I live in one of the least-gentrified areas of this town. Called St. Johns, its a small burrow in the North part of the city, mostly undisturbed by the great hipster insurgence. Here you will find watering holes offering no frills, filled with grizzled locals pouring no sort of liquors with “infusions” and don’t have any manner of “ambiance” or “philosophy”.* The eateries are few, but reliable. Nothing fancy.* The entire stretch of it is about the size of the Tower District in Fresno, but even less hip than that. With this lack of progression in this area, there exists a ton of weirdness, quirkiness, and plain out oddities. There is a diner that hasn’t been updated since the 60’s that is one half eatery, one half ancient thrift store packed with dusty knitting sets and faded Avon products. Down the street is a bar where its not uncommon to see the homeless gathered inside-shopping carts and all. Its also somehow home to the best pizza cart in town, as well as a mostly-undiscovered great record store.
Most people know St. Johns by Cathedral Park. For lack of better words, its fucking beautiful. You can walk along the edge of the Willamatte river underneath one of the most visually-striking bridges ever built. There is not one Portlander that owns an iphone that doesn’t have a picture of that bridge on it. There is something really magical about walking though that park.
I’ve grown to love my neighborhood, and will miss it terribly the day I move. Unfortunately, moving is nearly inevitable as I plan on working toward a lifestyle of using my car as least as possible. The one flaw of living in St. Johns is its cut off from the convenient MAX line, and pretty much anyone we know. No friends ever want to come out and visit. My dream of living here is to be in walking-distance of things and live on the MAX so I can take it to work daily and also take it out on drinking nights. Yes, there are two bus lines that run regularly through the neighborhood. Its not bad, but the most frequent line makes so many stops, it takes an hour and a half to get to downtown where I work. Shit, its something but living near a MAX would be the most ideal. I’m completely out of my comfort zone here in Portland, and I hate to drive in this town. If I had the option of walking or driving, I choose walk. I hate the idea of driving somewhere within a mile, rather than just walking there which was so often the norm in California. Also, like most larger cities, finding parking is a real bitch. To free myself from the burden of a car is my ultimate goal. I should probably mention that I don’t know how to ride a bike. I grew up in the ghetto, and it wasn’t safe to let children ride bikes around, or play in their front yards for that matter. I never learned, and now as an adult its a difficult task to take on. I’ve made a few attempts, but without success. Its ironic that I should end up living in one of the most bike-friendliest cities and not be able to partake. Its probably for the best. I’m accident prone, clumsy, and generally lack street-smarts, so putting me out there in traffic with cars is probably not the best idea anyway.
On the outskirts of St. Johns is an Eagles Lodge. If you’ve never heard of a “Lodge” and what it is, it can pretty much be likened to The Boy Scouts but for men. Usually war veterans. well, maybe more accurately described as a frat house for seniors. My dad and grandpa both belonged to a “Moose Lodge”. I remember going to a family dinner night at one when I was about 6. It was dark, scary, and confusing as a child. I suppose its a dying thing, a relic of our past. Even so, they still exist. The one in my hood sits prominently on Lombard, the road that leads into St. Johns. Its one of those buildings I would have never noticed, save they host a really interesting rummage sale in their parking lot on good weather days. In addition, there is a sign they place out on Sundays advertising “Live Pro Wrestling-Here! Tonight!” After two years of passing this sign, I eventually became really, really curious. I’ve never been to a wrestling match, professional or otherwise. I know a lot of people get really, really in to it. I also knew that if it was in St. Johns, it would probably be very weird. Also probably very white-trash. No need to be offended. I’m white-trash myself. Well, maybe you could say I have strong white-trash roots. We had always talked about checking it out one night, my friends and I, but we never really had any particular reason to go. Finally, we had that reason. We were at a bar in St. Johns for a birthday, and on the tv screen was a live television broadcast of the match. It was EPIC. Fake wrestling moves, trashy round-card girls, toothless audience members in attendance…everything I dreamed it would be. We watched in awe for about a half hour, and made a pact then and there to go to one of the matches as soon as possible.
That day rapidly approached. I had a Sunday off. I started trying to do some internet research to see what time it started and how much it cost. There was absolutely nothing online about it. NOTHING. I mean, I suppose it makes sense. I couldn’t imagine the event coordinator of the lodge to be on the cutting edge of internet technology. I’d be surprised if I saw a cordless phone inside one. The week leading up to that Sunday I didn’t work, I took to asking strangers in the street about it as I walked Ham. Everyone I asked had heard of it, they just didn’t know when or how much. I supposed I could just show up at 7 and hope for the best. Finally, one day I found a flier at that diner I mentioned before, with all the weird thrift store crap in the back of it for the wrestling.
It did, in fact start at 7. It also cost $10. That was actually, a little more expensive than I was thinking it would be. I couldn’t back out now. I had already built this event up in my mind to be the most interesting adventure I could ever get in to in my neighborhood. I tried to rally the friends, but all became instantly disinterested when I mentioned the cost. I suppose I didn’t blame them. No matter, Ross and Zach were still down.
Ross was off that night at 7, Zach and I had the day off. It would be perfect. We would pick him up, head straight there and arrive with it in full swing. Zach and I resolved that we would get drunk. I mean, how else do you view a Sunday night Wrestling match in an Eagle’s Lodge? We also weren’t 100% sure they would be serving liquor when we got there. I can’t speak for the guys, but this is one event I don’t think I could enjoy on any level without a few drinks in me. We went to the Burrito House, and had about 2 too many drinks a piece. By the time Ross walked over, we were ready to wrestle.
We arrived, and the lot was full. We walked the perimeter of the building and couldn’t determine an entrance. Two girls smoking beneath the light from an overhead lamp eyed us very suspiciously. I asked them how to get in, and they reluctantly pointed out the entrance. We entered though an unmarked steel door, propped open by a metal folding chair.
We entered, and I had to blink a few times to take it all in. It was similar to an elementary school gym. There was a ring in the center, ropes and all. Situated in a large square around the edge of the ring were long folding tables and cafeteria chairs. At the back of the room was a snack bar, complete with workers donning plastic gloves and shower caps. In the ring there were two men, semi-costumed performing a laughable dance of choreographed “wrestling” while a full house of patrons looked on. It was better than I could have even imagined.
What does one wear to a professional wrestling match? That’s a good question. Like with most events I attend, the perfect outfit for the occasion is very important. I think tonight’s choice was spot-on.
It was now time for me to size up the event. I did a slow walk around the edge of the seats, taking everything and everyone in. In the background, men with mullets and wifebeaters with permanent marker sprawled across them tossed each other around at a comically leisurely pace. The floor of the ring itself was made of some sort of material that made a very loud smack when struck. Designed to make body slams and suck more dramatic, it actually made the obviously bad choreography look sillier. The crowd appeared…bored for a lack of a better word. There was very little talking, just blank stares at the ring. More children than I expected were here. Like, I could liken it to a Wal-Mart on Saturday afternoon. Kids tore by me, completely uninterested in the match and absorbed in their own entertainments. After a girl in a Garfield nightgown stomped on my foot as she galloped past me, chasing a boy with an impressive rat-tail I knew it was time to determine if this joint was dry or not. I looked around and saw no adult holding any cups. Fuck. A silver-haired man standing alone noticed me looking around. He smiled at me, inviting me to ask him a question, should I need to with his open expression. I asked if there were booze. He smiled a mischievous smile and assured me that they in fact do. He pointed to a doorway I hadn’t seen before, on account of the men with capes fashioned from Glad bags obstructing my view.
I made my way through the door, and discovered it was where the “performers” (athletes?) warmed up and entered into the arena to “fight”. Men in leotards were doing deep stretches in the corner, and working out routines to do with one another when they got out there. Children were also crawling on the floors, seemingly unattended. Well, that’s not fair. They could have been children of the performers. A girl sat alone at a table, coloring. Indeed there was a full bar. Behind it, was the most comically sweet little old lady.
Normally, I’d be ordering a Greyhound or a glass of wine. I was feeling a bit sluggish(on account of all the margaritas and shots of Fireball consumed earlier), and since they had a gigantic Red Bull case I figured I go with that unlikely choice tonight. I ordered a Vodka-Red Bull. My bartender cocked one eye at me, and turned to get my drink. She turned back around, placed a can of Red Bull and a pour of vodka in a shot glass next to it on the bar. Still skeptical, she said I owed her $2.50. I stifled a laugh, and asked for a glass of ice. She obliged, and watched as I mixed the two. She apologized and said she didn’t realize I wanted them together. I told her not to worry about it all, especially since you can’t even get out of a dive bar with that drink for less than $7. She said she had never heard of it. I was incredulous, but charmed. About that time, Zach appeared at my side impressed that I had found the bar so fast. Ross was apparently wandering around, sober. Poor guy. I asked our bartender what time the wresting went until. She let me know 8:30. That’s right, this shit only went on for an hour and a half. I looked at my phone. We had 40 minutes.
After Zach got his beer, we turned around to take in the backstage performers. We both spied a pair of what looked like bumblebee- costumed gentlemen stretching out. We decided that we needed to take a picture with them. I approached them and asked. They told me “not right now”. We walked away insulted. Who the hell do they think they are? We decided to leave the area, after being rejected, and go find Ross. As we crossed the threshold into the arena, the two men that we had just approached burst past us into the crowd in a fake fight to the ring. We then realized that were distracting them from the act. We laughed and watched the action, no longer offended.
We had a lot to see, in a short amount of time. I put the guys on taking pictures as well. We split up and tried to get into it. It was hard to fit in. It was about this time, there was a raffle. I have to mention this raffle. We did not receive tickets, as I’m guessing they were handed out early and before we showed up. That sort of made me mad, as you may know by now that I love to win shit. That being said, it was hilarious to watch. A child came out to hold up each prize as they were announced. As the winner was called, she would run them to the person and collect their tickets. The prizes consisted of coffee cups, dish towels, and the best prize of all-an apple pie furnished by that diner with the thrift crap and the dusty Avon products in it. It was a pretty good-looking pie.
We had about 20 minutes left, after the raffle. We spent it watching a match where apparently some sort of winner was announced (based on what, I have no damned clue), and a belt awarded. After, there were mini matches and the wrestlers came to mingle with the crowd. They took pictures with fans and signed autographs. It was the liveliest part of the night.
This pretty much sums up the experience.
Some shots of the action, at a clear distance. Also, Zach.
With 8:30 upon us, the night was at a close. People were gathering their children, Raiders jackets, and Rascal scooters. I couldn’t help but wonder about the lives of the wrestlers and how this whole thing worked. Were the same guys here every week, or would a new group come into town and this group go on to the next? Since I could find no information about the event online, it was impossible to research. I knew I’d probably never come to another one, so I wouldn’t be able to see if the characters were familiar or not. Was it entertaining? Yes, but not in the way it was supposed to be. I enjoyed watching the crowd more than the actual match. $10 was a bit steep, but I suppose the money goes toward the travel expenses if they do indeed have to travel.
I left not being any more a fan of the sport than when I arrived. I actually was left with more questions. Who are these men? Is this their only source of income or are they Radio Shack Assistant Managers by day? Do the round-card girls travel with them, or do they source them locally? Why was the building packed, yet no one seemed to enjoy the match? Why was an 8 year-old girl announcing the raffle? Why were there so many kids unattended by the liquor? Seriously, no one has ever ordered a vodka-red bull there before? Why is there no internet info, when the church thrift store down the street ran by old ladies manages to have a Facebook page? Do they have groupies and if so, can you point them out to me? How do people become fans of certain wrestlers, when there again is no online info? It was all so bizarre, and I was no closer in understanding the culture as I had been before I entered it. All I can leave with is Damn live professional wrestling, you even out white-trashed me.
*Since writing this, a new bar has opened up in my hood. Its an upscale cocktail bar with drinks that take a good 6 minutes to craft and they even offer the artisan ice program that has been all the rage as of late (in short, cubes hand cut from blocks of ice that are designed to not water down your drink. Yes, this is a thing here). Its actually kind of cool having this new bar here, but its also a ominous sign. The least gentrified area is coming to an end as we know it. With a destination cocktail bar, a new eatery that is on every foodie blog as a “must eat”, as well as the best pizza cart in town…the writing is on the wall. Soon the rent will jump, and the fixies will appear. Its not a bad thing. I moved here for all that crap. Its only sad to say goodbye to the one area of town that reminds me most of home.