It was a painstakingly run of the mill Saturday night. The band played crowd-pleasing 90’s covers, everyone was happy, and stress levels were low until around 2am when I looked out the window and saw a line of 25 – all in black with leather vests and jackets covered in patches – marching toward the front door.
“Well tonight just got considerably more interesting,” I said to my coworker, who was already texting all our managers who were at the company’s other bar having their own shitty night.
My cousin was at the door, and I told him to go ahead and charge everyone cover because I could already see the hundred dollar bills coming out of their bulging wallets. These guys weren’t exactly regulars, but I knew a few of them well enough that under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have charged them. To mitigate any bad feelings that might have come up over the cover, I bought the guys I knew to be leaders a round, which seemed to keep everyone smiling.
My cousin was supposed to get off right at 2am, but I kept him at the door until 2:30am just so it didn’t look like I charged these dudes cover then stopped charging covers right after they paid. When time was up, I walked up to him and said, “Alright, I told our coworkers you’re no good in a fight, so go ahead and clock out.” He chuckled and walked away.
When he came back, he put his hands on his hips, smiled, leaned in close and said, “Yeah, I uh… I’m petrified right now.” Then gave a short laugh.
“Get out of here,” I told him. Honestly, you’d be stupid not to be scared, but those of us who had been door staff longer were more used to masking the level of unease that goes along with being surrounded by gang members.
These guys were a cut above the rest, though. They had their own security posted by the front door, they used hand signals to indicate movements of the higher-ups, they posted a lookout every time one of them went to the bathroom or went outside for a cigarette, and even though they were smiling, it was pretty easy to see how quickly that box of matches could go up in a heartbeat.
One of my regulars – a guy I generally like – decided to make the joke that he used to be a part of their bike gang, which is BEYOND fucking idiotic. Words like “stolen valor” were thrown around, and I stepped in between the bikers and this dumbass. “My brothers fought and died to wear this patch, motherfucker!” is a fun thing to have screamed over you while you’re trying to diffuse a situation.
“I guarantee that this idiot has no idea what he’s talking about right now, and he doesn’t own anything even remotely like a black leather vest with a patch on it,” I said, hoping that my voice adequately masked my internal “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck” monologue.
My coworker joined me in the middle of the fray, pushing the yelling finger pointer back a little. They finally walked away at the behest of the guys I had seen in the bar more often. “We just want to drink in peace,” they tell me with a fair amount of regularity. I believe them – I’m sure they get challenged all the time. But I’m also sure they come out on top of a lot of those challenges, so I’d rather just keep things contained.
I walked away for less than 30 seconds, then saw the guy previously referred to as “The Big Boss” and his security detail striding over to the regular. Oh boy, I thought and repositioned myself behind the regular. “That man watched his son bleed out from a gunshot over this patch. I’m the only thing in between you and the absolute hell all those guys over there want to rain down on you right now, so you better quit your fucking smiling and shut your fucking mouth.” Sounded like a plan to me!
He walked back to the other side of the bar, then sent a shot of whiskey over to the regular as an act of good will, but also clearly as a power play. We still walked the regular out to his Uber just in case, and I had a moment to relax.
Then some dumb motherfucker started yelling across the bar, “Yeah I see you looking at me! You gonna act on it or what?!” He was yelling at one of the bikers! Like… What in the actual fuck, man?!
Then he gets up, and starts walking over to them, chest all puffed out. Clearly this guy had a death wish.
Apparently he met up with them in the bathroom, and because he watched a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Mayans or some shit, he felt like he had every right to ask these dudes about their cuts (the term for their vests). Newsflash: he did not. Granted, they shouldn’t have used derogatory terms when they were telling him to fuck off, but also, why on earth would you not just stick to your fucking self in a situation like that?!
Eventually my coworkers had me walk away from the guy because we almost came to blows because I was “giving [him] attitude.”
“I’m trying to save your fucking life, man. Drop the bravado and please just go sit down.” He was having none of it. “I served two tours as a Marine!” he kept saying. Having me walk away was the right call.
Finally, the guy in charge of security had my friend close out everyone’s tabs and yelled, “Let’s go!” He swirled a finger in the air, and they all got up and left in unison. I shook some hands and thanked some of them for their level-headedness on the way out, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Sobriety didn’t survive that level of stress. “Fuck it,” I said after the bar emptied out, and I poured myself a beer. Four beers and two shots later, one of my managers came in to close the books, and clearly tired from dealing with his own night, was having none of our tomfoolery and told us to go.
Exhausted, I fell asleep on the bus. I woke up and thought, That cafe should be on the other side of the street. Apparently they let me sleep through the bus’s change in direction, which is annoying because I’ve seen them do everything but shake homeless people awake at the end of the line.
“Oh he’s clearly not homeless – he must be legitimately tired. Let’s just let him sleep,” I imagined them saying.
I hopped off the bus and spent the 20 minutes until the next bus at Dunkin Donuts eating things I really didn’t need and drinking coffee I shouldn’t have before actually going to sleep, but it all felt like the right call in light of my night. The sun was well above the horizon line by the time I got to my apartment, so I walked with my dog over to the lake to enjoy a moment of sunshine after a dreary night. It was a worthwhile relapse, but now it’s time to return to sobriety. Hopefully tonight’s a little easier.