By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Most of Blondie's patrons work in the plants. Some have been coming to Blondie's for just a few years, most for at least ten. They can't quite remember when, but they can tell you where the bar was when they first drank at Blondie's. (The counter moves each time Margaret renovates. Now it's on the north side of the building.)
To come to Blondie's is to love Blondie. She helps her customers (friends, actually -- they're the same at Blondie's) when they need it, and they gladly return the favor. They sit at the bar in their jeans and boots, baseball caps and running shoes. The men are site supervisors, pipe fitters, maintenance supervisors, crane operators, rig welders. The women are secretaries or plant operators.
Blondie's is no lovely place. The building is the color of a manila folder, built of wood like carefully arranged Popsicle sticks. It lacks a heaviness, a feeling of being solid. There's no landscaping and not much of a parking lot, not a paved one, anyway. On the south end, facing Fairmont, an apartment squats over the club, Margaret's home at one time. Inside, the club is dimly lit, the windows few. Behind the bar a black-and-white poster in dotted-cartoon pop-art style portrays a man in suit and tie thrusting a frothy beer mug forward. "BEER," the poster proclaims, the man flashing a gosh-jolly grin, "Helping ugly people have sex since 1862!"
At Blondie's everybody talks with a bit of a twang. They feed their dollars into the jukebox by the door to maintain the flow of Def Leppard, Johnny Cash, George Strait and Bonnie Raitt. They spin on the smooth wooden dance floor to Alannah Myles's "Black Velvet." At noon they arrive by the group for home-cooked hot plates of beefsteak, beans and rice. On Fridays they gather to hear someone play the blues. But mostly they come after work for a few Budweisers, maybe a game of pool and definitely for the gossip, the familiar faces. It's just a place to socialize, says regular Jay Legg. "Some people go to church, some go to market. We're just a little different."
One Friday afternoon, Tim and Adele Karl play arcade golf in the corner before T.K. is off to his night shift. They met here two and a half years ago during Adele's two-week stint as a bartender (Margaret fired her) and married in Blondie's, the club streaming with white and yellow. "People still talk about it," Adele says, beaming. Her mother had never been in a bar before but said it was a nice place for a wedding. Blondie's is, after all, family-friendly, T.K. says. He has no problem bringing his ten-year-old son here from time to time. "It's clean, and there's no dirt nowhere," he says approvingly. "They have no class at those other places. We keep our home clean, and we don't want to drink in a place that's dirty."
There's no violence either, he adds. No more than your average bar fight now and then. Sometimes Margaret calls the police, but most of the time she just freezes them with a massive "HEY!" Blondie's has never caused trouble, the regulars say. So what happened to Margaret isn't just bad luck, they say, it's a downright attack by the city. No one claims to know the details, but everyone's got an opinion, a conspiracy theory.
"The city wants her property. Would you want a rowdy bar on the main [thoroughfare]?" says Bud Yates, who has known Margaret for 25 years. "Now they're talking about casinos, the port and Sylvan Beach. It really wasn't an issue till all that."
Yet no one has offered to purchase her property. Maybe it's not that the city wants her property, but that it would rather see something else in place of Blondie's, something in pale pastel stucco with a familiar chain name friendly to future tourists.
"I believe the bank and city are in this together to try to get her whole property for hotels or something," says a man who goes by Tom Cat. He has a cell phone on each hip and a pager clipped to the front of his thinning T-shirt. "Their idea of making a city pretty is trying to force people out of their small businesses. They really forget who brought them to the dance."
Kathy Ratliff, Margaret's niece, touches a customer gently on the shoulder, smiling her wide smile and turning her head in a swooping arc so that her long blond hair flutters behind her. She performs a show-and-tell of her outfit: a sheer white teddy with fluffy trim and an ample view of her back. The bedwear is available for $39. For two hours she and another blonde float in and out of the kitchen, changing outfits.
With the knowledge that lingerie shows are legal, Margaret has resurrected hers. Only this one pales in comparison to the ones she once held. Back then at least five women modeled. And men crowded Blondie's, cashing their paychecks. This is merely a quiet parade among a dozen customers. A complete flop.