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location:seaside

It was the beginning of Reagan's second term and the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Pentagon's wet dream missile defense system dubbed Star Wars, was conceived. Of course, hundreds of physicists said it would never work. But who really cared if it meant defense contracts in 50 states and political aides could indulge an increasingly senile and incontinent President? About that time, while living in Portland, my friends and I established a tradition of spontaneously driving to Seaside when struck by a sudden black urge to dissolve all bands of civility. We would pile into a beater, head west on Highway 26, and begin to lay the proper alcoholic foundation for the debauchery ahead with pulls on a fifth of Captain Morgan, all the while screaming things in accent like, "Ayyyyyavast ye swabsmatey." We rolled into town, parked, and the dissolving hit high gear with a pilgrimage down the north side of the strip to the Holy Sodden Trinity: 50-cent drafts at The Beach Club Tavern, more cheap beer at Mars on Broadway, and more cheap beer at the Bridge Tender. Total distance: exactly 220 yards. That was just the warm-up. Primed after that intake, we rampaged outdoors where it was always still light, and commenced the special sort of miscreantism that makes Seaside the only town on the Oregon Coast frequently in need of a massive police presence during summer weekends, or even on occasion, the National Guard. I still wonder how and why we were never arrested, in particular the incidents with the destruction of Shiloh Inn restrooms, bumper cars, lawn gnomes, providing wine coolers to flat-chested female minors, and simulated fellatio on the Lewis and Clark statute at the Turnaround. Luckily, there were no mandatory minimum sentences back then and the statute of limitations runs out on misdemeanors. Well, it's 15 years later and the SDI is in the news again, ready to be infused with fresh billions, and even more physicists say it's a fantasy. With that in mind, I was in Seaside not too long ago, found myself on the strip with time to burn, and I decided to revisit the Trinity, minus the bingeing, and see if things had changed. Located a few feet off Broadway, the Beach Club has been slightly spruced up since my various Lost Weekends years ago: a CD jukebox instead of 45s, retiled bathrooms, an expanded gaming area, and a beer garden out back. But what was great is still great: big windows that throw light, standard drafts, a glass fridge to see the product, gritty folks who talk graphically about car racing fatalities, and the opportunity at last call to buy a case of Pabst to drink on the beach. The only real change about the Beach Club, and it's a tragic one, is the loss of the tavern's famous beer fetching dog BC who passed on a few years ago. BC would come over to your table, take a dollar bill in his mouth, and then promptly return with a can of Hamm's. He is a legend and rightfully buried out back. Down the strip. Mars on Broadway is gone, replaced by a new, remodeled, bar in the same location. I poked my head in and saw a table full of fit non-smoking women drinking non-alcoholic beers. I left and lamented the demise of a truly great dive where in my youth I once almost got my ass kicked by a biker because I drunkenly scooped up a shuffleboard puck as it glided down the boards. A large bet had been placed and suddenly I felt hands grab my neck and pull me across the table. Sawdust floated like snow and I escaped certain death by buying multiple pitchers and somehow revealing my father fought in the Korean War as a Marine. Keep on staggering down Broadway. Thankfully the Bridge Tender still exists, resting precariously on stilts, hanging over the polluted Necanicum River. I just a know a troll lives under this joint and sucks out the last drops of beer from various empties that find their way to the shore. Inside, nothing, I mean nothing has changed except for a CD jukebox instead of vinyl 45s. There's even the same sit-down Ms. Pac-Man video game near the corner window we played blind drunk for hours. It still works! About the only addition I detected was an inexplicably vacant wheel chair in the middle of the tavern. Jesus we could have used that 15 years ago! That corner window is still the place to drink beer in the Bridge Tender. It looks out to the river and offers a view of tourists strolling by and the gift shops they patronize. Despite our immature and sodden antics in Seaside, we were never the show. A surreal cast of characters entertained us in the Beach Club, Mars and the Bridge Tender. I want to believe they are still around, somewhat lucid, somewhat addled, telling those righteous and ridiculous stories. There was Crazy Wild Bill from Portland, the private detective on an adultery investigation, and the kid who won an insurance settlement, bought coke, rented prostitutes, and drove his entourage to Seaside for a week long bender that probably killed him. There were others, even more colorful, totally on the edge. We mingled, listened mostly, always managing to step back when they rammed the heart of darkness into full gear. We were dilettantes. They were professionals. What I liked best about the Beach Club and the Bridge Tender in my wayward youth still means something today in my reluctant adulthood: the feeling of sitting in the tavern, drinking beer, and looking out the window at the people who lemming down the strip in pursuit of what Neil Young described as "Piece of Crap." We used to call them slaves in the 1980s and hoped we would never become one. It's always a struggle. For me, being in the Beach Club or Bridge Tender at any time, on any day, but especially when others are at work, or ringing up credit card debt on vacation, is a small, but personal Thirteenth Amendment. And mixed properly with the Twenty-first Amendment, it feels very good indeed.
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