You know that seen from Animal House?
Where the big black guy rips the table out of the ground, and asks the scrawny white college kids, “Do you mind if we dance with your dates?”
“Pat’s Idle Hour Lounge” was nothing like that.
It was a filthy, sticky, dark, scary, hole-in-the-wall, inner-city, Black bar, just across the street from the Waco Tribune-Herald.
The concrete floor was so filthy, your shoes made that sticking-and-unsticking sound as you walked.
But every now and again, when we really needed a cold, cheap beer, and we felt adventurous (read “stupid”), a covey of us lily white young reporters would scurry across Franklin Ave. from the Waco Tribune-Herald newsroom to Pat’s.
This was OK, because we’d had basic survival training from an older, alcoholic reporter.
“You’re pretty safe at Pat’s. Just don’t say anything to anyone, don’t look at anyone, sit in the back, and make sure you leave before it gets dark, or you’re dead.”
You also had to make sure you never sat on a discarded syringe or rusty razor blade.
But what Pat’s lacked in hygiene and general safety, it made up for in… Ummm…
Did I say the beer was cold and cheap?
I think the Black regulars at Pat’s, at least the “daylight crowd”, sort of got a kick out of “the white kids” coming in for a beer.
Watching us was probably better than going to the zoo.
Even so, there was always tension, just below the surface.
Waco was not a “sundown” town, if those still existed in 1982, but it was racist, nonetheless.
On the one hand, you had Baylor University, home to many of the whitest Baptist kids you will ever see in your life, who sort of lived in the heavily protected Baylor Bubble.
On the other hand, you had East Waco, a place where police told me: “You do not go at night unless you want to become a statistic.”
The Cop Shop
When you covered the police beat, you spent a lot of time at the Cop Shop reading Offense Reports. They gave you the basic information about crimes.
To get “blood into your copy”, you had to talk to a cop who’d actually been at the crime scene, or at least to the Desk Sergeant, who, if he wanted, could read the whole report and share the juicier tidbits with you.
When you are a young reporter, every murder is HUGE. After all, it’s the taking of a life.
But after you’d covered the police beat for awhile in Waco, you became desensitized.
You just nodded when the Desk Sergeant waved away your interest with, “Just a T.N.D., nothing interesting.”
At the Waco Police Department, “T.N.D.” meant “Typical Nigger Deal” — one poor Black man killing another.
The Sheriff’s Department called them “Misdemeanor Murders.”
How sad is that?
These killings were almost always crimes of impaired passion.
Everybody was drunk or stoned. Everybody had a gun or knife or razor.
Somebody got pissed off. Somebody got dead. Somebody went to jail.
Then somebody would get paroled, usually before the little white Baylor kids would get their degrees.
And the awful cycle would continue.
I have to shake my head in disgust just thinking about that now.
About how, if you were driving around East Waco late at night, and you slowed down, scary looking Black women would wander out of the shadows, hoping to make some money.
Their pimps would be nearby; dangerous and evil.
In fairness, Waco had about the same level of crime as most towns its size.
But maybe because East Waco was so Black and sad, and Baylor was so white and giddy, it made the place worse.
At least to me.
Even Pat’s lost its appeal one afternoon when I found a bloody straight-razor in our booth.
Whatever crime had been committed with it never made the paper.
Nobody bothered filing an Offense Report at the P.D.
I know. Because I would have read it.
Footnote: After posting this, I was reminded of a violent crime at Pat’s that did make the paper. Seems a night patrolman had to crawl around under the tables, looking for a woman’s nose. It had been cut off by an ashtray swung by another woman in a fight, probably over a man.
Click HERE for more Waco memories, most of which are funny.
Click HERE for the worst of the worst — the triple murder at Lake Waco.