JohnnyCashed's recent node reminds me of an experience I had late one spring.

A number of years ago, several friends and I who were at the time living in Boston decided that it would be fun to go white water rafting. A few of us (me included) had never been, and a couple of us who had said "We know the perfect place, let's do it." So we piled into a few cars (a Lexus LS400 and a Toyota MR2 Spyder, among others) and headed north.

Way north.

The rafting venue in question was basecamped out of Millinocket, Maine - a small town that is approximately six hours driving north of Boston (which, admittedly, still puts it south of a great deal of Canada). The knowledgeable two of us had explained that the rafting company recommended a motel in town as being convenient to the rally point just outside the town limits. When asked about the motel, they would get vague looks and mumble things about 'perfectly standard motel...sorta...' and refuse any more details.

There was weed and booze in the luggage. We arrived late in the evening, and drove through Millinocket - which mostly involved driving past the enormous paper mill which was, it seemed, the linchpin of Millinocket industry. It went on for miles (literally) and, not to put too fine a point on it, stank like...well...a mill. Not a lumber mill, those generally scent of fresh-cut trees and diesel, perhaps the sour but still natural smell of acidic dumps of pine sawdust. No; this one (which did have those smells) was overlain with a foul reek of chemical baths.

And you thought paper was all natural, didn't you.

Anyway, we soon pulled into the motel. It was a standard model - an 'L' shape, at an angle to the highway, so that the two legs of the L enclosed the parking area. Single storey, rooms opening out onto a large patio that ran the length of the motel, with parking in front of the rooms. Looked like it fit right into the surroundings. At the far end of the L was a humped shape of a building, grafted on - the office.

Except for two things.

First, the hump was quite a bit larger than an office would require.

Second, there was a large sign atop the building which read "CLUB LA CASA."

Those of us who had not been to these climes before turned, as one, to the pair who had. They looked at each other, and said "Huh, they changed the name."

"From what?" asked somebody.

"Well, it used to be 'La Casa de Fiesta.'"

I recall asking "Should I ask why, in the northern depths of Maine, this sign is in Spanish?"

I also recall getting the answer "Mmmmmeeeh, probably not."

"Why," we asked, "is this motel named that?"

"Oh, the motel isn't named that. That's the strip club attached to the motel. But nobody knows what the motel's named anymore, so they all call it La Casa."


We had to go into La Casa to get our room keys. The space within lurked ominously past the brightly-lit office area at the front, but was dark and empty, echoing. We scurried back out to get some rest.

After some adventures finding dinner (hint: do not have Chinese food at a restaurant named (I kid you not) Man Chow in Millinocket; I knew this to be true and others did not, and They Did Suffer, later) we retired for the night, woke early, and headed out to brave the rapids.

That's another story, in which I very nearly perished due to drowning and stupidity (how often they go together) but that's for another time.

In the evening, we all returned to the motel after dining less adventurously but more safely on hot dogs and sundries from a roadside stand to change out of still-damp clothes. Eventually, we all ended up sitting on the large patio, watching Club La Casa come alive across the parking lot. The light flickered on. People strolled in, drove in, and generally made their way into the windowless building. All kinds of people. We looked at each other, and it was clear - there was no way we weren't going to Club La Casa. No sirree. So we all got up and ambled across the parking lot once the muffled but powerful unf unf unf unf of a sound system had fired up, walked past a slightly ominous row of bad-ass Harley-Davidsons, and went inside.

Inside was a scene which was what reminded me of JohnnyCashed's story. A fake-wood panelled interior, with a whole mess of chairs that looked like they'd been stolen from a Marriott ballroom somewhere in the sticks facing a low stage with a pole. At the back, a bar, with a few tables along the outside walls.

There were several distinct groups of folks visible. As we entered, there were on our right (close to one side of the stage) a large group of big men in work clothes who were obviously offshift mill workers. Further on, on the other side of the stage, was a smaller but still sizeable group of young guys who looked like they probably weren't even legal to drink in many cases. Along the back wall at the tables, on our left, were perhaps a dozen representatives of that fraternity which owned and worshipped the motorcycles outside. Big gents, all of them; bearded, relatively silent, wearing sunglasses inside the dark club, and to a man holding Budweiser long-necks.

Several of them locked onto me as I moved past and followed me with their heads. This caused me to nudge one of my friends, who was ethnically Chinese, and say "Hey, how many black guys you see in here?" and then shake my head as the poor sucker actually looked around to count (other than me, it was zero, I should note). We found seats near stage center, halfway back, and bought drinks.

Well, those women were working for their money. There were perhaps five or six of them, in turns, and the highlight of the evening was when one of them - an older black lady going by the name DaLyLah - showed us her favorite trick. She'd ask us to hold a dollar bill in our teeth, and then, stradding our knees, she'd take her impressively sized proofs of mammalia, WHACK 'em together and - ta-daaah! - the dollar would be gone, trapped in her capacious bosom. This was accompanied by a healthy faceslap of said mammaries. So naturally, we got our gay friend drunk and started him on this, and he thought it was the funniest thing he'd done in forever; he started spending those dollar bills quick and laughing uproariously at each titslap. It was okay; the strippers knew he was gay (he's a queen) and they thought it was funny as hell.

In the meantime, I was looking carefully around trying to see if the Angels (I dunno if they were real Hell's Angels - it was too dark to see colors) were still looking at me. Yup, always a couple staring my way.

It turned out that the younger crew got drunk real fast and real loud even faster. They, I found out by asking a waitress, were a bachelor party for one of their number - and all of them were the sons of Management at the mill, which explained the comparatively preppy clothing. Eventually, though, their drunken members (not all of them, but enough) began to visibly annoy the mill workers. At this point, I nudged my buddies and said "Listen, we might want to be sure not to get caught in the middle of anything here..."

I would have continued, but at that moment, the Angels all (as a one) stood up and headed for the parking lot. On the way past my chair (I was in the back row, at the aisle) they all slammed into my shoulder as they passed, despite the fact that three could easily pass abreast back there.

Every one.

I nudged my buddies again. "Plan change! Um, I think I'm gonna get in a fight. You guys might want to make like you don't know me."

There was outrage at this suggestion, and oaths of support, but I beat 'em down. "No, look, seriously. Those guys are huge. Besides, I'm gonna need somebody to get the cops, or get me to a hospital."

The management party chose that moment to have one of its members drape himself slobberingly over one of the strippers. The mill workers all surged up in anger, but even worse, it turned out that some of the guys who weren't with either party were the stripper's boyfriends, and they too took exception. A brawl broke out, but luckily we weren't really involved, and the staff of Club La Casa quickly and efficiently shoved the whole mess out into the parking lot.

I figured that the distraction would help, so I said "I'm gonna try to make it to the room." And so saying, left.

As I got outside, I found an entertaining but threatening scene. The brawl between the management kids and the mill workers was going on alongside the highway edge. A bunch of cars (including a Jaguar and a Mercedes, obviously the kids' borrowing dads' rides) were parked nose-out, and the fighting was taking place in the narrow area behind their rear bumpers, between them and the building as the workers expressed their true feelings towards management by proxy. At the left side, along the building itself, were the Hell's Angels, all sitting on or lounging against their bikes. They were watching the fight with what looked like expressions of great entertainment.

The only way out was pretty much to walk directly between the brawl, and the Angels.

I took a deep breath, stuck my chest out, and walked steadily (not too fast) between the two fires. Before I got halfway, though, a voice came from the left. "Hey, you."

I turned slowly and looked at the enormous motherfucker in denim colors. He was maybe three inches taller than me, probably outweighed me by fifty pounds, and sure as hell knew how to fight where I didn't, really. Only one thing to do.

"Yeah?" Not too surly, but direct.

There was a silence. I looked at him. He looked at me. His buddies all looked at us.

Then beckoned me over. "You better hang tight on this side, man, those dumb shits over there are crazy." And he pointed to the brawl still going on behind me.

Then they all laughed.

I walked over to his bike, knees shaking, and tried to grin. "Yeah, I noticed. Um, thanks."

"De nada. Hey, see that kid in the green shirt?"

I looked. "Yeah?"

"I got ten bucks says he takes it in the crank from that guy he's mixing with."

I looked again. "Hell no, that guy's way too tall to knee him in the...okay, fifteen bucks."

We whipped out money. All of us. And the bets started to fly.

When the Angels rode out twenty minutes later, the cops had showed, the brawl was over, I'd lost thirty bucks but won fifty, and generally felt like life was OK as I waved to my new acquaintances and got a wave from each as they fired their snarling bikes out into the night.

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