[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago he filed a report from the Rendezvous Bar in Scanlon, roughly 10 miles west of Duluth. This article appeared in the July 25, 2001 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]
So, it starts with Sean the Locksmith and me barreling down the southbound lane of I-35, sober as a couple of appellate court judges. Sean is worried, and with good cause: The brakes on his newly purchased Delta 88 are suddenly … how shall I put this? … nonexistent.
The plan, and I’m not saying it’s a good one, is to sort of just not go any faster. Sean plans to take the momentum we have and ride it out, giving little nudges on the gas pedal to keep us going in an attempt to run out of speed precisely as we reach an off-ramp. Eventually, with a little practice, he actually does it, landing us in the heart of beautiful Scanlon. We immediately head to the Rendezvous Bar with its promise of wonderful, sweet booze to wet down our sizzling nerve ends.
And it doesn’t take long for us to realize that of all the places to land, the Rendezvous on a Monday night is a pretty damn good one, for one simple reason — from noon to 11 p.m., a mug of beer costs only a buck. And every experienced drinker knows the golden rule of barrooms: When the beer is really, really cheap, it seems like you’re having a lot of fun no matter what you’re doing.
Glancing at the clock, I see that it’s 10 p.m., which leaves a full hour of guzzling time before they hike the prices back up to the full $1.50. I scan the taps and make my choice. Tonight, I’ll be spending my time with my dear old friend, Mr. Schmidt.
Sean the Locksmith orders the same, and we settle in right there at the bar for better turnover. We don’t have any idea how we’re getting home, and we don’t care. Sean’s car is screwed, we’re stranded in Scanlon, and all we can think about is dollar mugs of beer. We’re happy men. Jovially, Sean points to a sign behind the bar that reads, “I’d even card my own mother.” Then we ponder whether or not Applebee’s has a sign like that.
About this time, the room explodes into cheers, Tarzan yells and inhuman screams. Two guys, one a tall guy with a moustache and the other a Northland Survivor reject in a Hawaiian shirt — both of them totally shitfaced — come charging up to the bar and start giving everyone hugs. They hang especially on a gaggle of full-figured gals who just came in. Someone cranks up the jukebox and chooses about five bucks worth of songs that surprisingly don’t suck. The evening has begun.
It doesn’t take much skill to discern the source of the excitement: the two guys have just won “the big game,” which I assume is pool. They’re continuing to cheer and strut and brag. One guy overhears a conversation someone is having about Hayward, and he announces, “I don’t know much about Hayward, but I can find out anything!”
Then, the first disappointing song of the night comes on, AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Actually, the song is good, but whenever I hear it I want a wall to split apart to reveal the band performing behind a busty blonde riding a mechanical bull like in the music video. And for that matter, why are there no mechanical bull bars around here? Jesus, what is wrong with this place?
Sean the Locksmith points to a sign on the juke claiming that it gives seven plays for a buck. So I slip a dollar in and find that it really gives five. This is bullshit. Planning to get my money’s worth, I choose Led Zeppelin’s live version of “Dazed and Confused,” knowing that it runs a good 25 minutes long. Then I pick a couple more tunes, finishing off with Zeppelin’s live version of “No Quarter,” which I imagine must be 15 minutes long at least.
It’s about 19 minutes into “Dazed and Confused,” right at the climax of Jimmy Page’s violin-bow guitar solo, when the full-figured gals begin to realize how drunk they are. So they start playing pool, which is good for everyone. Let me tell you, there’s nothing better than cranking up the Zeppelin, knocking back a couple of cheap-ass brewskies and watching some full-figured butts bend over a table.
A woman with a Rendezvous Golf Team jacket eventually approaches me and explains that she isn’t digging the Zeppelin music. She’s more into Billy Joel. I explain that Billy Joel is like a singing Jerry Mathers. Nonetheless, she continues talking to me.
Upon discovering I’m from Duluth, she starts telling me about the good old days, back when “the cops wouldn’t give you no DWI, they’d just tell you to go on home.” Back then, she was a regular at Roby’s; but these days she’s disgusted with Duluth bars, finding them too uppity. “Sure, I tip sometimes, but in Duluth it’s like you have to tip. I ain’t gonna pay someone to pour me a beer.”
The bartender keeps looking over at me and the golf-team woman and laughing at us. Sean the Locksmith has disappeared. I’m in big trouble.
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