The Willamette pushes a lot of water under the bridges of Portland, Oregon, but not all history is so easily swept away. Whatever this valley was for a thousand years, these last few decades has seen Portland as a transient town. Outsiders arrive everyday, feigning to adopt the culture, but ultimately fleecing the place of its mythos, spiriting away to be replaced with more outsiders, who leave their stains, their grudges, their unpaid bar tabs, while thieving off into the night with a quilt-work of interwoven collective memory. Portland isn’t only a river town, it is, itself, a river, constantly changing from one era, one generation, one weekend to the next. Yet, there is some truth to be found in the braided quilt of shared past. We all recall the Great 2008 Christmas Snow-Pocalypse. Where measurable snow fell for 11 days straight totaling nearly two feet. Among those who resided in Southeast Portland during this once in a generation epoch, a few daring drunks still frequented the local bar scene. These survivors were most commonly found huddled within the safe bowels of the Jolly Roger.
To the passerby, the Jolly Roger might’ve seemed another blip on the air traffic controller’s radar. Under the faded cloth, this black building with boarded up windows might easily be mistaken as another of the city’s ebullient strip clubs. Once upon a time, the door would open to a cloud of smoke to rival any morning fog a sea captain may encounter. More recently, smokers have been relegated to the outdoors and those picnic tables lining the sidewalk have become prime real estate. Within the Jolly Roger, the interloper would be confronted with a corridor of TVs which ran with screens eternally tuned to different sporting events with black-block white-lettering closed captioning dialogue on a forty-second delay. The epileptic should turn away from this competing henhouse of flashing light barraging either flank of a fellows progress between long bar and deep booths. The bar is never as big as it appears, courtesy of the mirrors showcasing pickled peccadillos and rejuvenated spirits infinitely in their reflections.
The interior was L-shaped, with the bar and kitchen and lavatories absorbing the void. The corner had the biggest circular cove and from there you could see both opposing entrances as well as the third lesser used one, down by the pool table and video lottery. This corridor to the south is where the big projector screen would be set up for events and where tables could be rammed together for larger groups. Any prestige sporting event, along with several sub-par contests, would be visible from every seat in the house. If you didn’t mind the grease, the food was decent, the bar was full, the staff was friendly and the place was always open. The Jolly Roger was notoriously open on Christmas Day and became a traditional haunt for orphaned Portlanders from otherwhere and/or with nobody else to spend the holiday. And when the winter snows surprised the normally temperate climate of the Willamette Valley, the Jolly Roger would resolutely remain open. If ice storms brought down the grid, the Jolly Roger became a cash bar, serving by propane light. When the Snowpocalypse brought Portland to a grinding halt on Christmas, there was only one place to be. And on that night, some time ago, with the entire Editorial Board of Uncharted Dives present, shit got weird.
This is the oral history of the Snowpocalypse Showdown at the Jolly Roger.
What was the Snow-Pocalypse?
Chelbee DeFarge (Jolly Roger server): Oh, gawd. You couldn’t turn the TV on without them news people losing their goddamn mind. You’d think hell froze-over or some shit, which I guess it did if driving I-5 fits your definition of hell. I wasn’t even supposed to work the shift at Jolly that night, but fucking Tess calls saying she’s trapped out at Gresham or some shit, which is bullshit, cos, it’s not like I have a snowmobile or nothing and I got my ass to work.
Dick Penney the Spoonbender (Keno Cowboy): It was a meteorological reckoning, Old Testament stuff, man. I didn’t need any crackpot weatherman putting fear of god in me, I could feel the storm coming in my knees and hemorrhoids. I decided the safest place for me was to hunker down at the Jolly. I had some extra scratch from an afternoon gig; I was even still wearing the Santa kit. I took my stool in the corner, it’s got extra padding, and I was expecting no troubles, other than the whole damn town being shutdown.
Ithy Badger: The night before Snowpocalypse started I’d been ditched by a gal I’d had a crush on since high school. At the very last minute she changed her mind about coming over and dropped me off at my place. Then a glacier crashed into town. No work. No play. I shared a paper thin wall with my new roommate and his girlfriend got snowed in at our place. I wasn’t prepared for the sounds. Our forced hibernation of “three’s company” was a constant reminder of what should have been. I was a coiled viper when Packie Shartz showed up in his MadMax Toyota Tundra two weeks later asking if I wanted to go to the bar. He was a welder by trade, and had fabricated weight to the truck’s bed to double its payload along with tire chains that rattled the wheel well like a cement truck. He slammed into so many curbs the truck never drove right again. All raptures need their casualties.
Packie Shartz: I should have charged fare. I was the only ride on the road as we scraped up onto the curb at the Jolly — one of the few bars open. People love to make fun of how Portland behaves in snow. Lets see you operate on an ice rink on top of a foot of powder. A real sleet and shartz sandwich.
Vic Neverman: The morning after the night in question, there were no cabs to get me to the airport because of the road conditions. I had to hire Packie to drive me to PDX in his manslaughter wagon. I gave him a gift card to Fred Meyer with $13 still on it, my Blonde Ambition autographed poster and promised to buy a case of his girlfriend’s canned sauerkraut before he would agree to terms.
Dick Penney the Spoonbender: The Jolly looks like an eggplant, purple on the outside and white inside. At least white people. But it’s dark. I mean, it’s a bar, on a boat, out at sea. And the shitter ain’t got a door; maybe a curtain. A lot of seasickness behind the curtain, man.
Chris Haney (Jolly Roger Owner): the finest piratically themed dive bar this side of San Francisco.
Vic Neverman: It was a real local place. If you walked in and weren’t recognized, you’d might as well be on the wrong-side of an inside joke. But with the right companions it was grand. Izy and I used to grab brunch there on Sundays to watch the early football games with a plate of eggs and a pint of beer.
Who were the combatants? Ginger Hustle
Chris Haney: I would have hired him as a bouncer, but he would’ve thrown me out of my own joint.
Vic Neverman: Ginger Hustle was my roommate. He was a real cowboy, lived most of his life in the interior west: Wyoming, New Mexico, North Vegas, working as a cowpunch or a line cook. He had a herder mentality and kept us in check with his hell-whistle. And he could cook a mean camp breakfast. He was a hardline white hat cowboy, all moral backbone and colorblind to shades of gray. He called my sister a bitch for working for a pharmaceutical company. But he did introduce me to quality tequila and I once saw Ginger Hustle save a kid who was choking to death by merely holding the boy by the shoulders and glowering at him.
Izah Badger: Love him or hate him, Hustle sure had his point of view.
Chelbee DeFarge: Oh gawd. Hus was pretty intense. He wore them dark framed glasses which made him look extra stern. He tipped real decent, but would glare atcha from behind them glasses as if you gotta make eye-contact or die or some shit. I was like, okay, I see you see me, Hus, now please go away before I pee myself.
Dick Penney the Spoonbender: I played ball with him once and after every shot I made he’d say, “nice charge, pal” or “I guess traveling is legal today.” He can be a real stick in the mud. I mean, if that stick was a tree trunk and the mud was, like, your ass.
Wara: Ginger had a loud laugh that would introduce a large voice. I found him affable, though not agreeable, until philosophy started, where he would take the middle road, offering peace in balance to both sides. I also saw him throw a stiff left arm at a concert that quickly ended the commotion.
Who were the combatants? Isy Badger
Wara: Here we have a free verse poet extraordinaire with a dash of fear and loathing and a propensity for pushing the envelope. For whatever banter or competition you find yourself engaged in, he will rise to the challenge. He may revel in being the opponent, but when you need someone by your side, he always answers the call. My eyes have documented multiple street boxing bouts over the years from this lad, always ending bloodied and smiling.
Chelbee DeFarge: Oh gawd. I mean, it’s a pretty classless town, okay? A lot of hipster jagoffs who think it’s cool to be uncool. But this guy, Ithy, he was a bird of a different flock, so they say. He had one of those jazz musician soul patches and would wear scarves when it was warm out. He was very, like… European. I’d go home with him. And maybe I did go home with him. Or at least to the park, or some shit.
Vic: Izy is an aspirational dude. You’d climb the tallest peak and look for a beer while Iz is looking for other mountains to climb. He’s got a gift for political double-speak diplomacy, saying a lot profoundly without saying anything. Sometimes it feels as though his words are rehearsed, as if he’s had every conversation known to man and is just recycling intellectual content. But then sometimes he says shit you would not expect. Like a bird flying into your window. Like, what the fuck just happened?
On the night of the Snow-Pocalypse Showdown, what was the offense?
Chelbee DeFarge: Oh gawd. I dunno. I had brought them another round. They were mostly drinking draft beer, but Hus, the cowboy, wanted Hornitos with a Rainer tall-boy beer-back. I remember Ithy’s fuck-me eyes and I eye-fucked him back; he was like a slobbering puppy dog, or some shit, begging a girl for a biscuit. I dunno but I guess Hus was hot for me too and they got into it after I left.
Vic Neverman: the waitress served us whatever we had coming and then when she turned to leave, Izy says “she’s kind of got a weird butt.” We all turned to look. It wasn’t weird, I think it was just the cut of the mom jeans she was wearing. I shrugged it off as a random off-color comment, but Ginger Hustle, holy shit, he was pissed. You would have thought it was his sister’s jeans back in Casper, Wyoming, Izy was talking about.
Chris Haney: I didn’t know anything was wrong until I heard the yelling.
Dick Penney the Spoonbender: I’m actually the one who said it. I was at their table asking Itchy for a cigarette when I said Chelbee has got a weird butt. And her pants are so tight you can see her mistletoe. Then Ginger Hustle started cussing like a Blazers fan and saying Itchy was the lowest excuse of a man, the scummiest custard crust of a scum bucket. I decided to fuck myself off. When they got to yelling I was in full trot back to my stool.
Izzy Badger: I became insulted by how insulted he was. Who died and crowned him Elvis? Certain people only respond to force and G.H. was far beyond calming. So I did what any self respecting human would do when outweighed by 100 pounds. I kicked out his chair legs.
Wara: Ginger was on the floor before I could swallow my beer, unfortunately, I was laughing it all over the table.
Chelbee DeFarge: Oh gawd, once they started yelling at each other, I looked for Chris, but couldn’t find him. I did what anyone would and told the jagoffs to take it outside.
Vic Neverman: Hustle had accused Izy of wrongdoing then Izy got in a cheap shot, knocking Hustle off his seat. Ginger Hustle gets up demanding satisfaction, some old Wild West shit right there. I guess I’d be preparing pistols if this had been a hundred years ago. I tried to broker peace, but Hustle was firm in his stance and Izy was defiant against the slurs of Ginger Hustle. Perhaps we could’ve let them duke it out, Mano a Mano, douche vs douche, but the Shartz brothers started flexing beside Izy. Suddenly it’s West Side Story on the Eastside of Portland, but the only dude who had Hustle’s back was his dip-shit roommate, me. I was reluctant to fight, but I’ve got to back Ginger Hustle. We all walked outside and I’m wishing I had a chance to piss first.
Issah Badger: I once read 3 pages of Steven Pinker’s doorstop about violence. He wrote there are four human motivations that orient us away from violence and towards cooperation, empathy, self control, moral sense and reason. Alcohol unburdens us of these.
Dick Penney the Spoonbender: The Santa suit’s a rental. I wasn’t gonna get it tore up fighting over honor. Let alone someone else’s honor. The only honor I got is my old lady when she lets me.
Issah Badger: He asked if I wanted to take it outside and I said “after you, hee-haw”. I was planning my sucker punch/fifty yard dash combo until I remembered the street was an ice rink. I figured Hustle couldn’t curb me since no one could find the curb,
Wara: Wait, you’re asking me what happened as if I stopped to consider causes or effects?? I ran to the thick of it without caring what had happened. I remember being in high spirits, taunting antagonizing slogans in my best Krang voice at GH and company because obviously whatever cut this was, was only skin deep. The drama was pure entertainment, a little fire to stoke, about god knows what.
Vic Neverman: Fuck you and fuck you harder, as long as we were yelling and taunting each other, we weren’t fighting, we were just freezing. Wara was talking shit about how he was going to prank call my mother and order a pizza. I thought it brilliant. What better way to diffuse tension than through irreverent humor? So I said I wanted to send a chain-mail letter to his mother telling her if she didn’t mail sixteen copies to other people she would be cursed with an over-active bladder. Fool! Wara laughed at me, she already has an over-active bladder!
Isy: The Schartz brothers have heads hotter than the volcano Portland sits on but for whatever reason they were cool as the other side of the pillow that night. As soon as I got outside looking for Ginger they were like a soothing vix vapor rub. Offering to buy my next Jell-o shot if I took it easy. Packie was probably just tired of resetting my nose.
Chris Haney: Once I saw the commotion, I gave them three minutes before I was going to call the police. It ended in like 90 seconds. Which is cool cos the police really couldn’t get here cos of snow-pocalypse and shit.
Wara: Ah the merry play when it’s other people’s drama! I remember pushing for jello shots and a change of scenery; the whole sordid crew of us. Another backdrop was just a fun walk away.
Vic Neverman: Alls well which ends well, I guess. I have a credit card receipt from later that night/morning at Morrison Hotel, which is the only hint of what happened after the showdown. Apparently, I either drank four Scrimshaws or I had a few friends with me. I vaguely remember sucking on a boozy flavored red ice cube Wara gave me.
Issy: Eventually, we mostly forgot what we were angry about. I can never stay mad at someone who carries flasks of tequila into bars.
Dick Penney the Spoonbender: I never got that cigarette from Itchy. Instead, I got my nose broke when Ginger Hustle opened the door too fast at Morrison Hotel and I thought he was handing me his flask. I bled all down my damn Santa rental. But everyone thinks I got the broke nose fighting for the honor of some waitress. I lost the security deposit, but gained a friend. I call him, Dignity; first name, Misplaced.
Ginger Hustle: What a bunch of fucking fucktards. They don’t deserve a comment from me. I would’ve punched those guys in their ovaries, but it would’ve done no good with them each wearing three pairs of pants. Why are we even still talking about this?