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The popularity of Country Connections defied explanation. It wasn’t fancy. A sprawling wooden building with a porch across the front, surrounded by acres of parking lot, it wasn’t the type of building that would attract your attention. In daylight, the potholes in the pavement and the fading painted shingles made it a borderline eyesore. But there was something magical about the place at night.
White lights strung much like Christmas decorations around the top of the porch, the beckoning neon roof sign flashing “WELCOME TO COUNTRY CONNECTIONS: Where We Know You By Name, and Everybody’s Got Game”, coupled with the shroud of darkness which camouflaged a multitude of cosmetic sins, the dance hall was somehow transformed into a pleasure palace, much like candlelight, satin, and pancake makeup could do wonders for a ‘plain Jane.’
Inside, the cathedral ceiling supported by exposed beams, the faux gas lanterns, and the large stage at the back of the room created a cozy, country effect that belied the sheer size of the place. The long tables on each side of the dance floor were designed to minimize isolation. Conversation flowed more naturally when strangers were required to share table space, instead of keeping to themselves at small tables for two and four.
Every Friday night was Singles’ Night at Country Connections. Occasionally a philandering, married male (or female) might infiltrate the crowd, but for the most part, you could expect to be mingling with other single people. Saturday nights were Couples’ Nights, and the place would be with teeming with young married couples who’d managed to get a sitter for the evening, older married couples, and often pairs who’d found each other on a Friday and opted for more than a one night stand.
Woody Blackstone, the proprietor of Country Connections, was committed to providing a safe, fun, environment for people to gather to dance and have a good time. He employed a few burly bouncers to keep things from getting rowdy. Most of the time; they had little ‘bouncing” to do, and worked at keeping the place clean, and making sure everyone was having a good time. If there was a particularly busy night, they might go outside and direct parking lot traffic, helping customers find parking spots. They were under strict instructions from Woody to turn a blind eye at what might be going on in parked cars in the darker areas of the lot. For some patrons, having a good time might include a quickie in a back seat, and that was none of Country Connections’ business.
Woody had purchased the property two years ago in 1978. Three years had passed since his wife died from complications of breast cancer surgery, and he had become bored with spending weekends at home alone. He was uninterested in dating, and when the place had been advertised for sale, he saw it as an opportunity to fill his free time. Originally a grange hall, the building had required minimum renovations to be opened as a dance club.
Some people criticized him for hiring country western bands, insisting he would draw larger crowds with true rock or disco performers, but it seemed to him that the “shit-kicking” music (as his critics referred to country) attracted fewer druggies and trouble -makers. As it turned out, there were more ‘shit-kicking’ music fans than they thought; the bottle club had turned into a pretty profitable operation.
For the past 6 months, a group called “Patty and the Sidewinders” had been the taking the stage every weekend. Part of the reason for that was their popularity with the patrons; but to be honest, part of the reason was Patty Blanchette, the lead singer. There was something about her smile, her powerful “pipes,” and her voluptuous figure that Woody couldn’t put out of his mind. The conversations they’d had up to this point were limited to business, but he was working on changing that.
Tonight he had taken extra care showering, shaving, and dressing before heading out to open the club for business. He’d worn his best black jeans, a blue and white checkered sport shirt and felt he didn’t look half bad for a 45-year-old widower. There was just a hint of silver in his curly black hair and his blue eyes had a sparkle in them when he thought about the possibility of dating Patty. He took a last glance at himself in the mirror before putting on his shoes and jacket, and was satisfied with what he saw. “Here I come, ready or not, Patty Blanchette,” he thought to himself.
(To be continued)