No Slashed Tires
“It’s nothing like Road House, there’s no Patrick Swayzes,” says Ted Washington, who divides his time as a bouncer between Winstons in Ocean Beach and at the Casbah in Middletown. Other bouncers have a different take on this particular vocation.
“I used to work at a certain establishment in Lakeside that’s not there anymore,” says Ronny K. “This was back in the late 1980s, so that dates me, but it could get like Road House. The band played behind wire mesh, and there was an arsenal of handguns and rifles under the bar. No one ever slashed my tires, because I parked around the corner and made sure no one was watching or following me. That’s kind of paranoid, but sometimes people do hold grudges when you toss them out.”
This was the case with a 22-year-old bouncer who was killed on February 22, 2003, in a Gaslamp Quarter nightclub, Red Top, that featured burlesque shows. From the police report of the incident: “A male patron had gotten onto a go-go dancing platform and was groping a female dancer. The patron was approached by security and asked to get down. He was told he needed to leave the club. He complied. The patron showed no outward signs of being intoxicated… The two guards walked behind the patron toward the stairs that led to the front door of the club. As the three climbed the stairs, the patron stayed ahead of the guards. At about the fourth or fifth stair up, the patron, who had his hands at his sides, abruptly turned, and with a closed fist struck the guard closest to him in the face. The guard was on the second stair up from the floor. The guard fell straight back and onto the concrete floor. He suffered a skull fracture and died.”
There is also the 2001 case of Michael Savala, who, on Cinco de Mayo, shot and killed two bouncers at the Old Bonita Store restaurant after he and his two drunken friends were 86’ed. The murder charges were reduced to manslaughter because, as reported by the Union-Tribune on March 8, 2003, a “witness testified that one of the bouncers elbowed Savala hard in the face, then slapped him a couple of times, even after two men had Savala by the arms and were dragging him outside. Savala then got a handgun from his Cadillac Escalade and shot bouncers Basilio Beltran and Jesse Vasquez to death.”
In a recent online employment ad, the Marriott Gaslamp Quarter referred to the position of bouncer as “Beverage Ambassador,” with the duty “to keep rooftop bar safe and the patrons happy and in control.” Requirements: “Meet/ exceed customer expectations, excellent people skills” and “able to lift at least 50 pounds.” Other terms for the job are doorman, ID checker, security, enforcer, door staff, floor staff, and door supervisor. In Australia and Canada, the official term is “crowd controller.” They often collect door cover charges and rely on tips for special treatment. While in typical bar or club settings, the bouncer/doorman looks for people who are underage, intoxicated, or appear intent on causing trouble, in trendy, popular “scene” clubs frequented by celebrities or VIPs, bouncers allow or disallow entry based on gender, attire, personality, financial status (that is, slipping the bouncer $20–$100 to gain entry), and in some cases, race and culture, going against the mandate of antidiscrimination laws.
“My uncle came up with a term: executive clientele relocation director,” says Jason Estu, who has worked at bars and clubs all across San Diego and San Francisco. “I even put that on my résumé.”
According to the website crimedoctor.com: “The term bouncer presents an image of a brawler who will break up fights and forcibly eject obnoxious patrons. Bouncers are often portrayed in movies as tough, thug-like scrappers who love to fight…. Many nightclubs foster that image by hiring oversized ex-jocks, wrestlers, or martial artists to handle drunken or out-of-control patrons. Usually these bouncers have little experience and receive no real formal training in criminal or civil law…. These inexperienced bouncers will be forced to rely on their own common sense and instincts to solve a problem.”
“At strip clubs, I was known as the Body Guard, like that movie with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner,” says Ronny K., who did not want to be fully identified. “I kept men from jumping on the stages, going into the dressing room, or even the women’s bathroom — you won’t believe what some of these guys will do after half a dozen drinks. I walked the dancers to and from their cars because guys sometimes hang around outside waiting for them.”
Some notable former bouncers include actors Vincent D’Onofrio, Vin Diesel (his original bouncer pseudonym), and Mr. T., two-time winner of America’s Tough Bouncer competition. Even Al Capone worked as a bouncer in his youth. In the pre–World War I years of the United States, bouncers also had the job of guardians of morality. Ballroom dancing, for instance, and taxi dancing, were considered an activity that could lead to immoral conduct if the dancers’ bodies got too close. Venues required bouncers to remind patrons not to dance closer than nine inches from their partners. A bouncers’ warning was a light tap on the shoulder, at first; then, if needed, they progressed to more draconian methods.
The 300 Club
Jason Estu, Ted Washington, and Ronny K. all began their life in bouncing in the days before bouncers had to register with authorities and carry a “guard card.” In California, Senate Bill 194 requires any bouncer or bar security to be registered with the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. They must also complete a criminal background check and submit their fingerprints to the Department of Justice and the FBI. The San Diego Police Department’s In-House Security Program held its first session for bouncers and doormen on September 14, 2004, with 25 attendees who worked in Pacific Beach establishments. “The pilot program is focusing on that coastal district — a ‘bar hopping’ hotspot lined with popular taverns,” reported the North County Times.
Before the passage of 194, “The only thing that mattered was that you were big, and you could hold your own in a fight,” says Estu, who once belonged to a group of San Diego bouncers who called themselves “The 300 Club” — no one in the club clocked in at fewer than 300 pounds, averaging 350–375. These big guys hung out together, partied together, dated the same women, and supported each others’ goals and dreams. (This is not to be confused with the 300 Club in Antarctica, explained at penguincentral.com as “a mid-winter activity at [the South] Pole so named for the
-300°F temperature shift one experiences when running from a +200°F sauna to the Pole and back when the outside ambient temperature hits -100°F or below. The air is so dry that it’s possible to sit in a sauna that warm without getting scalded, and it’s also possible to make a several-minute walk to the Pole and back without losing fatal amounts of body heat.”) From 2004 to 2005, they could often be found having a Sunday BBQ together on the rooftop of a loft building at Fifth Avenue and Market Street.
The Los Angeles production company Romano Shane Television was interested in creating a reality show about the 300 Club: the series would follow the San Diego bouncers around on and off the job, chronicling the challenges of this kind of life, from fights with a drunk patron to fights with the significant other at home.
It never quite came together. “It was a great concept,” says TV producer Tony Romano from his home in Malibu, “and I think it still is, but there are so many details when dealing with a group of people and getting a test pilot off the ground. TV’s a crapshoot. The stars just didn’t line up at the time.”
Most of the former 300 Club have scattered now — moving to other cities, getting married, and going back to school. Estu and a handful remain in San Diego, doing what they do best.…
“Once a bouncer, always a bouncer,” Estu likes to say. He gives this example: he recently went to see a movie where there was mostly a young audience, except for a couple in their 50s or 60s. This couple asked the group of people in front of them to please be quiet, and “This guy got in their faces, started yelling he was going to sue, swearing at them. Now,” Estu says, “that’s not right, this is an elderly couple, you don’t get in older people’s faces like that, so the bouncer inside me kicked in and I got into this guy’s face. I walked the couple to their car to make sure they were okay and nothing happened.”
The Former IRS Agent and the Repo Man
Ted Washington has bounced from coast to coast in his travels. He worked for one night in a Las Vegas strip club. “Uhn-uh,” he says, shaking a head full of dreadlocks and laughing, “that scene was too crazy for me.”
So how did he wind up at Winstons? Did he apply for the job, did he walk in and say, “Do you need a bouncer/doorman?”
“I came in with some friends as a customer one day,” he explains. “This buddy of mine started flirting with this girl. He tapped her on the ass with his hand — a big mistake. She was with these three guys. The three guys started to pick a fight with my friend. Now, my friend had it coming; he shouldn’t have touched that girl, but three against one isn’t a fair fight. I got involved. I picked up one of the three guys and tossed him out of the bar.”
The doorman working at that time observed Washington’s way of handling the situation and was impressed. “He said I should work there, offered me a job. I said no. It’s not what I wanted. He said, ‘Come try it out, one day a week.’ So I did. And now here I am.”
As for the Casbah, his involvement with the local music and spoken-word scene, and performing in the band Pruitt Igoe, led to work at the music venue.
He admits that things don’t get as rowdy at the Casbah as they do at Winstons. “People are there for the music, so there are not too many fights or problems, unless they have a hardcore punk or metal band on the roster,” and then things might get out of hand. He also says there are fewer fights at Winstons these days. Mondays through Thursdays tend to be problem free, “but on Friday and Saturday nights, something happens. Used to be you could count on a big fight every weekend, but things have mellowed out.” He doesn’t know why — maybe the patrons are getting older, maybe people are drinking less because of the economy.
Perhaps Washington’s previous job with the Internal Revenue Service prepared him for the vocation. IRS agents often deal with difficult people. “I was the guy who came to your house to seize property and assets” when people had a debt to satisfy with the U.S. Government. Washington seems amused by that past job, a life very unlike the bohemian existence he now lives in Ocean Beach. When he’s not at the door of Winstons or the Casbah, Washington spends his time writing poetry, painting, and operating Puna Press. The press mostly publishes Washington’s art and writing but has also issued Edwin Decker’s Barzilla, a local favorite among denizens of the poetry scene.
“Before I bounced, I was a car repo man,” says Ronny K. “Worked for this agency that served court papers on people, followed cheating husbands and wives around, and repo’d cars. Place out of Spring Valley. I did some process-serving but mostly nabbed cars. Sometimes, people would just give you the keys, knowing this was coming; you’d go up to the door, explain it, they’d say, ‘Okay’ and hand over the keys, and that was that, easy commission. Other times, you gotta go back and steal the cars, which would either be easy or tricky, doing this at three, four in the morning. I’ve had people come after me with bats, shoot BB gun pellets at me, send their dogs after me. But no one ever got right in my face.”
A Fistful of Fights
It can be a dangerous way to make a living. “Ninety-seven percent of the time, you’re not doing anything, you’re hanging out, talking to girls, kicking back,” says Estu, “and three percent of the time you live in hell and utter terror.”
When it comes to violence, a bouncer can never know what to expect, especially when alcohol, and maybe drugs, are involved. Or sports. “I was working at the club in the Excelsior Hotel,” Estu says. “It was a football party kickoff night, and the teams from USD and SDSU were there.” Stuff happened, words were exchanged, fists began to fly. “Eighty football players were there,” Estu recalls with amazement, “and all hell broke loose. We did what we could to stop it. I just held on for the ride and hoped I didn’t get hurt. Strangely enough, I didn’t get hit at all,” but the football players tore into one another. “Most people don’t want to fight, and they’ll stop when you break them up,” Estu says, “but these football players are made for this kind of thing, and they weren’t about to stop.”
“I was hired for this wedding, a big wedding,” says Ronny K. “Funny, why does a wedding need security or bouncers? Well, it was a big event and they didn’t want the ‘wrong’ people crashing the thing, and of course people were going to get drunk at the wedding party. It was a white guy from Imperial Beach marrying a Mexican girl from Chula Vista, and they both had ties to different gangs. Crazy. So here you have this wedding party attended by these peeps from two rival gangs and different racial blood, so there was bound to be blood. Not an hour into the party, there was drinking and other stuff, and these guys started going at it. It looked like a rumble on a prison yard, these two giant dudes packed with muscles yelling at each other, tearing their shirts off, showing all these gang tats, and then slamming into each other the way monster trucks do, you know? Holy shit, the sound they made when flesh met flesh and fist met fist, and everyone at the party was cheering them on, rooting for their guy, and then they started to get into it. The women too. It was a huge gang fight. I stood there and waited for the police. There was no way in hell I was getting into that. I didn’t know if there were guns or knives. I remember chunks of flesh on the floor that people had bitten off each other. I don’t know what happened to the bride and groom; they probably, smartly, got out of there.”
Estu says, “I was at a beach bar and I wasn’t even working there, but I got into a fight. A buddy of mine [from rhe 300 Club] was working there. I just went to hang out. These eight rather big Samoan guys showed up. They were looking for a bouncer who wasn’t working that night, they were there over a beef from a year and a half ago. I had to help my buddy on this. Eight Samoan guys and three of us — I was asking for mercy.” The incident did not go well; Estu and the other two got beaten pretty badly. “One guy blindsided me in the head, bam, then another hit me again, bam,” he tells it. He took the beating and lived.
“I’ve been hit in the head with a beer bottle three or four times,” Ronny K. claims. “One dude reached over and grabbed a bottle of Skyy vodka and hit me in the head, and the bottle didn’t break. Still hurt. I took the bottle from him and hit him back, and the bottle still didn’t crack. I’ve had a couple knives pulled out on me and got my hand cut but never been stabbed. Never been shot at either, knock on wood,” and he raps his scarred knuckles on the bar counter. Where did those scars come from? “Fistfight two weeks ago,” he says. “You should see the other dude’s face. He came in looking for his ex-girlfriend or wife or whatever, and she was there with this other guy. He wanted to start shit with the other guy, but he and his ex started going at it, smacking each other around. So I grabbed him and said, ‘You don’t hit women like that,’ and he tried to take me on. A mistake.”
Estu has also had his hand penetrated by a patron’s teeth, deeply. “I tackled him, had his head locked down, and then he bit me.” Estu spent several hours in the hospital, getting rabies shots and stitched up. He still has nerve damage in the hand from that experience.
“There was this construction worker at a bar in El Cajon,” Ronny K. says. “He had his tool belt on. Probably shouldn’t have let him bring it in, but it wasn’t my shift. Come my shift, the guy was shitfaced and looking for trouble. I go to talk to him, and he whipped out a hammer and came after me with that. Then he threw the hammer at my feet and started tossing nails at me too. He was so drunk it was funny, but it could have been different. It wasn’t that funny when you think about the kind of damage he could have done to me or other people.”
Washington hasn’t had such dangerous encounters, just the typical mild fights with drunkards. “The main thing the bar is concerned with is making money,” he says. “They want the drinks to pour and the money to come in. They want people to feel safe and have fun and drink. It’s a business. We’re there to make sure people have a good time; we take out those who want to cause trouble. We don’t let in people who look like they’re going to interfere with the money flow.”
In Wisconsin’s lumberjack days, bouncers would blatantly remove patrons who were too drunk to keep purchasing drinks, to free up space at the bar for new patrons. According to wisconsinhistory.net, a “snake-room” was a “room off a saloon, usually two or three steps down, into which a barkeeper or the bouncer could slide drunk lumberjacks head first through swinging doors.”
Today, with so much litigation and the fear of criminal charges, establishments want their bouncers to talk before tossing. “Communication is the key; a lot of it is about talking to people,” Estu says. “If there’s a problem, find out what it is. Listen to what the problem is. Figure out how to solve the problem. Get people to calm down.” The bar or club wants people to stay and spend their money, but if a problem can’t be resolved, then people need to be bounced out.
“Most people are reasonable, even if they are drunk,” says Ronny K. “No one wants pain. But you’re gonna get those people who like pain, even live for pain. The jerks who want to fight and mess people up. Usually, you can spot them at the door and you turn them away. You can see it in their eyes, you can feel the energy coming off them. These guys don’t last in society too long. They wind up in jail soon enough.”
As for weapons, neither Estu nor Washington carries anything deadlier than a flashlight. Washington has never had the need for weapons, finding his physical presence and hands to be enough. Estu once thought about a gun but figured that could be taken away from him and used on him. One night, his new flashlight came in handy. “This was at Moondoggies downtown,” he says. “This guy was there, he was on a reality show, I forget the name — Meet My Folks, Who Wants to Marry My Dad? — it was one of those kind of shows — and this guy who was on it thought he was some superstar. He thought he could get any woman, that all women knew who he was and wanted to sleep with him. So he comes in and he starts grabbing women’s butts, grabbing women left and right, going, ‘Hey, wanna go home with me?’ So I tell him he has to stop. He goes, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ He gets into my face and goes, ‘I’m Joey, don’t you know who I am?’ Like I should care. He was drunk, he wouldn’t stop, so I had to fight to get him out. He was taking swings at me, and Joey stupidly falls into an open hole in the ground. He yells, ‘I’m gonna kill you!’ He gets up and starts swinging. I had my new flashlight and used it — I hit him so hard he went flying over a motorcycle.”
Ronny K. carries an ASP collapsible metal baton, although he’s not supposed to. “You need a special permit for these, so technically it’s illegal,” he says. “But I’ve had cops check mine out because mine is modified with a special handle.” He pulls out the baton, swings it open. It’s chrome, painted black; the weapon extends 21 inches and opens with a sleek, hissing sound. “Sometimes I compare mine with some cops’ batons, and we talk about various techniques. None of them have asked if I have a permit. Maybe they figure I do, or maybe they don’t care. Way I see it, they know I need this for the job.” He’s found that he’s seldom had to use it, keeping it sheathed except for extraordinary circumstances because he could be charged for using a deadly weapon without a permit, even if it was used during an act of self-defense. “I won’t ever carry a gun. I hate guns,” he says. “And mace, I’d probably use it wrong and spray myself in the eyes.”
Of course, just because a brawl in a bar is broken up doesn’t mean it’s the end of the violence. On January 10, 2006, Michael David Sullivan, 26, got into a tiff with Jonathan Thomas Lefler-Panela, 25, in Pacific Beach’s Sam’s by the Sea restaurant. Sullivan was seen hitting the other man in the face. The two were bounced from the establishment. Outside, Sullivan stabbed Lefler-Panela 15 times as the victim walked to his car. On May 24, 2007, Emery Kauanui, 24, died from injuries he suffered after an altercation with Eric House, 22, at the Brew House in La Jolla. Both were ejected from the bar by the bouncer. Kauanui returned to his home on Draper Avenue at about 1:30 a.m., and the man who Kauanui had hassled with, Eric House, showed up with four other men. A fight started between the two, and three of House’s companions joined in. The four men punched and kicked Kauanui repeatedly until he was lying on the ground, bleeding, with a severe concussion, which resulted in his death four days later. House was arrested on the scene — his friends ran when they heard sirens, but House was looking for a tooth he’d lost. The case created a scandal around what seemed to be a La Jolla surfer gang, the Bird Rock Bandits, who had a habit of intentionally causing trouble in area bars — House had been banned from La Jolla’s Shack Bar and Grille for picking fights. On November 18, 2008, Seth Cravens was found guilty of four counts of assault, one count of misdemeanor battery, and one count of making a criminal threat. Before the trial, in June, Matthew Yanke, Eric House, and Orlando Osuna pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. House and Yanke were sentenced to 210 days in county jail. Orlando Osuna was sentenced to 349 days in jail. Henri “Hank” Hendricks pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Seth Cravens is scheduled for sentencing on January 12, 2009.
“Some people just like to get drunk and fight, for whatever reason,” Ronny K. says, “and that’s never good in the long haul of things. You can’t do that crap all your life and get away with it. It’s gonna come to a screeching halt, one way or the other.”
He remembers one night in El Cajon where he thought it might be his last night as a bouncer, even with the ASP baton. “This guy comes up and shows me ID, he’s six foot six, seven, big dude, made me feel small and I’m six foot three and 320 pounds. He had a shaved head, swastika tats, complete white-power shitkicker. I knew he’d been, what, two or three days out of the joint and was looking for trouble. I was almost not going to let him in. He looked at me and his eyes said, ‘Go ahead and not let me in and see what happens.’ The guy had trouble written all over him — no, not trouble, death. This guy was on a death trip. Not his death, he was out to kill someone just to kill someone. That’s the impression I got anyway. What the hell, I let him in and prayed for the best. I kept my eye on him, and he knew it. He was loud and scary and all, but he didn’t start anything, but still, I had this creepy feeling that any minute he would, and that would be it for me, there was no way I would be able to take him and his buddies. But after two hours they left. I never felt so relieved. He walked out and winked at me and said, ‘See ya,’ and that was that. My guardian angel must have been looking out for me that night.”
Both Washington and Estu admit that women patrons can be more dangerous than men when it comes to fighting. “They think they can get away with it,” Washington says, “and they can’t.” He’s had his share of drunken women trying to start fights with him when he has not let them in because they are too inebriated or don’t have ID. He has to be careful not to cross any illegal lines when “handling” females.
In the club where Estu currently works downtown, Estu tells of a night where there were a group of “Asian supermodels” drinking and socializing at the Jade Theater at Seventh Avenue and C Street. The friendliness among the pretty models soon turned ugly. “It was something else,” he says, “all these women in skimpy clothes and little skirts going at it, blouses tearing, certain body parts popping out…there was blood all over the floor, teeth, shoes. One girl’s extension braid was tacked to the wall for two weeks — I laughed every time I came in and saw it.”
In another case, he had to bounce a woman out of the Jade who wouldn’t stop rapping. “She went on and on about how she was on MTV. When I threw her out, she yelled, ‘Look for me, I’m on MTV!’ ”
He had another problem with a woman without proper ID last New Year’s Eve. “I was being polite, opening up the rope, saying, ‘Have a good night, ma’am,’ and she turned around and decked me, [hit me] right in the nose.”
Ronny K. says, “In the strip clubs, the dancers will fight with each other — they get jealous, they might fight over a customer or about tips. That can be hairy and tricky. I once had the wife of a customer come in and confront him about being in the club, saying he was cheating on her. She started to hit him and scratch at his face. I intervened, so she started to hit and scratch me. She had some long, sharp nails on her. There was a lot of blood, and half of it was mine. I was not too happy with that, and she was arrested. She kept yelling, ‘This ain’t fair! That bastard is cheating on me, and I’m going to jail?! Arrest him!’ She didn’t realize she had done assault and battery and you go down for that. The husband tipped me $100 and said, ‘Sorry ’bout that.’ ”
Ronny’s seen his share of girl fights at regular bars too. “It can get dangerous,” he says, “and they can tear each other apart. Who said women can’t fight? They can fight all right. Some people might think it’s hot — ‘Oooh, cat fight,’ and all — but it really isn’t hot, not in my eyes. I like my women sweet and quiet. Frankly, I think it’s pathetic because they’re just drunk and mad and making fools of themselves, and then they wake up sober either in jail or with a bunch of cuts and bruises.”
Bouncers Under the Microscope
Bouncers can be lightning rods for aggression and macho posturing on the part of obnoxious male customers wanting to prove themselves, says James Parker in his article “Tales from Behind the Velvet Rope,” originally published in the Boston Phoenix and reprinted at bostonnightclubnews.com: “The thing about bouncers: for all their density and predictability, their routine enforcements and worn-smooth one-liners, they are not quite of this world. Reality tilts around them. Disproportions occur. Tiny bouncers are to be feared, while extra-large ones — presenting as they do the affronting spectacle of indomitability — find themselves constantly challenged by smaller men. In ethnographic terms, the bouncer is the big daddy of the liminal realm, the place of thresholds, through which participants in the rite are conducted — moved along, if you like — as they pass from one state of being to another. Jittery clubbers at the door, agitating for entry; the gyre of an out-of-control pit, slewing toward carnage; a drugged or boozed patron sprouting invisible tusks of hostility; the bouncer is there, filling the space, negotiating the transition. Not always skillfully, and not always nicely, but then heavy-handedness is part of his job description. To make something bounce, you have to smack it from time to time.”
The 2001, issue 41 of the British Journal of Criminology published a paper, “Get Ready to Duck: Bouncers and the Realities of Ethnographic Research on Violent Groups.” Authored by four sociologists, Winslow, Hobbs, Lister, and Hadfield’s conclusion was that bouncers were indeed a deviant subculture where exclusivity and being “one of the boys” was mandatory and where becoming involved in frequent violent incidents was requisite and invited. According to the researchers, it is a job, and an identity, that thrives on violence.
From the wikipedia.org entry on bouncers/doormen: “A 1998 article ‘Responses by Security Staff to Aggressive Incidents in Public Settings’ in the Journal of Drug Issues examined 182 violent incidents involving crowd controllers (bouncers) that occurred in bars in Toronto, Canada. The study indicated that in 12 percent of the incidents the bouncers had good responses; in 20 percent of the incidents, the bouncers had a neutral response; and in 36 percent of the incidents, the bouncers ‘…responses were rated as bad — that is, the crowd controllers enhanced the likelihood of violence but were themselves not violent.’ Finally, ‘…in almost one-third of incidents, 31 percent, the crowd controllers’ responses were rated as ugly. The controllers’ actions involved gratuitous aggression, harassment of patrons, and provocative behavior.’ ”
Brushes With Celebrity
On July 31, 2008, 61-year-old Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire was refused entry into Hannah’s Bar and Grille in Olympia because she did not have ID on her. It did not matter that she had the power of the governor’s office. “The young man said, ‘If you don’t have ID, you can’t get in,’ ” Gregoire told the press. She was not offended nor did she make a fuss; in fact, the Governor was flattered that she was considered to be under 21.
Estu has not had any politicians in the places he has bounced but tells of an incident at the 1015 Club in San Francisco, a popular trendy venue where he used to work the door. “It was maybe a month or two before Austin Powers came out. This big black guy with dreadlocks comes in and he’s carrying a baby on his shoulders. We’re, like, ‘Hey, man, you can’t bring a baby in here!’ But it wasn’t a baby, it was a midget, this small man. Later that night, he [the small man] was sitting on the bar counter. We locked eyes. His little fists were clenched like he wanted to fight. Sure enough, I saw him in that movie — I had ‘Mini Me’ in the bar.”
Another time, Anna Nicole Smith came into the 1015. “It was when she was saying she was off drugs,” Estu recalls, “but when she took off her sunglasses, her pupils were dilated, and she acted like she didn’t know where she was. I shook hands with her, and she wouldn’t let go of my hand.”
“No major celebrities I know of,” says Ronny K., “except for porn stars at the stripper clubs, who tour and sell their products. They headline and get all the attention and it bothers the other dancers because they’re not going to make as much money that night. The girls will make fun of the headliners, and there may be some words, but everyone does their best to respect each other. It’s all business, it’s not personal…or it should be that way. People get funny about their ‘star’ status and money. I guess I’ve seen some divas from time to time. Where are they now? Legends in their own imaginations.”
I Can Read
Estu admits it annoys him that the general public image of the bouncer is that of a mindless Neanderthal. “I was sitting outside a club one day reading a Stephen King book, and this couple walks by and the girl says, ‘Look, he can read.’ I mean, what the hell? Do they think we’re all lugheads?”
Estu doesn’t see himself bouncing forever, despite his mantra, “Once a bouncer, always a bouncer.” He plays in a band, Road Noise, holds an AA in kinesiology and a bachelor’s in education. “Bouncing is like stripping,” he says. “It’s good money and hard to stop doing. I’ve held down all kinds of jobs, sales jobs, you name it. I’ve sold cell phones, I’ve done the 9-to-5, but none of it pays as good as bouncing.” Along with base pay, depending on the night and clientele, Estu can make $300–$500 a shift, $1000 on a weekend. He can no longer be considered as a member of the 300 Club, however, since he has lost considerable weight.
For Ted Washington, it’s a job — he walks to Winstons from his home, and the Casbah is not far away. As long as he can pay the bills and run his small publishing company, he’s content. Outside Winstons, he keeps a woman out who wants to hug everyone she meets. She grabs another woman passing by and says, “I have to hug you!” and hugs the flabbergasted girl while her male companion watches with amusement. For some reason, Washington won’t let her in the bar. He laughs about it and says, “This is my life!”
Ronny K.’s story is different. “I’m a lifer, it’s all I know, it’s not like I have any real skills,” he says. “I’ll bounce until I physically can’t, or until someone kills me on the job.” He likes the idea of the 300 Club, although “I don’t hang out much with other bouncers; I don’t like getting friendly…but maybe it’s a good idea for bouncers to have some kind of social support group to talk about things. It’s a kind of life that only we can understand.”