stories >> 2000 - 02 - 29
5:30 on Thursday afternoon and Spinks and I are heading
out the door, getting on down to Lavaca Street and Miguel's for our weekly salsa
fix. I've scraped up a flower for my button hole, I've got the big mirrored
shades, I've got the dancing shoes, I'm ready to go. Spinks is bouncing up and
down with his brand new backpack and sunglasses; he's ready to go, also. I've
catalogued the various excuses from people who are bailing (all the way from
"I have pilates class" to "I'm on a diet (?)" to the famous "I promise
I'll make it next week"), said what farewells were necessary, and we're set
to roll out to the Spinks truck and on downtown.
Outside, Austin spring is holding sway. I can smell the grapey smell from my boutonniere of mountain laurel, and we're jamming on the Buena Vista Social Club. In the truck, Brian cranks up the bass one more notch and we're heading south on Shoal Creek towards downtown.
This salsa thing hatched in me a few weeks
ago now. For whatever reasons, when we were down at the All Hands' meeting I
got it into my head that I would like to go to the club next door and go dancing.
Famously, that night
didn't work out, but I decided that I would go down the next week and give it
another shot. According to Miguel's (weak) web
site, they had the dancing and the lessons going on every Thursday night
so I figured that I would be set.
Turns out that Anna is a salsa freak, so I had someone to go with. That first night I thought that I would go down and dance on pure audacity alone (don't let anyone tell you that audacity won't get you places). "What do I need lessons for?" I kept thinking to myself. "How hard can this crap be?"
Ahem. A bit harder than I expected.
Let me tell you about Miguel's: it's got a very old school, old money flavor to it. The drinks aren't cheap ($3.50 on up for a beer), the clothes are sharp, and the people are good looking. There's smooth Latin Mafioso looking guys cruising around, all slicked up hair and olive suits; there's a handful of aging good old boys getting their groove on in their ostrich skin boots and Wranglers; there are a flood of women in slinky black dancing dresses; and everyone, everyone, dances. And they dance well. Even the shoe shine guy (yes, there's a shoe shine guy by the bar and an attendant in the bathroom) dances the salsa. The waitresses dance. The bartenders are always grooving behind the bar as the shake away to get you another expensive beer. The door man is tapping his foot, and the talk in the bathroom is about which women are good looking and which ones are good dancers and which ones happen to be both.
I loved the club, but needless to say, I felt like I was coming up from the bush leagues with my stuttering salsa step. So that first night I convinced Anna to dance in the back of the club where I could safely practice away from prying eyes and I decided that the next week I would take lessons.
I came back to work on Friday and started to
spread the word about how much fun the dancing was. Over the course of the week
I managed to convince a few people to head downtown and give things a shot with
me. Spinks, Michelle, Craig and I left work at 5:30, had a few drinks at Lavaca
at 6:00, then hit the Bodega at 7:00 for the lesson. Anna was too cool for lessons
and told us that she would meet up with us later.
We rolled into the club ready for dance lessons but there were only two or three people in front of the bar. This certainly didn't look like a lesson in the making. As the rest of the group eyed me suspiciously, I nervously approached the bartender and asked, "Uh, aren't there salsa lessons tonight?"
Sure there are, she said, and pointed me down the bar to a woman wearing one of those Madonna type headphone/microphones outfits.
I don't think I can put it any better than I did in the email I sent the next day:
Spinksy, Crime, and Michelle went down and took the class with me. A Leanne Rimes look-a-like teaches the class and says things like:
"Okay, now, a salsa stey-ep is two quick 'n one long. Okay? Now here we go... quick, quick, long stey-ep, quick, quick, looong..."
Spinks leaned over to me and said, "She doesn't *sound* like she can salsa."
But it was all good, and as I continued in
the email, "hey, she instilled the salsa beat into my decidedly non-Latin soul."
Leanne taught us the basic four step salsa step-beat-thingey, with a few quirks
thrown in, and I danced with a couple of nice ladies in our beginner group.
None of us felt up to the intermediate class, so we sat out and scarfed down
beer and nachos while watching the six or seven people in the second class learn
how to spin and turn. Anna showed up around 8:30 or so and we chatted up until
the band played.
One highlight of the night was counting how many times Spinks would get carded. Lavaca had hit him once or twice, and Miguel's was doing the same. When we first got in the club, the young bartender looked at Spinks' ID and said, "Look your birthday is almost the same as mine - are you an Aries? We're the same age!" Spinks made some noise that I should try to chat her up, to which I replied, "Lord help me if I date a 23 year old."
Michelle, who just happens to be 23, took offense (of course), and hollered at me, "What's wrong with twenty-three year olds?"
I thought furiously for a second and said, "I mean, uh, 'Lord help me if I date an Aries.'"
I don't know that Spinks got carded any more that night, but we did start dancing once the band came on. We tried out our brand new salsa moves and made a decent showing of ourselves. The salsa sharks were still circling around us, but we had at least learned how to swim. The next day, the end of the above mentioned email would read
Michelle, Crime, and Spinks are all converts. We definitely learned: we need to bring more chicas.
So onto the next Thursday. I had started, by
now, naming my emails "cada Jueves," which just means "every Thursday," and
I had been slowly increasing the pressure on my colleagues to drag their happy
butts downtown and do a little of groovy-groovy. Master Spinks threw his hand
behind the works also, and this week was setting up to be our biggest yet.
In keeping with my progressing skills I had also progressed my attire. Ever since seeing the shoe shine guy at the club I had desperately wanted to get my shoes shined while dancing, so I had decided to wear my shiny funeral/wedding/interview shoes down to the club that night. I had also plucked a branch of mountain laurel on the way to work that morning, and Anna convinced me that it would make a good boutonniere to wear out that night. So I was looking pretty sharp, in my shiny shoes and my purple flower pinned to my chest, when Spinks and I headed out the door.
We were giving Misty a ride down with us that night, and as we sat in the parking lot waiting for her, blasting out the sweet strains of the Buena Vista Social Club, an unnamed person came up to the car and commented on my flower.
"Buen suerte, esta noche, amigo," he said. "With that flower it shouldn't be a problem."
Buen suerte, of course, means "good luck."
On down to Lavaca with the music cranked to a deafening roar (I'm sure Misty didn't know what she was getting in to), and indeed Spinks has managed to get the word out. We've got Cortney and her husband Eric, we've got Sweitz and Beth Fox (who has foolishly chosen to wear flip flops), we've got Anna and her peeps, we've even got BFD dragging his non-dancing self on down. We managed to take up a few tables at Lavaca street, and then we push it on over to Miguel's.
Inside, Leanne recognizes us and welcomes us back. "I'm so glad that you've come back and brought all these people with you!" she delightedly drawls when she sees us.
This week the class is three times the size of last week, and we end up taking both the beginning and the intermediate lessons. Tonight "intermediate" again means "learn to spin," so I'm glad to know one new move to my salsa skills.
After the lessons, Anna teases me about the boutonniere. "Alan, all those girls you were dancing with were leaning in to you to smell your flower! You sly dog!" Hell, not that I had noticed. I told her that she was crazy and got up to get another beer. As I walked to the bar, one of the waitresses grabbed me by the chest, pulled me to her, and smelled that damn mountain laurel.
Buen suerte, indeed. This flower thing might work out after all, Big Al.
Some more of Anna's friends showed up, and some more of Spinks' friends showed up, and we danced and we danced. As the band took their first break around 10:20 or so, I decided that it was time for the shoe shine.
I made my way across the floor to the shine guy. Somebody was already plopped down in the chair, so I patiently waited while idly noting that he was wearing suede shoes. Suede? You can get that shined? As the man ahead of me got down, the shine guy shook his head and told me, "Suede takes too damn long. I'm Bernard, what's your name?"
Bernard is there on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Periodically he'll pause while shining your shoes, take a slow drag on his cigarette, look around the club, take a sip of his drink, and then turn back to the shoes. The entire time he gives you a running gossip column of the club:
"How long you been coming here? ...this girl here, she can dance something fierce... this guy can dance when he's not too drunk... this guy doesn't tip worth a damn... mmmm, I'm going to ask that woman to dance when I'm done with you..."
This sounds really dumb, but I felt so cool sitting in the middle of this swank club, getting my shoes shined, hearing all the skinny on the club patrons, and wearing my cool flower. I felt like I was in some freaking 1940's movie. I felt like I was freaking Humphrey Bogart. When Bernard got done, he wanted four bucks, but I felt so good that I gave him ten and sauntered back over to my side of the club.
I showed off my shoes to my friends and they responded with some over enthusiastic "oohs" and "aahs." I danced some more and then caught a ride home with Anna at about 11:30. The next day I told everyone that we had had the best salsa night yet. "The trick is, you see," I would tell people, "that you have more fun when you dance, and you have more fun when you dance with some level of proficiency. So come on down next week, take a class, and have a good time with us."
Which brings us back to this week, and this Thursday, and this trip down Shoal Creek to Lavaca and to Miguel's. I've copied the look from last week and again have the flower and the shiny shoes (Anna refuses to let me wear hiking boots to this thing anymore). It's going to be a lighter showing of people than last week, even though I had crafted a hilarious email earlier in the day:
As an added incentive, I was making the case to
Zahn that you can get the equivalent of one of those MBA things just by going
to La Bodega. Course topics include:
product presentation (am I looking good?
Oh, yes I am)
customer service (let me buy this round)
expansion into foreign markets (What's your name? Would you like to dance?)
increasing marketshare (Well, would your friend like to dance?)
win - win culture paradigms (I'll dance with you if you buy me a beer)
micro economics (do I have enough money for another beer?)
La Universidad de la Bodega is currently
accepting applications for the spring semester :)
lots of compliments on how funny the email was, but this week wasn't going
to be that many folks.
We got down to Lavaca and Eric was waiting for us. We order up a round of drinks and listen to him harangue us about being late. Cortney walks in a few minutes later and we start buzzing about the upcoming night. For some reason we get on to the topic of "The Top Five Celebrities That You Would Sleep With." Cortney's number one, it turns out, is John Cusack, or at least John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything." Spinks suggested Anna Kournikova, and to everyone's surprise I suggested Janeane Garofalo. We whiled away the time with this fascinating conversation, and eventually it got on towards seven o'clock and Anna and her friend Bibi showed up at Lavaca. As they walk in, the Road Gods give me a quick smile and start playing the Buena Vista CD over the loudspeakers. Spinks is itching to get back to Miguel's in time for the class, so we fire down our drinks and beat it over there.
In we walked and there was Leanne, though this time she had brought an assistant with her. "I'm glad to see you guys here again," she said, "but where are all the women?" I told her that that was a good damn question, but it looked like that we were going to have make do with what we had there. Luckily, a group of about twenty people was hunkered down in the corner on the other side of the stage, and they were all looking to take a salsa class. It looked like we wouldn't have any problems getting things rolling along after all.
As Leanne got up on the stage to start the class, I went and moved to the front of the dance floor (this is keeping with the same theory I had in college: if you sit in the front row, you'll pay attention and you've at least got a shot at learning something). Spinks ran off to the bathroom, and I was a little embarrassed to see that I was good five feet in front of everyone else. I turned around to the three women behind me and told them, "You know, there is a front row up here." They giggled, but no one moved, so I just shrugged and waited for Spinks to get back.
We went through the normal intro steps, and the class shifted around a little bit so that Spinks and I weren't alone in the front row. In the middle of the class, Leanne surprised me by pulling me up in the front of everyone to demonstrate the proper technique for holding one's partner. It reminds me of how old Dr. Kim used to demonstrate judo throws on me during tae kwon do class, except that this is a lot easier on your back side.
Leanne demonstrates all of the wrong way to do things. "Now, you don't want to do this," she says as she drops her elbow really low, "and you don't want to do this," she says as she raises her elbow really high. I'm standing up there feeling like a bit of jackass, so I decide to go ahead and be a jackass. I pull Leanne exceedingly close to me, and I turn to the class and say, "But you do want to do this!" Anna and all her friends are laughing hysterically in the back of the club, and Spinks is giving me a big smirk. Leanne keeps a pretty good face and gives a speech about how salsa is a sexy dance but the romance comes naturally in time yadda yadda yadda. Needless to say, she ushers me off of the stage quickly after that.
Back down on the floor, and we start switching partners around. I spend some time joking around with Leanne's assistant Jennifer, and I end up dancing with an older woman who is, no kidding, a fifth grade school teacher. She's from Wisconsin (what is it with me and these Midwest Yankee chicks?) and she's wondering what my flower is. "Mountain laurel," I tell her, though I'm using the Big Friendly Texan voice, so it's more like "mount'n lowrrl". She has to ask me to repeat myself, and when she can understand me she says, "Well, what do you know, I teach at a school called Laurel Mountain!"
We take a break before the intermediate class, and I go and have a beer with Anna. I ask her if I should go apologize to Leanne for acting like a dope up on stage. "No way!" Anna shrieks. "It was awesome!" Spinks agrees with her, and since Leanne seems to have taken it all in stride, I decide to let it roll.
The intermediate class is once again about turning, but tonight we are doing a double turn instead of a single turn. I do a few turns with Jennifer, and then Cortney and I practice together. I have to keep harassing Cortney to let me lead, but eventually we reach a mutually agreeable rhythm and we're hitting these turns like old pros. I'd like to lay it all to my natural will and grace, but I'm guessing that Cortney's fourteen years of ballet aren't hurting our cause here.
Intermediate class over, and time for a quick breather before the band gets up and starts. Aj has come and gone in this time; Anna insists that Aj will be back, but Spinks and I know better. By now we're chatting away and making bets on whether "The Highlander" is going to show up.
"Highlander?" For the past three weeks, each night before the band starts, some dude waltzes in wearing a Buckingham Palace get up, with the kilt and the big black fuzzy hat and everything. Like clock work, this joker shows up at 9:50, clears out the dance floor, and goes out and dances with some good looking girl that magically materializes. He ends up stripping down to basically his kilt and it turns out that he's extremely buff. Which is all cool enough, I suppose, but what the heck does it have to do with salsa dancing? What's this guy's gig, anyway?
So, about 9:45, someone starts pounding on my arm and pointing out the window. Yep, there's the Highlander, making his way into the club once again, fuzzy hat and all. Someone asks, "Why the hell would you do that?" And I tell them, "Heck, if I looked as good as that guy, I'd do the same thing!" The Highlander comes in the club and starts goofing around the bar, so I figure that it's time to get myself another drink before the big event. I head back up and I see a sign which finally reveals the secret: this dude is part of "The Highland Dancers," and is nothing more than an ad for Dewar's scotch. I try to finagle a free scotch, but the bartender won't have any of it, so I make my way back to our table, sit back down, and watch the Highlander grind on his girlfriend.
Finally, the dude is off the floor and the band is starting to play. The same band plays every week: "The Brew." It turns out they are an Austin cover band tradition. Whereas I thought that they were primarily a Latin/salsa type band, looks like they play all sorts of cover songs in all sorts of clubs around Austin. Whatever. I've been enjoying their music, but as Anna cogently points out, they keep playing the same damn songs every week. There are only so many times that you want to hear that "One Ton Tomato" song (you know, Guantanamera). And I think I've about reached that number. No, I'm sure that I've reached it.
But, hey, the band is fine to dance to, and who really gives a rat's crap about what actual song they're playing? I ripped out the first dance, as usual, with Anna (I always like dancing with Anna because I secretly let her lead and it ends up make me look good). I did a dance with Anna's friend Laura, sat one out, and jumped back in with Bibi. I keep trying to dredge up some new moves into my repertoire, and I was dying to do some of the double spins that we had practiced that night. So I gave Bibi a quick spin and...
Bibi had ricocheted across the room. Well, not quite, but she was about six feet away from me now and had wrenched on that aching shoulder of mine. I blinked at her in surprise, and thought maybe I had spun her too hard. So the second time I spun her, I barely moved my hand and...
Once again she was across the room. "Whoa," I thought. Bibi came back and told me, "I'm not that great at the spin." To which I thought, "Hah. I can make you great! I am an ARTISTE! I CAN TEACH YOU!" (or something). So after a few more steps, I gave her one more spin... but this time I hooked my other arm behind her before she spun so that she ricocheted back into me instead of across the club. It still made my shoulder hurt like hell, but it worked out okay.
I head back to the table, and I see that Brian is hollering into his cell phone at someone. I'm trying to get another beer ordered so I'm not paying too much attention to what's going on, but I do notice that the phone is getting passed from person to person. As Eric holds it out to me, he shouts that Kim is on the phone and that we're trying to harass her into coming down. Of course I'm interested in this, so I pick up the phone and start shouing, "Hey Kim! Hey, KIM!"
Kim is swearing frightfully on the other end of the phone. "God dammit, what are you people doing freaking calling me when I am freaking..."
"KIM!" I unhelpfully yell. "KIM!" I repeat since it doesn't seem to be having an effect on the stream of foul language.
"...I'm here with my god blessed friend from out of town and you sons of..."
"KIM! GET YOUR BUTT DOWN HERE! KIM! KIIIMMMMMM!"
"...and all of you freaking dog scratching mother humpers are calling me..."
The profanity that Kim is spewing is astonishing. Anna motions for me to hand her the phone, and I, ears burning, am most relieved to hand it off.
A few dances with U-less, and a few more with Anna, and by this time I noticed that Spinks had ducked out the door. Eric and Cortney were saying their good-byes so I went outside for a breath of air. As I stood there, Anna came out complaining that while they were dancing some son of a gun had pushed Bibi across the floor. I told her about my Bibi-richochet experience, to which Anna reluctantly agreed might have some impact on her situation. Laura came out and we talked for awhile outside the club, and then the three of us decided that we might as well start heading home.
While Laura went back inside to get her coat and such, I pointed out the car that we had been standing next to. It was a green convertible Volvo, one of those new C-70's, and I hate to admit that I think that these cars are extremely cool. When I first saw one out one night, I rushed home to scope them out on the web. Then I found out that they're $40K and decided that they weren't all that cool after all. I relate all this to Anna, who feels the same way I do about cars (i.e. cheap), and she said something that stuck with me:
"I mean, who wants to be working for their damn car?"
A few days later I'll be relating that same story to one of my friends, and she doesn't quite get what I mean. "You need a car, right?" she'll say. "You've got to pay for it, right? So you've got to work for it?"
"You may need a car," I told her, "but screw that working for your car noise. I'll work for my family, I'll work for my house, I'll work for myself, but to hell with me when I decide that I need to be in debt solely for a damn vehicle."
So that's what I'm thinking about as we walk back up the street to find Laura's car. We find her white Honda, say goodnight to her and send her on her way. We turn back west to find Anna's little Toyota. I start trying to obsess about the Volvo again, but Anna's shrieking out something in that Ab Fab voice of hers and we're laughing all the way back to the vehicle.