Brass RailBouncing at a rock n roll bar in the winter of 1979

Brass Rail

	The “Brass Rail” was a popular rock and roll bar on Route 40 just outside North East, Maryland. North East is at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay in a rural stretch between the urban sprawls of Baltimore and Wilmington, Delaware. 
	In January of 1979 I was down to my last few dollars and a friend told me they were looking for a bouncer at “The Rail.” I’d never been in the place or worked as a bouncer but I needed the money. The interview was short. References weren’t required and I didn’t haggle over the terms, which were $25 a night, payable in cash at quitting time. I was to start that night.
	As I planned strategies and considered what the evening might bring some contradictions came to mind. I look like I would make a good bouncer; six feet tall, 195 pounds with a bodybuilders physic, but I avoid fights. I hadn’t been in one since junior high school. Some people, maybe most, are lucky or smart or both and never have to fight. I’m one of those people. As I shaved and brushed my teeth I pondered and fretted about what to do about this or that situation. Most of my preconceptions of the job were incorrect of course. If I’d known that avoiding violence isn’t hard and how just a little can be so effective I wouldn’t have been so nervous. On the other hand, since I went to bed that night with an ice pack on my broken nose, my apprehension must have been at least a little justified.
	It was Friday and I got there at 7:00. The owner introduced me to the bartender and barmaid, John and Cindy. John was in his early twenties, 5’8” tall and about 140 pounds. The owner said that John helps out when there’s trouble, which John didn’t acknowledge. Cindy was a little blonde in her early thirties with an angel face and a gutter mouth. I figured she’d be more help than John.
	Since it was the weekend a rock and roll band was going to play and my primary duty would be to take the cover charge, and give drink tickets. 
	I was nervous at first, like before a football game, but just like in the ballgame all the butterflies go away after the first hit. The contact that steadied me was eye contact with the first of a hundred leather clad tough guys that walked in and staggered out that night. 
	His expression changed and he stiffened as he came in the door, reacting to the sight of the new bouncer. Until he entered I was polite to the customers and his challenge caught me off-guard. When our eyes met my reaction to his very clear message was instinctive and every bit as primitive as his threat. For that instant our position in space and time and the circumstances of our lives were forgotten. We were cavemen defending territory.
	After I took his two dollars I thought that if I couldn’t control myself, if my instincts took over, there would be a fight. I tried, but far to many of the same kind came in and I couldn’t smile at all of them.
	Two A.M., closing time, finally rolled around and I began to  relax. I was going to make it home without a scratch, despite the cavemen. A couple of girls were being friendly and it looked like it might end up being a pretty good night.
	There were two pool tables in the back and at 2:20 guys were still racking balls. I had already been back there twice to tell them to wrap it up and the third time had to be the last. I walked back to the first table, said “Time to go home” and picked up the Que ball. One of the two players was the first hard ass that came in and I found out later that the two were brothers. They just stood, sticks in hand, and watched me walk to the other
table and pick up the ball. 
	As I walked back, past the first brother, the second one  shouted at me. I looked towards him and number one swung his Que like a hockey stick at the back of my legs, just above the ankles. He swept my feet and I landed flat and hard on my butt. Almost the instant I hit he broke my nose with a well delivered right. The punch shook me but not enough to make me hesitate. I sprang to my feet and charged him. He took a boxer’s stance expecting me to throw a punch but I was a linebacker and a wrestler so I tried to drive him through the wall. I hit him in the middle of the room and was still accelerating as his back hit the juke box. We rebounded and I over hooked his left shoulder and under hooked his right, turned and slammed him as hard as I could to the floor. As he hit, I drove my shoulder into his chest. Before he could get air I took his wrists and pinned them to his chest. His brother rushed over to help and when he got close enough I delivered a side-kick to the outside of his knee. He screamed and went down.
	The customers applauded and I looked at my bloody, torn shirt and tried to remember what it cost.
	As I drove home I gave a lot of thought to how better to deal with these guys.
	The owner was surprised and happy to see me the next night.
 	Fewer tough guys tested me. They heard what happened the night before and although they still wanted to fight I wasn’t their first choice.
	After that first night I was more relaxed. I took things as they came, not trying to form plans or worry about what might happen and that worked out pretty well. Behavior based on subconscious response was better than acting according to a plan or instinct.
	We averaged one fight a night on the weekends but there were no serious injuries. Many of the patrons carried buck knives on their belts but they never pulled them. Sometimes members of the Pagans, a motorcycle club from Pennsylvania, traveling down Rt. 40 would stop in and they carried weapons but since they were usually on a business trip, a drug buy or delivery, they wouldn’t start trouble that might lead to a call to the police.
	I was threatened with a weapon just once. Half a dozen rowdy, leather jackets were at a table next to the band. One of them decided to sit on the stage and harass the singer. I had to do something about it when he pulled the microphone stand away from the singer. The band took a break and I told the guy to go back to his seat. He said I would have to make him. 
	I said, “If I have to make you I’m not going to put you in your chair, I’m going to put you out the door.” 
	He looked to his friends and laughed and they roared. These guys had sneaked in their own bottles. The one on the stage broke his and waved it at me. He was a little too interested in his friends’ response because he turned towards them, taking his eyes off me. 
	I never drank while I was working which gave me a huge  advantage over 99% of the people who caused trouble. The owner of the wrist that I was concentrating on was at an immense disadvantage because he was wasted. The booze made him feel like Clint Eastwood but Clint wouldn’t make threats if he was too drunk to shoot straight.
	It’s amazing how quickly the mind works when it must. My first reaction when threatened with a lethal weapon is escape but I chose not to do that. My next choice, which was probably the best, was to break a chair over his head, but a bouncer shouldn’t have to smash the customers to maintain order, so I went for the wrist. If it came toward me before I got to it, I’d back up and start swinging furniture.
	It didn’t move so it was easy to shake the bottle free and pull the arm to me. As he came to me I ducked under the arm, got behind, and did a crotch lift.
	Some of the regulars were friends of the owner and after the first night whenever I got busy they would cover my back. As I was carrying Clint to the door they made sure his buddies didn’t interfere. 
	The bottle breaker was a fool and I immediately developed a hatred for him that would have lasted had I ever seen him again. I didn’t feel that way about most of the guys that tried to hurt, but not injure me. I was doing a job and the young men that drink hard and start fights are trying to feel alive. They get little if any satisfaction from their jobs and they can’t afford travel or fulfilling hobbies so when it’s time to party they get all they can out of it. Fighting or picking up strange women lifts their spirits and so does the fight. If they win the victory is sweet and if they lose they still have something to fire their passion.
	The spot where I sat for most of the night was a small vestibule about six feet square just inside the main entrance. From there I checked I.D.s, took the cover charge, and flirted with the girls. It was a confined space and the frenzied activity associated with escorting one or more flailing customers off the premises was always condensed into a sort of critical mass before the outside door could be opened and the tangle of whirling fists and feet pushed into the parking lot. The calm after those storms was always a great relief.
	One night a couple stopped in the vestibule to quickly down the last of their beers before leaving. They were in their early twenties and both were dressed in jeans and leather. Another patron was weaving his way toward us, his eyes about three quarters shut. His movements were a classic example of alcohol induced fluidity. The three of us gave him plenty of room to stumble through but rather than go by he turned toward the guy and pushed him with a great deal of force, into the wall. The light on the opposite wall fell and broke, leaving us in the dark. The girl screamed like an Indian and attacked the drunk. The boyfriend came off the wall cussin’ and swinging. I put the cash box under one arm and tried to separate the three of them but I couldn’t. With only one arm to pull them apart and block blows I was getting nowhere. Cindy came over to watch the fun so I threw the box to her. With both arms free I managed to get myself between the girl and her boyfriend and the drunk.
	The poor drunk was getting killed. He stayed on his feet and managed to return a few shots but with the girl pulling his hair and scratching his face and the boyfriend hitting him everywhere he was definitely losing, and so was I. A three way fight is difficult to break up without hurting someone.
	I pushed the girl out the door but she didn’t stay. She ran back in and started kicking the drunk. By now I was real angry and when I threw her out the second time I told her if she came back in I would hurt her. I meant it and she believed me so she stayed out. With her out of the fight it was possible to separate the two guys and push the boyfriend out the door. 
	The drunk and the vestibule were both a mess. He was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall. His face was scratched  all over, patches of hair were missing and he had lost one of his shoes. He looked up at me and said, “What happened.” I shook my head, told him to get out and noticed that another shirt was ruined.
	In Maryland at that time the drinking age for wine and beer was 18. Ninety percent of the customers were aged 18 to 30. I was 23. It’s a passionate, restless age group anywhere and these people were no exception. They had other characteristics common to many who live in the country; loyalty, industry, sharp instincts, patriotism, and many of them were street smart as well. Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia aren’t far and most people go to the cities pretty regularly for concerts or just a different place to party. Drugs were distributed by the locals who buy in the city.
	Drugs, booze and sex were the most popular pastimes with our patrons but their values served most of them very well. Excesses rarely reached destructive proportions. They partied hard and most could hold their liquor and maintain a grasp on reality.
	Despite an abundance of basic good sense acts of passion abounded. One of the best examples of hormones over mind was an incident involving Cindy and her boyfriend, Tim.
	Cindy was a tough girl. She carried a knife in her boot and a 38 in her purse. The purse and the gun made an excellent club. I saw her swing it at a grabby drunk, hit him flat on the ear and knock him off the bar stool.
	Tim was a handsome, long-haired 18 year old with a chip on his shoulder. He’d spent a few nights in jail for assault or battery or both. He was a very likable guy but his temper was terrible. His mood could change from irritated to furious in an instant.
	One night I ran into Cindy and Tim at a bar in Elkton. They had been arguing and after a while Tim stormed to the front door. It was a heavy glass door and rather then push it open with his hand he kicked it, with enough force to shatter it, which it did. 
	The owner went straight to the phone to call the police. Tim probably would have preferred to get busted so he could hold it over Cindy’s head but I felt compelled to help him. He was one of the regulars who covered my back at work. My apartment was a block away and the police station was closer in the other direction. Tim succumbed to the instinctive urge to run and we sprinted to my place arriving seconds before one of Elkton’s finest sped by. 
	We poured some Jack Daniels and I asked him, “So why did you smash the door.”
	He said. “’cause she’s a cunt.”
	“You’d get yourself busted just because she’s a cunt. You  should learn a little control.”
	“Fuck you.”
	So much for friendly advise.
	Someone in the bar told Cindy where I lived and she came over. After a few minutes the two of them seemed to be getting along real well (they were making out like teenagers at the drive‑in so I went back to the bar to get my car and take them home. 
	By the time I got back, my apartment was trashed. Cindy was in the kitchen cussing to herself and nursing a bloody nose and Tim was laying in the bathtub. They must have started swinging in the kitchen because it was upside down, and finished in the bathroom since that’s where Tim landed. The damage in the bathroom attested to the violence of the struggle. Besides the usual destruction you’d expect from a first class brawl the toilet tank was broken! There had been some vigorous activity in that bathroom.
	I was mad. I threw them out, looked at the debris and thought how depraved it seemed. They were two people in love, yet they completely forgot that fact and beat the shit out of each other. It’s depraved but not unusual. It’s normal for a lot of people but it was the first time I’d seen it and I was impressed.
	The “Rail” was a blast. It was a good way for a young man to learn a few things about people; well, about drunks. There were some good lessons; how to be patient under pressure, when to back down, keep you hair cut short if you plan to fight much and watch their feet.

© Robert A. Crimmins, Felton, Delaware, USA


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