"Let's go in", she says.
"To the scary Mexican Bar?"
12am. We're standing outside Carlos', the perpetually raucous Mexican bar/discotheque next to 24th st BART. She must be drunker than I thought. Or maybe just too new. Having moved here from London five days ago, she hasn't yet realized that the many Mexican bars dotting the Mission—most so authentic their interiors are sovereign Mexican territory—are strictly off limits. Heavily guarded fortresses on the front lines of a red hot culture war between the Mission's indigenous Mexican culture and the invading hipster hoards (aka us). There's no sign saying so, but there might as well be. NO GRINGOS ALLOWED.
"I don't know", I say, peeking in at the sea of brown faces.
"Oh come on", she says, "It'll be fun".
Now I have no choice. In the three years I've been in the Mission, me and my roommates have talked endlessly about going to a scary Mexican bar. Never actually doing it. And here is this twenty three year old Londoner chick (did I mention she's fit), fresh off the plane, daring me to go. If I don't go it's official. I am a poser with no testicles that only pretends to like being surrounded by real culture. Not even the coolest, most ironic T-shirt in the Mission can save me.
"Alright, let's go"
Walking in, the entire place does a double take. "Just play it cool", I say to myself, "it's just a bar". The place is packed and the bar surrounded, but I spy an opening between two large Hispanic men planted to their stools. The bartender, a plump young Hispanic woman barely contained by her pink halter top, sees me coming and makes a beeline in my direction. When I reach the bar she's waiting. She doesn't greet me in English or Spanish, but by reaching her hand across the bar for a handshake. Wow. I shake her hand, return her smile, and order two Coronas (the bar's obvious drink of choice).
Waiting for the beers, the very large, very drunk Hispanic man on my right swivels my direction and reaches out his hand (what's with the handshakes?). "Hello. What's your name", he asks. "Seth", I tell him, shaking his hand. I ask his name. "Jose", he tells me, and still holding my hand asks me where I'm from. "Phoenix", I tell him. "I am from Mexico", he tells me, putting his other hand on my shoulder. Then, leaning in so close I can smell the tequila on his breath, he says, "You, I can tell. You're intelligent. Me and you. We're both intelligent." I shoot a nervous glance at Emily, who's standing beside the bar. She's slowly bending backwards as a portly middle aged man leans further and further in to talk to her. A damsel in distress! I look back to my friend. "Where are you from", he asks. "Phoenix, but I have to dance now", I say, carefully untangling myself.
"Wanna dance?", I ask Emily. "Yeah!", she says, her face lighting up. She deftly spins away from her would be suitor, and dances into the fray with hands in the air. Not being prone to impulsive bouts of dancing in scary Mexican bars, I hang back and survey the scene. A handful of decked out couples spin around the floor in sync with the frentic, accordion fueled Mexican dance music. Emily, standing in the center, with hands still in the air and hips swinging back and forth, appears like a shining white metronome.
I'm drunk, but not enough. I turn back to the bar and find the bartender waiting. I order a shot of Tequila. Then make the mistake (or wise choice?) of sniffing it. A wave of nausea rolls over me and I wonder what would be more embarrassing; not taking the shot, or vomiting it up. I opt for neither and sip the Tequila with Corona chasers. Respect.
Finally finishing the shot, I hit the floor. I stand next to the metronome, bobbing my head and waiting for my rhythm to come. But it doesn't come. My limited moves, honed over many drunken nights in techno clubs, can't seem to find their feet in this foreign beat. Fuck it. I start dancing anyway. If there was videotape (thank god there isn't…), it'd probably look like I was dancing to a different song. It was, without a doubt, the whitest moment of my life. My only regret is that I didn't bite my lower lip and bust out an air accordion solo.
"Do you want to go?", Emily asks when the song mercifully ends. "YES!", I scream. We walk out the door laughing. We had done it! We'd done the scary Mexican bar. And while a large chunk of my dignity lays there still on the Corona and vomit slicked floor, my coolness, and my cahones, are firmly in tact.
Doogie Howser says:
And really, in the end, it wasn't all that scary. I guess sometimes in life it takes someone who hasn't learned our unreasonable fears to motivate us to face them.