NO ATTITUDES" the signs on the front and side of the bar read.
'Colors' was colored in with different colors of marker and in different patterns, obviously to diffuse the reaction that it might as well say 'NO COLOREDS!'. 'Where am I?' I thought. I was in Middle River, Maryland, in 2011, and this was my first night out in town in 2 months since I moved. I had agreed to get a drink with a girl 'somewhere close to [me] this time' and had looked up bars in my area on the internet.
This bar, 'The Middle River Inn' appealed to me because they sell 99-cent draft beer, and used to(but no longer)open and start serving at 6AM. It wasn't close to 6AM when I went, but I respected the principles the bar once stood for. She was on her way. I waited for her outside, she arrived, then I walked in and hoped for the best.
I had hoped the 'no colors' on the sign was referring to the wearing of gang colors. I could understand if that had been a problem, but still suspected that it was veiled racism. Inside, my suspicions looked truer and my hopes were down. I tried to spot a black person. Then I tried to spot someone who could be considered not white, and not middle aged, and couldn't.
Not surprisingly, the place was filled to the brim with lottery ticket and scratch-off machines. The big-screen TVs played UFC fights(It's not 'gay!' It's 'Ultimate!') and there was Keno. If you ever wonder if you're somewhere you shouldn't be, and see 'Keno' anywhere, just leave.
There was also a 'Knockout!' arcade game. You may have seen this at a state fair. The only people who play it do so under the delusion that it's not an arcade game, but a scientific measurement of punching power, which is important for some reason. It has what looks like a rhythm bag, surrounded by lots of flashing lights and numbers. It's similar to a pinball machine, though less cerebral if that's possible, and more obviously stupid.
We found some bar stools and ordered. I was delighted that no tab was opened. They just gave us the drinks, trusting us not to drink-and-dash-- possibly because of our color. We drank and talked and looked around and talked and all seemed well. This was for about an hour. Then I noticed out of the corner of my right eye someone looking at me. I looked over to her.
A woman, maybe 45-55 years old, with screaming bleached blonde hair but otherwise unremarkable, was standing and asked
"How old are you?"
Suspecting this was an owner or operator of the bar, I said
I handed her my I.D. and she passed it to a man next to her who looked it over. I realized then that she was only some hammered middle aged woman trying to get her kicks who didn't own or operate anything that I was currently sitting in. The man looked it over and nodded to her.
She started to prattle on about being young and drinking. She rambled, not incoherently, but self-importantly. She asked if we needed a cab ride home, which was a jest at us being so young and not able to hold our liquor, and I declined. She told us a long, suddenly incoherent story of when she crashed her car after drinking and 'almost died'. She 'thanked god' that she didn't die, and now 'knows' 'not to get behind the wheel, even after one beer'. This was all done loudly while standing around us while we sat.
We were ignoring her as much as we could during this time, since she had just ruined a decent conversation with her rehearsed cautionary tale. After an eternity, she finally wandered off to the 'Knockout!' arcade game and started 'competing' with a man. My date and I sat joking about what had happened, and she said 'you have a suitor', because the woman's focus was on me all the time. Then I heard something in my right ear
I looked over.
"Hey, if she's punching like that, you oughta get outta here if she's trying to hook up with you"
The man looked around me to face my date on my left side.
"No offence" he said to her.
"You might have a hard time explaining those bruises come 6AM to your buddies!" he said to me again.
I smiled at him, overwhelmed. My date looked unhappy.
"That guy's an asshole" she said quietly to me, "Who says something like that? Maybe think it, but don't say it"
I didn't think he was an asshole, but we both knew the night was spoiled. We paid our tabs, which were extraordinarily low, I tipped heavy, and we left. On our way out, we passed that woman again by the 'Knockout!' game- we had to.
"Bye little kids!" she said, "Be safe!"
More condescension. I knew immediately that the 'no colors' part of the sign was what I had first suspected it to be. I had found myself at some spooky redneck bar about 5 miles from my home, had given this bar my open mind, and it had thrown garbage into it.
I can't be 100% sure this bar was institutionally racist, but I was sure that it was xenophobic, and what's the difference? In 2011 a place still exists like this: with an obvious-but-not-legally-indemnifying racist sign on the door, old dinosaurs squandering their money away on lottery tickets, and morons of all sorts spending quarters to punch punching bags, believing that the power really comes from their fist and not the quarter.
And that's America.