San Diego There must be some discrepancy. Word on the street has it that bouncers come big and dumb, like unnecessary monsters set on ruining our nights out.
"Bouncers only get those jobs because they're naturally violent bullies," said one club patron. "Who in their right mind wants to go around stuffing the next person up and chucking him down flights of stairs?"
Said another, "Most people enjoy getting along with each other and would hate to fight, but these animals are bred to fight, like mad pit bulls."
And another, "All bouncers have chips on their shoulders. They always reveal this image of 'Don't mess with me or else.' "
And finally, "Bouncers think they have all that power, and the whole thing is going to their heads."
So I went venturing for these violent, unnecessary, pit bull-esque, shoulder-chip-bearing bullies at the nightclubs and bars along the main strip on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach to catch them in the act.
At Moondoggies, a bald and muscled, nose-studded, dragon-tattooed door guy put me on the defensive immediately. But then he threw me with a ready smile and a personable chat...until his wife and two-year-old son toddled along, by which time I fancied I was meeting a gentle beast indeed.
At P.B. Bar & Grill, the door guys got almost as many visitors as the club itself. Seemed as if everybody knew their names. And by the time I reached Longboard's, ten blocks up, no one had menaced me, no one glared, and I had dug up precisely zero stories about war and strife and blood and guts.
So what gives?
"It's a common misconception," said Paul Correia, who has worked the door at various P.B. clubs for over 11 years. "Everybody thinks we're these bad guys, but really we're just making a living." Paul sits on a stool outside P.B. Bar & Grill about five nights a week. He talks to me readily, has a friendly face and a big smile. And in the course of a half hour he is visited by me, an interviewing journalist; an air marshal he's known since P.B.'s last goth-club days; a huge and jolly fellow on a souped-up, Harley-ized beach-cruiser bicycle; two doormen from other clubs; a husband and wife; and various nondescript others, literally all of whose names he knows.
Correia's not a big fellow, not even close, but he is able to lower his ample eyebrows into a professionally honed glower at a moment's notice. He turns away a few people for various reasons -- no secondary forms to back up the new military I.D.s, for instance -- and he is cordial and explanatory with each unlucky patron. "It's more about people skills," he tells me, and from what I can see, he's right. One guy he turns away is absolutely massive, but Correia tells him, at length, the reasons he can't let him in.
"People wonder why I card folks who are obviously of age, like I just want to give them a hard time or something, but what if some 50-year-old guy gets in who's already super-drunk? Then the bartenders can't serve him, and the truth is, he shouldn't have gotten in here in the first place."
The whole time he talks to me, he is giving I.D.s the once over with a flashlight, looking through them, sideways at them, around and around, an absolute scrutiny. He tells me later that most of the training for door guys involves the checking of I.D.s. There's even a test. Whenever he says "I.D.," his right index finger and thumb make a kind of C minus or half-box-shape, like some kind of universal hand signal.
"You know, that moment when I stop a guy and tell him, 'Excuse me, but I need to see your I.D.,' well, that's the moment when I can tell whether the guy's already drunk or something. I get to look him in the eye, have a few words, make him fumble for his wallet, you know."
Chris E. McGoey, author of Security: Adequate...or Not?, writes: "The duty of a bouncer is to monitor the crowd to see that everyone behaves. The goal should be to see that everyone has a good time but within established limits. The best bouncers are personable, friendly, and can talk to people without appearing threatening or intimidating. The best bouncers don't 'bounce' anyone...they talk to people. The mere presence of a well-trained bouncer will remind the patron that their conduct is being scrutinized."
So is it merely a common (drunken?) misconception that bouncers have the authority to pick someone up and physically remove him or her from the premises?
McGoey goes on, "Simply stated, bouncers cannot legally use force unless they are taking someone into custody or in self-defense. When force is used it must be reasonable. That means no tackling, no punching, no kicking, no choking, no head butts, and no pain-compliance holds. The authority of a bouncer or any other security person is the same as any ordinary citizen."
Up the road a ways, at Typhoon Saloon, security personnel wear ear devices for efficient communication. On a given night, there will be as many as 20 men working security for roughly 550 patrons. Incidentally, no bouncer calls himself a bouncer. The bouncers at the door are called "door guys," and the bouncers inside are called "security." There were two distinct reactions from every bouncer I called a "bouncer": most of the bigger fellows seemed to enjoy the connotations, and most of the smaller guys took some form of mild offense. Just about every club I visited had both kinds, some big bouncers and some smaller -- I don't know -- security enforcers.
An anonymous security enforcer at Typhoon explained to me why they have "the hottest girls in P.B." at their club. "We don't like to promote an atmosphere of aggression. I mean, most of the security here isn't big muscleheads or anything. We like to deal with people as people, and we want the ladies to feel safe. So if a girl comes to us and tells us that some guy was touching her or making her feel uncomfortable, then we assign security to watch the guy and make sure he doesn't do it again."