After my AmeriCorps contract had ended, and before sales at Snowmass, I’d worked nights at one of the valley’s local dive bars. The spot was about twenty minutes outside of Aspen, tucked away in the town of El Jebel, in front a trailer park. The locals, who were mainly blue collar tradesmen, pronounced Jebel with a hard J. They were keeping the dream of The West alive, even though a Whole Foods sat across the freeway and the silver mines were long dry.
A year earlier, the entire city, including Bowlski’s and Whole Foods, nearly burned down.
I’d heard about it at the post office, while I was living in Glenwood Springs. It’s another town about 20 minutes down the road, closer to the I-70 corridor. I forget exactly why I’d made the trip, but I took any excuse to get out of work. I hated my job and what my life had become. Much to my elated surprise, waiting in line at the post office was oddly enjoyable in comparison.
I’d overheard the post room clerk, who’d taken to offering me skittles on my increasingly frequent trips, mention the fire department battling a blaze that’d broken out near Whole Foods. I thought it was hilarious, a fitting emergency for the upvalley trust fund hippies, their precious Whole Foods Market in danger. Then I realized, he was describing the scene of a massive wildfire.
That fire, which went on for two months, consumed millions of acres of trees and littered the neighboring towns in ash; it was apocalyptic. Everyone was freaked, they weren’t even landing planes in the Aspen airport on account of the heat changing the air’s behavior. Char black fire scars still streak the mountain side and fresh growth has yet to pop up. Thankfully, and I do mean thankfully, the town was alright though. I don’t think a single life, or house, was lost that entire burn.
It came out later that summer, the cause of the fire was incendiary tracer rounds that two twenty year olds had shot into some dried underbrush. It all started up on the Lake Christine shooting range, not even a quarter mile away from homes. Whether or not it was intentional was out of the question, Colorado had been in a drought for years, so much as rubbing your socks across the carpet too quickly would set that tinderbox a blaze. I’m just surprised the town didn’t end up lynching the arsons that’d started it, especially after they plead not guilty.
I’d sometimes imagine them, the locals, my bar’s regulars, chasing these kids down in their hatchback pickups. They’d be waving their guns out the car windows, weaving the double yellows, yelling at them with a forced sort of twang in their voices. This is where I would escape to, so to speak. I’d take refuge here, lost in a funny little daydream, while I was sitting behind the bowl desk. Their fits of alcoholic rage would balloon, gin soaked spittle bubbling at their lips, all the while, I was Jack’s calm little center of the universe.
That rage was plenty and it happened nightly, but I needed the money. In a strange way too, I enjoyed the punishment. I sort of fed off of it, in a masochistic way, but I think a lot of that came from the freedom in knowing exactly why I was pissed. My own anger was no longer a giant question mark. I could pin it on somebody, it wasn’t existential, it was fucking Judy. Judy was a man, a worthless rednosed drunk, with a wife to match. Misery loves company and I was their concierge every Tuesday League Night.
So, rather than blurting into their piss drunk face that the real issue was their abusive fathers and the life they’d grown to hate, not lane number 5, I’d just bite my tongue and point them to the bar. A tacky upbeat elevator tune would play in my mind, as their voices slowly dampened and a glazed look washed my expressionless face. I could care less what they said, or what they thought, because even though I was only making ten bucks an hour, on top of what I could swipe from the register, I could leave this place whenever I chose. They couldn’t, this was their Plato’s Cave, and there was a power in knowing that I wasn’t chained to the walls.
A few years prior, I’d been told the alley had been busted for running a sizable coke ring out of the kitchen. It was one of those little town big stories, but from the looks of Bowlski’s, I wasn’t convinced it’d stopped. In my gut, I knew that place was snowing year round, but it came to no surprise. After living in the valley for a year and change, I knew most everyone put it on, and a hell of a lot more did coke. It’s all about who’s shaking hands with whom. I’m pretty sure you could kill someone there, as long as you knew the right people, so pushin’ drugs on the side was child’s play.
The owners of this place, who’ll will remain unnamed, because I actually don’t know them, are from Texas. From the start, before I sniffed out their questionable morals, I found it strange they branched out so far north. It just didn’t make a bit of sense. All I knew was that this place, on paper at least, was failing. I didn’t know why they’d bit off more than they could chew, or why they were intentionally undercutting the business. Really, what it came down to, is that the whole place stunk of a shell company. They weren’t breaking even on liquor, or bowling sales. And no amount of sticky sweet draft beer, or lane polish, could cover that stench up, which left two options: tax fraud, or drugs.
It took me about a month to catch onto it, but I always saw the same handful of guys hanging out. They’d post up near the pool tables and do the same thing every night. It was like clockwork. They’d stroll in just before the rush, order some wings, which they’d then paint the tables with, and down twenty Negro Modelos. They’d play the mechanical crane game, winning at least three bears a night, and their backpacks would never leave their shoulders.
It was subtle, but if you’d spent enough time at that place, like I did, you’d eventually catch their paranoid eyes, and it went like this. They’d send one of their teenaged runners to the bathroom. A bowler would soon follow behind, where they’d score some coke. The bosses waited, grinding away at their anxiety; jaws going. Then the kid would come back, taking the alternative route from the bathroom, and wait for the next deal. It was simple, effective, and entirely too obvious.
You’d have to be an idiot, or in on it, to not see it happening in your place of business. That’s when I knew that I needed out of that scuzzy hole of a bar. I have too much potential to get wrapped up in some bullshit like that. Let’s face it, if they were busted once, they’d be busted again and I’d inevitably be the fall guy; the unassuming bowl desk clerk. I’m not sure what’ll happen of that place, but I’ll never forget how I felt working there, or how clever of a detective I was. Then again, this is all speculation and an exciting story line that kept me from going insane with boredom, while I watched people throw balls at pins; giving each other high fives for their mediocre life choices.
The Dude abides.