Monday, January 07, 2008

Hats Off To The Penny

The burly, shaved head, goateed, leather-vest sporting bouncer ambled toward me with learing respect, eyes locked, all-business, while I stood near the dancefloor.

"I need you to take off your cap,” he said simply, adding a hand gesture to his forehead to illustrate his request.

It's Friday night at The Penny Farthing in Salinas, and I've admittedly had maybe one drink too many. But this cannot go unnoticed. I'm 31-years-old, and although the blue and red Minnesota Twins hat I'm sporting is hardly an allegiance to fandom (I'm a Giants fan), it pricks me that a baseball fan can't show team support without raising flags (red or blue).

"I have no problem taking off my hat,” I tell the bouncer, who easily is twice my size and girth and could drag me out the club with minimal effort. “But I just have to tell you, I'm not a gang member.”

The bouncer, a white man who looks to be in his mid-30s and could easily pass as a cast member on American Chopper, doesn't blink. His resolve is reasonable, even is his request isn't.

"I know, man. I'm just trying to do my job,” he said, an apt reply from an honest working man used to hard-pressing, inebriated patrons. His attitude is even-keeled, a noble trait.

"I know, and I don't mean to give you a hard time,” I continue, cautious but still certain that what I'm being asked is a latent form of racial profiling. “It's just that I've lived in this town my whole life, and I hate that I have to deal with this type of profiling.”

At this point, I'm literally hat in hand, playing a patient chess game of social wills that can end in any number of ways. Here are two men, from different backgrounds and, perhaps, ideologies, at a distinct standstill. We both sense that neither side means any harm, and if one of us would just keep his mouth shut, it could all be let go.

But there's a sensibility in the bouncer that won't allow him to be so rigid. It's a big difference from other places I've been denied entrance due to a dress code. One in particular, Doc's in Monterey, stood out because the bouncer had me stand in a light drizzle for a few minutes before telling me I couldn't be let in because my size 34-waist pants were too baggy. He also denied access to the next patron, a black man, for similar reasons.

All of which leads me to my greater point — bar dress codes in this area are a latent form of racial profiling. Places where you just want to go and have a drink — Elle's lounge in Salinas, Doc's in Monterey, The Penny — are making like they're night clubs and banning attire that is considered gang-related, including sports jerseys and baggy pants.

It's one thing to go to a nightclub where you pay a cover charge and know going in that there will be a uniform expectation. It's another when you just want to go to a bar with friends and have a drink and not worry about what you wore when you left the house.

Back at the bar, me and Paul Sr. are still at even odds. Then, an unexpected thing. He reaches up his hand and offers it as a gesture. I return it with a firm handshake. My hat goes up on the table next to my drink. I don't notice him the rest of the night.

Funny how far a measure of respect can take you. I'm not sure that many bouncers would be so considerate, but I do know next time I'm heading to the Penny on a Friday night, I'll be sure and leave my cap in the car.

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