I’ve never been fond of the marketing of New Year’s Eve as the Greatest Show on Earth every December 31, because it usually fails to live up to its promise. Case in point, one year I agreed to spend New Year’s Eve at the Crescent Hotel in Dallas. It seemed like 20 of us from the Tarrant County Junior College South Campus Theater Department pulled our money together to rent one room. My best friend Kent came with me, and we were disappointed to discover that the evening had turned out to be sitting around and watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on TV and drinking cheap beer.
We had been under the impression that the gang was going out to a Fish Dance, a club in Dallas that–according to the radio commercial–promised you could “dance your bass off.” In addition, I had turned 21 during the previous September, and I was eager to go to a 21+ club where I could belly up to the bar and order watered down refreshing adult beverage in a plastic cup. As the boys began to play quarters, and the girls began to critique Gloria Estefan’s ensemble, Kent and I told the gang that we were stepping out for some fish sticks and we would be back later. It was already eleven o’clock, so we had an hour to get to Fish Dance. How hard could that be?
At the time, I didn’t know Dallas very well, so Kent slipped behind the wheel of my yellow 1971 Volkswagon Super Beetle with the factory sunroof. I should have recalled that Kent was not known for his sense of direction, either. Even now I can remember the thorns of the brambles biting into my skin and the snarling of the pack of dogs that chased us on our bicycles after taking Kent’s short cut off the county road to our neighborhood.
Under normal circumstances, radio advertisements for Fish Dance were heard during every commercial break. However, as we monitored the radio waves when we needed to hear one for the exact street address, none were to be found. Meanwhile, Kent drove us from the Quadrangle to Highland Park to Oak Lawn and back again, desperately hoping that we would come upon the club. The clock kept ticking. As we passed the fountain at Turtle Creek again, which, by this time, was filled with suds overflowing onto the asphalt from New Year’s Eve pranksters, I convinced Kent to pull over so we could ask for directions.
“Maybe we should just go back to the hotel,” Kent suggested.
“NO!” I said. “I read that whatever you’re doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve is an indication as to what the new year holds for you, and my new year will not be about cheap beer, quarters, and Miami Sound Machine!”
“Okay, okay, I’ll ask for directions.”
As Kent pulled into a strip mall on what was probably Lemon Avenue, I recalled my last overnight experience with my theater friends. Our production of Biloxi Blues had advanced to the semi-finals of a college play competition. I woke up in the middle of the night with Chase squeezing my pecs and calling me his girlfriend’s name in his sleep. Going back to the hotel was not an option.
I waited beside the car as Kent went inside an unmarked club. Even though there were less than 10 minutes until midnight, I still had hope that we would be in the middle of the dance floor, shaking our basses to Bananarama, Erasure, and the Pet Shop Boys before the clock struck twelve. In the midst of my daydreaming, two Hispanic girls with kinky mullets approached me.
“Happy New Year, chico!” They offered me a bottle in brown paper bag, which I politely declined. “What’s wrong, chico? Is our Mad Dog not good enough for you?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “I’m saving myself for Fish Dance.”
The two girls exchanged a bewildered look, then checked their watches. “I don’t think you’re going to make it.”
The last bit of denial deserted me as my stomach did a flip.
Kent returned and the Hispanic girls wandered off.
“It’s Plan B Time,” Kent announced. “We’re nowhere near Fish Dance.”
I opened the passenger door of my VW and collapsed into the seat. “This totally sucks. I hate my life!”
“I’m really sorry.” Kent leaned against the side of my car. “We only have a few minutes until midnight. What about this place?”
I glanced up at the plain building with darkened windows and no sign. “What is it?”
“Funny you should ask,” Kent said. “It’s an underage Hispanic gay bar.” He watched me for a moment, perhaps for signs that I might take my own life there in the parking lot. “Well …”
“I’m still processing all the adjectives in your description,” I said. “So … I can’t have my watered down refreshing adult beverage in a little plastic cup; we’re going to be the only white people in the whole club; and …”
I blew out a long sigh. “I just wanted to dance my bass off. Is that too much to ask for?”
“You know, the music’s pretty good inside,” Kent said. “They were playing Information Society.”
I weighed my options. I could either spend my New Year’s Eve feeling sorry for myself in the parking lot of an underage Hispanic gay bar in God only knew where in Dallas, or I could go inside and try to have a good time with my best friend. After giving it some thought, I decided that if where I was and what I was doing at midnight determined the rest of my year, I knew where I’d rather be. “How much time do we have left?”
Kent checked his Swatch. “About three minutes.”
I locked the car and slammed the door. “Come one, then, let’s go show the underage Hispanic gay kids how to ring in the new year.”
As we passed the two Hispanic girls with the kinky mullets, I took a swig from their bottle in the brown paper bag. Sometimes, you just have to pretend the Mad Dog is champagne and move on.