Growing up on the North-side of Chicago, I knew many men who had a lot of fights. In all my job-hopping (over 100 different jobs) I met a lot of outspoken, potato sack slingers who would stand up to anything, and win. My two uncles were probably the toughest guys in the neighborhood. I worked for well-connected ambulance chasers who always had a lot of trouble going on, from fist-fights to property damage sabotage.
For two years (at age fifteen and sixteen), I studied boxing. My best friend was a Golden-Glove champion, and we spent our time in a boxing gym, with a real boxing coach, punching a heavy bag and speed bag, working on footwork, etc. Every day we boxed each other in the ring, and other guys in the gym. Then, when I was twenty-one, I spent one Summer learning kung-fu from an excellent teacher.
The point is- I never fought professionally, but I’m no slouch, and I know the character of men.
Well, all those guys, and even half the men on TV don’t compare to the toughest guy I ever met. I will never forget him, or that night. Looking back now, it is almost unreal. But if you like a good fight story, or to talk about fights, this is the guy you wish you were, or wish was your friend.
Charlie: That’s all I know is his first name, and where he worked at the time. (In 1977, at a bar in Chicago, on Paulina Street, right off Lincoln Avenue, under the L-tracks.) Who knows, maybe someone else will know more about him or that bar, and find this one day. That would be cool! Charlie was the real-life guy from the Patrick Swaze character in the movie Road House, and I lived through it that night.
OK, enough blabbering, let’s get to the action.
My step-brother Bill had some friends that had a rock band called Onyx, and they were playing a gig at some bar that night. I don’t think anything ever became of them, but who knows? Well, they needed some help, so they asked us to go. They needed one guy to control the stage-lights, and the other guy to collect money at the door. Me and Bill decided to take turns, since obviously, running the lights was going to be a blast, and standing at the door asking a bunch of drunks for money was not going to be as fun. I would do the first two hours at the door, and the next two hours at the lights.
That’s when I met Charlie.
He introduced himself to me and explained, “This is going to get crazy here in a little while, so pay attention. This is a wild bar, and there will be some fights before it’s all over.”
I studied the small man- he was about 35-years-old, 5-feet 3-inches tall, and weighed about 130. I was 18 (lied about my age to get in), about 6-feet and 200 pounds.
I nodded in agreement as he continued, “These guys that come in here like to fight. They’re not used to paying a cover charge because we don’t usually have live entertainment. So, there will be a lot of regulars who don’t think they should have to pay, and these guys are crazy bikers and rednecks, so we have a system to deal with them, so again, pay attention.” I did. “As soon as someone gives you any trouble, if he walks past you and doesn’t pay, or if he gives you any static, don’t argue with him, just get my attention and point him out to me, then tell me what he did.” I agreed.
The place started getting packed.
I stood at the door and collected 3-dollars from each person. About the tenth guy in was already drunk, and looked at me as if I wasn’t supposed to be there. “I come here every day, I don’t pay.” And with that, he walked past me. I looked over at Charlie who was always looking at me, and pointed at the guy, signalling he didn’t pay.
Charlie called him to the bar, and demanded he pay. The guy just got louder and louder, and suddenly threw a bottle at Charlie. Charlie ducked, jumped over the bar, and in one swoop, knocked the bigger man out with a perfect flying elbow. About three of us stood the guy up, and helped him out the door gently.
This exact incident repeated itself at least five times that night. And the guy was always a huge, Big John Stud look-alike. Yet somehow, small Charlie was able to fly over the bar and knock out each one systematically with one blow every time- sometimes with a hand or foot, and sometimes with a bottle or bar-stool.
A couple of times there was a fight between paying customers, and Charlie would have to break it up. Those often ended with a menacing blow from Charlie as well.
Just like in the movie Road House, the bartenders and bouncers always had eye-contact with each other, and one wave of the hand brought Charlie, which brought the end to the incident quickly every time.
I wondered what was going on in the backroom area, where the band was playing. I couldn’t see it from where I was. The music sounded pretty good though, and I longed for my turn at the stage lights.
Finally, it was time to switch places.
I spent the next two hours doing what I came there for- having a good time, rocking out, and jamming with the band by flashing lights on the players here and there. And Bill spent those two hours experiencing more of what I saw earlier.
We met after it was all over, and Bill began with, “Oh my God, there was so many fights, and charlie is an animal!”
“I told you.” I said.