Our friend Colin the hipster lawyer e-mailed Night Ranger HQ with an intriguing proposition -- a tour of bars on U.S. Highway 40 in Independence with him and his friend James. "James also has a 15-passenger van now to make the trip both comfortable and sufficiently trashy," he wrote.
We thought he was kidding about the van. He was not. (James is in three bands and hauls equipment in it.) So our vantastic voyage took place on a Saturday night with a raucously merry Research Assistant crew of about 20 (all friends of James and Colin's from their days at Truman High School) and the coolest designated driver ever -- Colin's dad, who put up with our drunken ramblings with considerable aplomb.
Our first stop was the Sandbar, an earnestly cheesy spot with tall faux palm trees outside and parrot mobiles hanging from the ceiling. A yellow sign warned "Flamingo Crossing," and appropriately enough, "Margaritaville" was blaring from the jukebox as we entered. After a couple of drinks, we headed to Harvey's, a slightly shabby lounge resembling a suburban house circa 1960, complete with padded bar chairs on wheels, a stone fireplace in the back and a deck with a view of a trailer park. Again, our entrance music was too perfect -- "Freebird" -- and after downing our stiff drinks (served in U-shaped fancy glasses), we moved on, eastbound on Highway 40.
We were excited to hit Secrets (shhh!). According to our compadres, the bar used to be the Pizza Hut of eastern Jackson County, where they'd hung out as kids. We'd hoped to see a tabletop Pac-Man or perhaps even drink out of those red plastic cups, but no such luck; this brightly lighted joint was bigger than expected and contained pool tables in the middle and video-game bowling in the corner. Sadly, the crowd was pretty sparse, so we had to make up our own entertainment by writing down everyone's name on slips of paper and putting them into one hat, then writing down the names of different shots and putting those slips into another hat. A name would be drawn, then a shot that the person would have to do. It's an ideal pub-crawl party trick because you learn everyone's names while getting that much closer to wastoidalness. We expedited this process by having people go two at a time -- the shot buddy system. This served a dual practical purpose, too; instead of counting off to make sure everyone was in the van when leaving an establishment, you just had to account for your shot buddy.
One lemon drop later (on top of multiple vodka cranberries), the NR was feelin' fine upon her arrival at the next establishment: Whiskey and Roses. Located in a strip mall, it felt very suburban; we spotted a claw game -- that impossible "pick a stuffed animal out of the box with a claw" thing. Oddly enough, we saw another claw game at the next bar: Maxine's, a dance club. (Who plays those things? And why is there one in the Westport Sun Fresh? It's just too weirdly Fun Factory for any of these establishments.)
However, we had more important issues to consider, because in front of Maxine's was (gasp!) a rival van. This one was gray, and boldly proclaimed in white shoe-polish letters on its windows: "Kerry's last single night! Girls Gone Wild! Honk 4 a Flash!"
"Oh, my God. We've been shown up," Colin said.
"We're going to fight those motherfuckers," James said.
"That's obviously a rental," Colin sneered.
We tracked down Kerry, who was sporting a "Miss Bachelorette" sash and holding a blow-up doll. She's getting hitched on May 6 in St. Lucia and met her fiancé at work at the Crittendon Center. She and her girl group had been to four bars already, so we asked if she had been (good-naturedly) harassed, being the bachelorette and all.
"No. Everyone kind of stared at us, but that's about it," she said. Well, judging from our night, many of the Highway 40 bars were pretty quiet, so we weren't too surprised. As usual, we had to stir things up at Maxine's, too. We asked the DJ to play "Bust a Move," and that got, oh, one person on the dance floor -- Jason, a member of our party. Then, suddenly, a chair appeared on the dance floor, so we tried to get Kerry to sit in it. Unfortunately, she refused, so the NR -- purely for column purposes, of course -- sat down. Jason then did a handstand on the NR's knees while James held his feet up. So, there we were, in an east Jack bar, butt-to-face. Sheer entertainment, indeed.
Maxine's closes at 1:30, so we headed next door to the Tool Shed, the one 3 a.m. bar in that area. We dug it; the divelike place drew an eclectic crowd, which consisted of some biker types and, to our surprise, some midtown scenesters who just happened to be in the area working on some kind of film project. We vaguely remember caterwauling "You Don't Even Call Me by My Name" while swaying arm-in-arm with our fellow pub crawlers -- yeeeah, we became those drunkoids, but somehow it seemed fitting at that bar.
We chatted with Christine, who was celebrating her 54th birthday that night; we had first seen her at Maxine's, where we sneaked a piece of her cake. After telling us how a male stripper performed for her earlier in the night and got down to a G-string (not Jason -- who also gave her a headstand lap dance), she got into a melancholy tale about how her husband -- the love of her life and her high school sweetheart -- died three years ago. Her son's friends -- who were out celebrating with her -- have moved into her house to supplement her income. "That's the kind of friends I have," she said. "They take care of me."
Which was the overall impression we got from our jaunt out east. That was confirmed by Grady, a self-proclaimed redneck we also met. "We are white trash in Independence bars, but we are hospitable," he said. "As long as you're with me, you're OK." Or a fun group of 20 in your own Mystery Machine, which was key to enjoying the random offerings in the eastern suburbs.