it’s a staircase that you get drunk on. We managed to find a couple of stools at the bar and began to drink like professionals. There was a large wagon wheel located above the bar. Each of its wooden spokes had the name of a drink written on it. At the beginning of every hour, the bartender would give the wheel a spin and the drink which landed at the top of the wheel would become the $1 special for five minutes. When 7 PM rolled around, the special drink was Hot Shot Shooters. I purchased ten. Five for me and five for Jeff.

The shot wheel should probably be outlawed due to its ability to drive a man into a sudden fit of lunacy. I had fallen under its spell before and I was quickly falling again.

Things start to get hazy at that point and I’m not sure how long we were in the bar. I’m not even sure if Khan, Larry and Steve ever made it to Fanny Ann’s… The next thing I remember is sitting on the curb and puking into the gutter. Then, a cop on horseback came by and started talking to me. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but he ended up taking me to a drunk tank that was located just across the street from where I was sitting, which I thought was convenient.

I’m not sure if it was because I had vomited everything out of my system, or if it was because I was being arrested, but I sobered up pretty quick. So, I can pretty much remember everything during my time in the slammer.

It wasn’t a real jail. It was more of a holding cell. And as long as you weren’t an asshole, the Old Town cops just held you there until you sobered up. It wasn’t punishment as much as it was them trying to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself.

But they did take my wallet, phone and wristwatch and held it in a big yellow envelope until I got out. While I was sitting and waiting to be let loose, there was an old Mexican man who woke up and started screaming “SOMEONE STOLE MY WALLET! SOMEONE STOLE MY WALLET! SOMEONE STOLE MY WALLET!”

He went on and on until the cops told him to shut up or they were going to take him to the real jail. He quieted down for about thirty seconds and then jumped up and started punching another poor son-of-a-bitch who was just trying to sleep off a little too much hooch. “YOU STOLE MY WALLET! YOU STOLE MY WALLET!” he kept screaming while landing punch after punch on that poor drunk fucker’s face.
The cops dragged him out and took him to real jail.

After about two hours, they came by, gave me a bottle of water and a chocolate chip cookie, talked to me about nothing in particular, gave me my stuff back and let me go.

This was the second time in 24-hours that cops treated me really nice while I should have been arrested for public intoxication. It was only Midnight and I felt great.

None of my friends were at Fanny Ann’s, so I tried calling Khan. No answer. I tried calling Jeff. No answer…. Steve and Larry. No answer. So I started walking back through the tunnel towards Downtown and ran into Steve. He explained that while I was locked up, my friends had inquired about me and were told that I should be out by midnight, “unless he acts stupid.” So Steve figured he’d come pick me up. He also explained that all of us had met up at Fanny Ann’s and drank together until Khan passed out in the restroom. Security was going to have him arrested until Steve, Larry and Jeff agreed to take him outside, call a cab and get him home.

This all happened at around 10:00 PM. It was now approaching 12:30.

Steve was elected to pick me up from the holding cell and to retrieve Larry’s car from where he left it when we started this drinking adventure in the early afternoon of the previous day.

“Twelve thirty?... Twelve thirty?” Steve kept asking. “Twelve thirty? We still have over an hour to legally purchase AND consume alcohol.”

“Come on,” I told him, “I know just the place.”

We double-timed it around the corner and down an alley to a little shit-hole of a place that I had been to on my last visit to Sacramento. It’s the kind of place you go to if you want to get stabbed. But they stay open right up until 2:00 AM and if you tip well enough, the bartender will let you stick around while he closes up. And that’s exactly what we did. We stayed and drank and played dice with some young Armenian guys until about 3:00 AM.

So Steve and I were both feeling pretty good. A lot like we were packed in cotton. Not overly stupid drunk, but definitely not sober. I remember that we tried to decide if we should head back to Khan’s house or go find something to eat.  And, I remember leaning towards going back to Khan’s when Steve said something about Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs. Change of plans. We’re going to Denny’s for some breakfast.

But Denny’s couldn’t be reached by foot, we needed to pick up Larry’s car. The problem was, neither one of us had actually seen Larry’s car. Ever. We only knew that it was a dark green Saab, and that it was parked around the corner from the Pre-Flight Lounge.

So we walked around for a few minutes until we found the Saab. “Wow,” Steve pointed out, “Larry drives a real piece of shit.” When he tried to fit the key into the door, it didn’t fit easily. So he jammed it in and turned it. And the door opened. Same thing with the ignition. But with equally dramatic motions of filigree and flash, the key turned and the car started.

After a delicious late night breakfast, we were ready to call it a night.


At about 11:00 AM on Saturday, I awoke to Larry yelling at Steve. We picked up the wrong car. Yes, there was a Saab parked in front of Khan’s house, but it wasn’t dark green – it was black, and it was about 20 years older than Larry’s car.

We debated whether or not to take it back but finally decided to leave it alone until later in the day. And we all went back to sleep.

We still had another day of drinking ahead of us.