By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Back when I was in college, I was driving home one weekend when I had a sudden desire for a BBQ sandwich.
There used to be a place on 220 that I had driven past several hundred times, but I had never once stopped. We’ll call it Chubby’s BBQ. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I was feeling fine, and I figured that day was as good as any to stop at a new restaurant and see what they had to offer.
I pulled into Chubby’s parking lot and parked between a couple of motorcycles. I didn’t think much of it; it was a perfect day for weekend warriors to be tearing up the roads on their bikes.
And then I stepped inside Chubby’s and realized I had just walked into a biker bar.
There were maybe eight or nine bikers sitting in the place, most of them hunched over at the bar, a couple sitting at a battered wooden table near the big-screen TV.
These guys were the real deal. These were the kind of guys who would spit on your trike or your Honda Goldwing. These guys were Transmaniacon MC. They were all tanned and wrinkled and scraggly as though they had spent a couple of years panhandling on the surface of the sun.
And when I walked in, the needle scratched off the jukebox record and they all turned their attention to me.
In a situation like that, there are exactly two options: you can either quietly turn and walk back to your car, or you can stride right in and act like you belong.
Because I’m an idiot, I chose the second option.
I sat down at the less populated end of the bar and a surprised looking waitress came over to take my order. She was the kind of older lady who worked in a biker bar, which meant she looked like she could make the best peach cobbler you’ve ever had in your life and then mop the floor with late-1980s Mike Tyson. I told her I wanted a BBQ sandwich and a glass of water, and she regarded me with a kind of tragic maternal concern as she went to put in my order.
There were plenty of sights to see as I sat at that bar. To my right, there was a guy eyeballing me who looked kind of like a live-action Popeye in a leather vest, nursing a redeye with a bleary look that suggested he may have spent the previous night on the floor behind his stool.
The highlight, though, was behind the bar. A framed photo of a burly, long-haired biker was hanging on the wall, with dates below the sign to indicate the years of his birth and death. Below that was his gray ponytail, which had been nailed to the wall like a trophy.
It began to occur to me that I probably should have just driven to the Dairy Queen up the road.
It took a long time for my sandwich to arrive, possibly because I was the first person to ever order a BBQ sandwich at this place. When the waitress put my sandwich in front of me, I figured I would be able to eat and get back on the road without incident.
I was wrong.
As I mentioned, there were two guys sitting at a scarred wooden table watching the big-screen TV. It was playing the E! True Hollywood Story about The Dukes of Hazzard, that country-fried early-1980s cultural touchstone that sent hundreds of ’69 Dodge Chargers to an early grave.
I’ll confess it: I have a soft spot for the Dukes of Hazzard. I understand that the Confederate Flag painted on the roof of the General Lee is problematic for at least two reasons, but at the same time, a show about a handful of folks battling a corrupt local government in bed with crooked law enforcement seems ahead of its time from the perspective of 2021.
Anyway, I couldn’t really hear the show all that well, but the two guys at the table were watching it intently. And at one point, an image flashed on the screen of Catherine Bach, Daisy Duke herself, butt-kicking Goddess to every young man coming of age between 1979 and 1985, standing next to a football player.
One of the bikers looked to his friend.
“Did you know that Daisy Duke dated that African-American gentleman?”
Now, to be clear, he did not phrase the statement that way; he said something horribly racist. Also to be clear, I have no idea if Catherine Bach actually dated that guy. But just putting the idea out into the universe was enough, and when I looked over at the biker he’d said it to, I knew a terrible mistake had been made.
There are many different types of drunks: happy drunks, sloppy drunks, embarrassing drunks, and so forth.
This guy was an angry drunk. He was the kind of guy who drinks to a certain point and then just wants to fight anything that wanders into his field of vision. It takes nothing to set that kind of guy off.
As I saw him begin to shake with rage, I knew this was the spark that he had been waiting for. He began to ramble angrily, his voice growing louder and louder, furious to learn that forty years ago, Catherine Bach, one of the most beautiful human beings to ever exist, may or may not have chosen to briefly date a highly-paid athlete at the top of his game rather than a battered, sunburnt biker who had been drinking cheap beer since 7 a.m.
This aggression could not stand. This was a bridge too far.
The biker grew angrier and angrier, shouting about what an injustice this was.
There was a part of me that wanted to say to him, “Hey man, you can’t use language like that. It’s racist and it’s wrong.” But there was another, greater part of me that did not want to get beaten to death with a motorcycle chain. We all must live with our choices.
And so, realizing that this guy was only going get drunker and angrier until he took a swing at the nearest person who looked different, I did the smart thing: I ate my sandwich in three bites, threw a ten dollar bill on the counter, sprinted to my car, and then drove away at a high rate of speed.
I like to think that’s what the Duke Boys would have done.