“Don’t shoot,” I said to the masked group pointing assault rifles at us. “Whoever you are, we can figure this out without anyone having to die.”
“You wouldn’t be trying to stop us if you knew what these people did to us in that factory, Classy,” the head masked man said. “We all know you’re a good person. And the only reason we haven’t opened fire already is that we don’t want you to get caught in the middle. But this only ends one way. So pick your side carefully.”
“You’re all a bunch of fucking cowards!” Santa yelled out. “You hide behind your masks pointing my own guns at me when I did all of you a favor. You would’ve starved without me coming here to hire you. This whole town was heading down the drain until I brought my business here!”
“Santa, you need to stop!” I said. “I’m trying to get them to spare your life but you’re making me lose reasons why I should. Also, are those really all your guns they’re holding? That’s like, fifteen rifles. Why the hell do you need to carry fifteen rifles in your goddamn sled, SANTA?”
“Freedom isn’t a compromise to-”
“Okay, never mind, shut up. Just…shut the fuck up dude.”
The man leading the group pulled down his hood and took off his mask.
“We’re not here to hide. My name is Eduardo. Our faces are only covered up because of the cold. Most of us don’t have any heat in our homes this winter. Also we’re wearing masks because there’s still a pandemic going on no matter how much assholes like you want to deny it but whatever, that’s not the point. We’re all residents of this community who were desperate for work. And you took advantage of that. We worked insane hours for slave wages because we thought we couldn’t do better. But we’re done. And you’re going to pay for how you treated us.”
I was literally the only thing stopping the workers from firing into the warehouse and killing the Clauses. But they were so angry and in need of justice for their abuses that they were gonna sacrifice me too if I didn’t think of something quickly. Part of me couldn’t really blame them if they did. I decided a long time ago that The Classy Alcoholic would follow Batman rules: no guns, no killing, and banging tons of babes that I ghosted as soon as they discovered my secret identity. But I also followed ACAB rules so I wasn’t exactly going to call the police on Santa Claus when I knew he’d just walk away from this without any consequences because he was rich and white.
And then there was Mrs. Claus. I wasn’t even sure if I believed her when she said she didn’t know anything about her husband’s operation. I wanted to…but I had to admit that I didn’t really know her at all. I looked over and saw her crying. There was something familiar in her eyes. It was the look of a person who felt betrayed and left completely alone with nowhere to turn. No one understood that better than me. So I decided to take a leap of faith. ‘Twas the season after all.
“Okay, you can have Santa and do whatever you need to do. But Mrs. Claus isn’t part of this. Please let her go. Oh, and me. Please also let me go, if you don’t mind.”
Eduardo had all of the workers lower their guns.
“You’re really going to walk away from me right now?” Santa asked his wife. “After everything I’ve sacrificed for you? Well fine, you can fuck right off!”
Santa grabbed Mrs. Claus by the waist and shoved her into the crowd of armed workers. Most of them fell to the ground while he took advantage of the distraction and jumped into his sled. He pulled out a whip and started hitting the reindeer really fucking hard with it to get them to fly. I heard Rudolph crying out in pain while his bright red nose flickered. His frail old legs shook but he was somehow still able to get off the ground. The masked workers pointed their guns at Santa again.
“No, don’t shoot, you’ll hit the reindeer!”
Everyone put their guns back down. No matter how enraged they were, they weren’t going to murder the innocent animals that were also clearly being abused by that motherfucker. The sled was flying out of the warehouse doors when I decided to do something stupid, as per usual.
I jumped into the backseat as the reindeer hit max velocity. I felt the familiar sinking feeling I got when airplanes took off but with some added terror because I was afraid of heights and the goddamn sled didn’t have any real safety features. I tried to look around for a weapon but I only saw one giant bag full of harmless toys and another bag full of a bunch of grenades because Santa Claus was a fucking asshole. He didn’t even know I was in the sled with him. I watched him continue to whip his reindeer to get them to go faster. I punched him in the back of the head as hard as I could and my knuckles felt like they almost broke. He was a tough bastard.
“You’re really starting to piss me off, Classy,” Santa said as he turned around to look at me. “You’ve robbed me of my Christmas spirit and I’m gonna get it the fuck back from you one way or another, HO HO HO!”
Santa Claus leapt onto me and put his hands around my neck. I tried to pull him off but his fat sausage fingers were too strong for me to handle. I knew I wouldn’t last long so I used every last bit of breath I had to yell as loud as I could.
“RUDOLPH!” The head reindeer looked back at me when he heard his name. “MERRY-GO-ROUND!”
Rudolph may have been dumb as shit but he knew his name and what a merry-go-round was. He started spinning the sled into a circular flight pattern fast enough to knock Santa off balance. I pushed him off of me and moved toward the front. I needed to get to Rudolph but there were eight reindeer with stupid names I couldn’t remember between him and me. I made the mistake of looking down and almost shit my pants. We were really high above South Tucson and my fear of heights was about to make my heart explode. But I couldn’t let that stop me.
I jumped onto the back of the first reindeer that I think was named Daggle, then onto the next one that was maybe named Dimble. I then jumped onto Pringle, then Venkman, on Cooper, on Cutty, on Dino and Bixby. Then there was my boy Rudolph. I jumped on his saddle and held on tight. He smiled and let his tongue flap in the wind.
“I missed you too, boy.”
I felt a painful sting on my right shoulder. I looked back to see that Santa had grabbed his whip again. He caught me a few times in the back. I could hear Rudolph crying even through the heavy winds. He pointed his nose, so bright, onto the leather straps that tied him and the other reindeer to the sled. There was a buckle that I could easily unhook. Santa kept whipping at me and was hitting some of the reindeer when he missed.
“Hey Santa!” I yelled. “I banged your wife, you fat motherfucker!”
I unbuckled the straps and freed all nine reindeer. The sled fell back down toward the South Tucson streets. There was a giant explosion when it hit the ground, probably because of the grenades that Santa carried, because he was a fucking asshole.
I had Rudolph guide me back down to the wreckage. When we landed I looked up and saw the other reindeer flying off into the night sky. I had no idea where they were going but I was just happy they were free. The flame grew larger in the middle of the road from all the toys that also caught fire. I saw the crowd of masked workers from the factory gathering around the impromptu bonfire. Several children ran out toward it too and put their hands out to warm themselves up. I found Mrs. Claus watching the group of people converge. I put my hand on her shoulder to get her attention.
“I’m sorry about everything.” I said to her. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I know. I’m not sure how I feel about this at all. On the one hand, Santa was clearly a terrible person. But also…I really did love him.”
She gave me a hug and cried on my shoulder. And I could feel my penis grow three sizes that day.
“Oh my god, did you really just get a boner right now, you fucking pig?!?” she asked.
“I’m sorry! But you look really hot in that dress. Also you’re officially single and we’re both in need of some Christmas spirit, right?”
Mrs. Claus slapped me across the face and walked away. I couldn’t help but feel sad as I watched her disappear through the smoke cloud created by her husband’s crispy corpse.
“Muchas gracias por tu ayuda, Classy.” Eduardo walked up to me while holding a small child in his arms. “The families without heaters are going to use that fire to make it through the night. And don’t worry, we’ll tell the cops that Santa fell out of the sky because of some freak accident with his sled.”
“If I had known what he was doing to everyone here for all these years I would’ve intervened sooner. I’m glad y’all stood up to him. And I’m sorry about blowing up all the toys in his bag. I know your kids would’ve loved to have a few of those.”
“It’s not even a problem. We’re just gonna have to teach our kids that toys aren’t important. What really matters is our time together and our dignity. And we took back both tonight. If you’d like to join us for Christmas dinner you’re welcome. We can cook carne asada with that huge fire back there.”
I looked over at Rudolph and saw his nose flickering again.
“No thanks, Eduardo. I appreciate the invite but I think I’ll just do what I normally do around this time and get shithouse drunk on tequila at home. But now I have an old friend to hang out with.”
I hopped onto Rudolph’s back and gave him some more neck scratches and belly rubs.
“Good boy. Let’s go get drunk together.”
His nose lit up brighter than I had ever seen before. Rudolph shot up toward the starry, night sky with me onboard. He smiled and let his tongue flap in the wind.
The dark jail cell I was trapped in smelled like shit. There was a single light bulb barely illuminating the room. The kidnappers got me before I could hide emergency reserves of tiny liquor bottles in my butthole so I was growing increasingly sober by the minute. And the worst part of it all was finding out that I was locked up with fucking Santa Claus.
“This is certainly a strange way for us to meet, Classy. I’ve heard a lot about you. You’re the only celebrity I can think of who’s almost as well known as I am, Ho Ho Ho! Do you have any idea why we’re in here?”
Ugh. I fucking hated that guy.
“Doesn’t matter. The number of people who’d love to lock me up is too high to count so asking why is a waste of time. In fact, the better question is why you’re here.”
“No idea. Our circles have never overlapped so I don’t know why these terrorists would associate you with a Claus. Is there any connection between us that you can think of?”
“Um. Not…no, definitely nothing that I can come up with at all. Like I said, doesn’t matter, I’m gonna find a way to pick that lock. I bust out of prisons way worse than this all the time.”
“Wait, listen, someone’s coming.”
A man in a dark hood and face mask walked out of the shadows and approached the bars. He had an assault rifle slung over his arm and a ring of keys attached to his belt.
“That’s my AR-15 you sonofabitch!” Santa Claus yelled at the masked man. “You let me out of here right now or every single one of you thugs is gonna regret ever being born!”
“Shut your goddamn mouth, Santa. I’ll deal with you in a minute. We have your wife in a cell next door so calm your ass down if you know what’s good for you. First I need to talk to you, Classy. What were you doing at that bar tonight with Mrs. Claus? Are you working with these people?”
“Wait, what bar with Mrs. Claus?” Santa asked me. “How do you know my wife, Classy?”
“Oh. Um. Well. Mrs. Claus and I just met earlier tonight. For the very first time ever. Coincidentally. At the same bar. And oh no! Look at that, I just dropped my phone on the ground and oh no! I accidentally just stomped on it really hard a bunch of times. What a bummer because all my texts and pictures from the past year are all erased forever because I don’t back anything up. Anyhoozle, I’m sure this is all just a big misunder-”
Santa reached his arm through the bars and grabbed the masked man by the throat. His big fat sausage fingers were stronger than they looked.
“Santa, no, let him go!” I tried to stop him but he was too fast and too strong. I heard the sound of cracking bone and the masked man went limp in Santa’s hand. He grabbed the keys from the dead guy’s belt and tossed the corpse aside.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I asked. “I could’ve gotten us out of here without anyone having to die.”
“Please, Classy! Don’t go pussy on me. These scumbags were going to kill us and I’m not willing to die for anyone. Just so you know they hijacked my sled and stole all the weapons I had stashed inside. So they’re armed and we’re not. If you want to survive this you’ll have to do whatever it takes.”
“First of all why in the literal flying fuck does Santa Claus need to go around strapped?”
“Well, first of all it’s my God-given right as an American to conceal and carry. And secondly, you don’t know what it’s like to have to deliver presents all over the world. I end up in some really shady neighborhoods all the time. You know you’re there when the letters are way longer than normal. Bunch of greedy little shits. They’re probably taking most of the presents I drop off and trading them for drugs. So I need to make sure I can protect myself at all times.”
“Wow. Fucking WOW. You deliver presents to children you goddamn prick!”
“I love children. It’s their thug parents I can’t stand. Now you can do whatever you want but I’m going to find my wife. The poor thing is probably bound and gagged and terrified.”
“Ummmm…yes. Totally. Getting tied up is definitely very scary and not at all sexy for her, like, at all. You would know. Because you know her best. Better than…anyone.”
Santa picked up the AR from the masked man’s corpse and made his way through the halls of this old, shitty warehouse like he knew exactly where he was going. I decided to follow because I really did want Mrs. Claus to be okay. We passed by a few more jail cells, a storage room with some whips and chains, and several stockades. And I know that some of you are thinking this sounds a lot like my apartment. But I assure you it wasn’t the same. This fucked up warehouse wasn’t set up for fun.
I came across the familiar sight of Mrs. Claus in handcuffs but for non-sexy reasons this time. Santa let her out of her cell and they embraced in a way that made me think she really might love him. Or maybe she was just putting up appearances and mostly wanted to bang me again instead. Who knows?
“Hello again, Mrs. Claus,” I said, trying to be all nonchalant and shit. “Nice to see you again after our extremely brief, coincidental meeting earlier tonight for the first time at an adult drinking establishment.”
Fucken nailed it.
Santa led us into a room that housed a massive production facility with assembly lines everywhere. I saw chains and shackles on the ground where the worker stations would normally be. The place was freezing cold and everything was so rusted and filthy that I would’ve sworn no one had been in there for at least fifty years. But I stopped when I saw a doll’s head on the floor that looked new. I kept looking around and noticed pieces of several other toys. Building blocks, action figure limbs and race cars were everywhere and mostly clean except for a few tiny marks of soot.
“We’re almost out of here,” Santa said. “The reindeer and sled are in the outgoing product area. If we just open the garage doors we can fly out of here.”
“Wait!” I yelled. “We’re in your toy factory right now, aren’t we? You really run your business like this?”
Santa scoffed and started to walk away from me. I grabbed his shoulder to stop him but he turned around and shoved me hard enough to knock me on my ass.
“Don’t talk to me about how to run a business, Classy. I’ve been the beacon of hope, love and salvation for way longer than you’ve even been alive. Keeping that shit going takes the kind of manpower you can’t even fathom.”
“So you keep your elves chained up here and work them to death?”
“No one is forced to work for anyone! And actually I don’t employ elves anymore because they kind of have a shorter lifespan than you’d think and, yeah, they pretty much all died so I had to move my operation to South Tucson several years ago out of necessity. I used to have a steady stream of Mexicans ready to fill up this whole facility at any given time. But now I have trouble getting staff in here because no one wants to work anymore. Being me is harder than you’ll ever know.”
I stood up and slowly approached Santa. I had no idea what I was going to do but I was too angry to care. He held his assault rifle in front of him, ready to use it if needed.
“You don’t scare me. And I’m gonna make sure you pay for what you’ve done to these people,” I said. I turned to Mrs. Claus. “Did you know about all of this?”
“I swear I didn’t, Classy! This is horrifying and I promise I’ve never been inside of the factory. I was never allowed.”
“Cut the shit!” Santa said to his wife. “You’ve been reaping the benefits from my job and status for over a decade now. This business keeps your fine ass in designer dresses and fancy jewelry. You’ve always been an expensive habit and I do this to keep you happy. So don’t act like you’re too good for me all of a sudden.”
I fucking lost it after that. I ran toward Santa and punched him in the face. He stumbled but tried to aim his assault rifle toward me. I grabbed it and pointed it at the ceiling as he pulled the trigger. He was strong as hell but I held the gun away for as long as I could. The rounds went everywhere and the ricochets echoed through the room.
The rifle clicked empty and I was about to beat the shit out of him when I heard the sound of a warehouse door opening. Two more hooded men in masks with AR-15s walked into the production facility. They opened fire as Santa, his wife, and I hit the ground. We dodged the bullets by crawling toward the outgoing product area. We saw the nine reindeer and the sled when we walked into the room. I could tell Rudolph recognized me and was super excited to see me again.
“Hey bud!” I said as I gave him some scratches on his head and some belly rubs. “Did you miss me, boy?”
“Ummm…how do you know Rudolph?” Santa asked me as he looked over to his wife, then to his reindeer, then back to me, then back to his wife, then back to me.
“Oh. Yes. Welp. We met a while back…at a beer fest. Yeah. That’s it. He and I used to get trashed at beer fests together. A long, long time ago.”
I gave Mrs. Claus a sexy wink to indicate that I fucken nailed it.
“Okay but why did you just very obviously wink at my wife after you said that?” Santa asked me.
I was about to give another suave, discreet answer but I was interrupted by the sounds of several warehouse garage doors opening behind us.
We looked outside and were confronted by about a dozen more hooded people with facemasks all pointing assault rifles at us. One person from the group stepped forward.
“Step away, Classy!” the man said. “We’ll deal with you later. But first, the Clauses must die!”
I fucking hate Christmas. I’ve gotten pretty sick of hearing the exact same songs every year for the entire three and a half decades that I’ve been alive. Baby Jesus Christ himself was listening to “Jingle Bell Rock” on the day he was born and somehow I still had to hear that shit over the speakers today in the Macy’s while I was trying to buy slippers.
I sat at the bar at Tucson Hop Shop sipping my barrel-aged imperial stout while I waited to meet the woman who texted me earlier that night. Part of me hoped that she wouldn’t actually show. I hadn’t heard from her at all since last Christmas but of course I never blocked her number or even deleted her off my phone. I thought about it a few times as it got closer to the holiday season and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I tried so hard to convince myself to ignore her message from today. But I’ll never deny how pathetically easy it is for me to fall back into old patterns. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a gorgeous, middle-aged trophy wife with a fat husband who takes her for granted.
So there I was, patiently waiting at the bar like a sucker. I knew her husband basically lived at work during Christmastime and that she had to spend her holidays all alone. Except for last year, of course.
My sense of smell isn’t that great anymore after all the drugs I did in my youth with my Cousin Chico but I recognized her cinnamon-scented perfume immediately. She was never hard to spot in a crowd. She put her hand on mine and I saw the same bright green nail polish that she was wearing when we first met. Her body still looked stunning in her form-fitting red dress and she was still wearing one of those dumb oversized black belts around her waist.
“Hello again, Classy.”
“Hello, Mrs. Claus,” I said, as I pulled my hand away from hers.
“So formal of you. You really aren’t going to use my first name?”
I ignored her question and took a long sip of my beer. Most people think Santa Claus spends all of his time in the North Pole but the truth is that he and his wife are snowbirds. They keep it pretty quiet for obvious reasons but if you get to know the right people they’ll tell you about the massive toy factory he runs in South Tucson. I never knew the exact location and never cared enough to ask. A guy like me doesn’t have much in the way of Christmas spirit. But I found some last December 23rd when I happened to meet Mrs. Claus at a dive bar. We were both there to do some holiday sad-drinking and she was already a few shots in when we struck up a conversation. It didn’t take long for her to open up about how lonely she got every time she had to come back to Tucson for the winter. She hadn’t seen Santa in almost a week and she wouldn’t again until the early hours of the 26th when he came home exhausted and went right to bed.
Looks like she didn’t have much in the way of Christmas spirit herself. So I bought her a couple more drinks, danced with her (badly) a bit and got an invite back to her house out in the rural parts of Southern Arizona. Neither of us were in any condition to drive but luckily she was able to use the sled for a few nights before her husband needed it for work. She introduced me to all nine of their reindeer who flew us to her place but my ass was too drunk to remember their names. Especially because they were all some weird shit like Donden and Bliggle and Cumin or whatever.
I remembered Rudolph though. The poor guy was really old and dumb as shit. The only thing he was naturally good at was guiding the sled but otherwise he just stumbled around the house running into things. He had his own water bowl but he still went into the bathroom to drink out of the toilet. And his antlers got him stuck in the toilet seat like a dumbass. The other eight reindeer were kinda dicks and made fun of him a bunch. And as a guy who frequently did really dumb shit while drunk I felt like I could really relate to him. Plus my nose is also constantly bright red from all the damn whiskey I consume.
So Mrs. Claus and I spent an amazing night together. We talked, laughed, drank hot cocoa by the fire and I even got to wear one of Santa’s hats while she and I banged which is not a thing I ever thought I’d be into before then. But it wasn’t even twenty four hours later when she told me I had to go. She had to take the reindeer and sled to her husband at the toy factory. She dropped me off at my apartment first and kissed me goodnight. I asked if I could see her again and she gave me a wink and a “maybe.” But then I didn’t hear from her all year.
Until now. It was December in Tucson again. The weather was warm as hell for weeks but today was the first time it was actually cold in the early evening. I was at home about to get completely obliterated on whiskey and eggnog in front of a Golden Girls binge watch when I got the text from Mrs. Claus. She practically begged me to come meet her somewhere. And I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t want to see her again.
“What can I do for you?” I asked, trying to play it cool while knowing that I was becoming increasingly nervous.
“All business, I see,” she said. “Did you lose your ability to make small talk in the last twelve months?”
“I lost a lot of things in the last twelve months.” She could see that being here was getting difficult for me.
“I’m sorry, I’ll get to the point. I need a favor and I know it’ll be the last thing you’ll want to do but will you listen?”
I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“I’ll listen for as long as it takes me to drink this pint,” I said while holding up the IPA that the bartender had just poured me.
“My husband’s disappeared and I need you to help me find him.”
I chugged that entire beer as fast as I could.
“Oops, I guess we’re out of time.”
I walked outside but got stopped in my tracks by Mrs. Claus’ hand on my shoulder. She grazed her index finger on my neck and my feet immediately felt cemented to the ground.
“I’m sorry, I know this is strange but if I could ask anyone else for help I would. I’ve been coming to Arizona for years and I barely know anyone, much less someone with the connections you have. Every trip here is the same. I just sit at home alone with the reindeer while Santa works. I watch so many Christmas movies on TV wishing I could celebrate with someone. I’m Mrs. Fucking Claus and I haven’t had a real Christmas in ages. Last year was the first time I gathered up the courage to go out on my own. I’m really glad I met you that night but I just didn’t know what to do with myself after what happened. And I decided that this year I’m telling Santa that I want him to retire. I can’t keep living like this.”
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. A part of me even wanted to do what she was asking. But to help someone actually fix their failing marriage? It was against everything I stood for.
“Classy, please,” she said while my back was still to her. “I don’t know what to-”
The sound of her voice became muffled. Before I could turn around I felt the unfortunately familiar sensation of a fist punching me in the back of my head. My knees buckled and everything went dark before I could fight back. My face was covered by a black bag and two people grabbed my arms on either side. I got thrown into the back of a van that peeled out of the parking lot.
“Hey y’all, I’m not sure who you are and if you’re taking me to a place to get murdered or whatever, which is cool, I don’t mind, but do you think we can stop and get some tacos on the way?”
I felt the unfortunately familiar sensation of the butt of a rifle bashing me on the side of the head. Pretty much all the other kidnappers who snatched me up and put me into a van before had the courtesy to stop and get me food on the way to their murder dungeons. So right away I knew these people meant business.
The car eventually stopped and the kidnappers led me somewhere while the bag was still on my head. I heard the unfortunately familiar sound of a jail cell door opening and closing. The zip ties that were holding my wrists together got cut off. I pulled the bag off my face and tried to look around but my eyes needed a second to adjust to the dark.
“HO HO HO! If it isn’t The Classy Alcoholic,” said a boisterous voice behind me. “I don’t suppose you came to rescue me?”
A white-bearded, jolly, fat fuck in a red suit stepped out of the shadows.
I’ve been struggling with how to best describe Gabe Ceniceros for the start of this profile. And it took me a while to realize what the “problem” was. The bottom line is there aren’t many guys like him. If you make time to talk to this dude you’ll see right away that he’s got a natural charisma that never comes off as fake. He’s effortlessly cool without seeming aloof. He speaks with the heart of a poet without sounding pretentious. And he tells you what’s on his mind without a filter but never comes off like a dick. If you’ve spent any time around the Tucson craft beer scene in the last seven years you’ve likely met him and if you’ve met him you know exactly what I mean.
Gabe is the founder of The Blacktop Grill, a restaurant in Marana, AZ that opened in November 2020. But long before I sat with him on a patio sharing a beer outside of the building that was the culmination of a dream he’d been chasing for years, Gabe was parked outside of Tucson’s craft breweries making a name for himself selling nothing more than hot dogs and quesadillas from a tiny little food cart.
Opening your own restaurant is a hell of an achievement for anyone under normal circumstances. And doing it in the middle of a pandemic after starting out working on a grill that was literally as wide as your spread-out arms means Gabe has earned some bragging rights. But instead of singing his own praises and trying to come off like a total badass during my interview with him, the man never failed to stay humble. I was sitting across the table from the owner of a successful small business and the driving force behind a brand with a loyal customer base and a stellar reputation across all of Tucson. But even so, when I asked him when he learned to cook, he practically stopped me in my tracks with his answer.
“I’ve never cooked,” he said. “I grill.”
“I FAILED A MILLION TIMES“
Gabe is a lifelong desert-dweller who was born and raised in Yuma. He describes his father as a very hard worker who “did it all,” from church elder to social worker to auto parts salesman. But he makes it very clear that he means no disrespect to his dad when he pivoted to talking about how much he admired his mother’s work ethic. He is the eldest of six and told me about how his mom managed to get him and his siblings to school, help them with their homework, and give them plenty of time and attention while still managing to get herself a teaching degree. Watching her do all this shaped him into the kind of guy who doesn’t make excuses for himself and avoids complaining about his lot in life. When he says he learned to bust his ass because he didn’t want to let her down you can hear the reverence in his voice.
His path toward Tucson and to owning his own restaurant didn’t actually come through food but through music first. Gabe is also a singer-songwriter with a deep love of reggae and has been a making music since his time living in Yuma. In 2008 he was invited to play at a Tucson event called Club Crawl and fell in love with the town. He even met the woman who would eventually become his wife.
Gabe and I reminisced about how shitty and stabby downtown Tucson was back then. If you’re only familiar with the town as it stands today you’ll be surprised to hear that apart from Hotel Congress it used to be a dead zone with only a few crappy bars and restaurants that were burned down for the insurance money long ago. But even so Gabe decided to move to Tucson because he saw a lot of opportunity for growth; both personal and professional. The key to his success hasn’t just been hard work and drive. It’s also been his ability to look at a seed and immediately start planning on what to do with the flowers. And also luck. A shitload of crazy luck.
When I asked if music or food was his first passion I got a very Gabe-like answer.
“Creativity is my first passion. Music and food both fit into that.”
Somehow this guy always knew that he wanted to own his own business. He spent over 20 years working in restaurants but dreamed of the day he could be his own boss. Not that that was ever an easy or clear path for him.
“I failed a million times at starting a business,” he said as he recounted his attempts at creating a power washing company that never took flight. He tried to start a restaurant once before but he’s very happy that nothing came of it because he knows now that he wasn’t ready. The closest he got was a landscaping business that failed because he would show up late – or not at all – to jobs due to his frequent hangovers. “I got fired from a lot of lawns,” he admits. Which, hey, if anyone knows about being too hungover to finish a job it’s certainly me.
I asked where the food truck fit in amongst that graveyard of business ideas and Gabe recalled talking to the guy who ran a Sonoran-style hot dog cart back in Yuma. For those of you who don’t know what a Sonoran dog is, let me first say that I’m embarrassed by you and that you should immediately go get one after you’re done reading this article. Because it’s a hot dog that’s wrapped in bacon and topped with onion, tomato, beans and Jalapeño. And it’ll be one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. If you’re in Tucson all you have to do is drive around the poorer areas and look for a Mexican guy with a cart sitting off the side of the road. They’re pretty much everywhere. You don’t even have to speak Spanish. Just say “hot dog” and put up some fingers so they know how many you’re gonna want. Make sure you bring cash because most of them don’t take credit cards but, like, not a lot of cash because you don’t wanna make yourself a target in those neighborhoods. You’ll be fine though. Just don’t go out there super late and lock your doors really fast when you get back in the car.
Anyhoozle, Gabe would go visit his favorite hot dog vendor after playing gigs around town. And one day the guy told him that sometimes he sold up to 700 hot dogs in one weekend. Gabe’s jaw practically hit the floor and the thought of having a food truck of some sort never entirely left his mind after that. About seven years and a move across the state to Tucson later he got himself what he described as “a shitty little cart” that was practically held together by Band-Aids. At the time it was just another attempt to quit working for other people.
The Blacktop Grill’s maiden voyage was in 2014 on the University of Arizona campus. And because he’s always had what he describes as “a hustler’s spirit” Gabe tends to find creative ways to do what he needs to do. He asked me if I knew the church that was right near one of the entryways to the college and I told him that I didn’t because I am a filthy degenerate. But apparently there was a particular church that, even though it was on campus, was considered private property and not affiliated with the university. So instead of asking the school for any kind of permit to set up the food truck he just had to get clearance from the church. So he’d make a donation and got to hang out slinging dogs all day. It was actually a great idea except for the fact that sales were shit back then.
“My first day I sold one hot dog,” he told me. “Then only two the next day.”
I was a bit surprised. I thought he would’ve crushed the game with a food truck that was easily accessible to drunk, stoned college students. I asked why sales were so bad and whether he thought it was due to racism. He said he realized pretty quickly that it was because college students were broke. I understood that seeing as how a hot dog would’ve definitely been a luxury for me during my poorest college years. But when I reminded him that the U of A has a lot of kids from rich families attending on mommy and daddy’s dime I triggered a memory of a guy he called his “favorite customer.”
He described a 19 year old kid who would drive up to the food truck in a $100,000 Porsche. He would park in a no-parking zone because of course he did. And whenever he showed up he would order twenty bucks worth of food, which was a huge sale for Gabe at the time. I’m guessing that kid grew up to be a senator somewhere voting for, like, anti-LGBT legislation and shit right now.
Whether it was due to racism or lack of funds (but probably racism) the hot dog sales at the university just weren’t cutting it. But instead of getting discouraged Gabe started to pound the pavement and continued trying to make connections. And thanks to a bit of that natural luck that seems to follow him around he hooked up with the place that would help him grow to the successful restaurant owner he is today: Dragoon Brewing Company.
I still remember the first time I met Gabe several years ago at Tap & Bottle. It was at the downtown location because back then that was the only T&B location that existed. I was with my buddy David who was the assistant brewer for Borderlands Brewing Co. at the time. I had just recently started my blog and David insisted that I meet this “really cool guy” who set up his food truck at Borderlands occasionally. I was quite happy to introduce myself to a fellow brown man at a place that sold craft beer. He didn’t have much time to chat but I told him that I was trying to support local breweries and other small businesses. We followed each other on Instagram and he got back to work. I didn’t try his food that night, either because I had already eaten or because that was back before I was fat.
I’m not sure how much time passed before I actually tried a hot dog from The Blacktop Grill but I remember it was while having a drink at Borderlands one night. The thought of a dog and a beer sounded great. Hell, a lot of my dinners back then were a couple of 40s and a bunch of gas station hot dogs. (Holy shit y’all, I think I just realized how I got fat.) So I was a bit surprised when I saw the menu. It was short and simple with nothing more than hot dogs and quesadillas. But one of the dogs was described as having a sriracha honey coleslaw topping. I don’t know about you but I still don’t understand what we as a society did to deserve sriracha. And of course I was blown away by this dude’s southwestern-style gourmet dog.
I kept seeing this guy with his weird (in a good way) hot dogs at different breweries around town and I became another one of his regular customers. He seemed to have built a really good relationship with people in the craft beer industry. And it all started when he heard from someone that a new brewery called Dragoon was looking for food trucks.
Gabe introduced himself to the Dragoon team early on in their existence and says they welcomed him with open arms. Shortly after that there came a wave of other beer-centered businesses that he connected with. He started getting more work through word of mouth but insists that it wasn’t even the quality of the food that got him on the breweries’ good sides. He says it was just the fact that he showed up when he said he was going to. While other food truck vendors were flaking out he was the guy who never failed to be there.
It seems kind of weird at first but it’s very much like Gabe to take pride in telling me that there were several times that he stood out in the rain for hours outside of a business just to sell one hot dog. Because apart from making a sale it was also just as important for him to be the kind of guy that others could count on. That’s something that still holds true to this day. If he commits to being somewhere he will be there.
With that attitude it didn’t take long for The Blacktop Grill to start developing a loyal customer base. And it didn’t hurt that he moved to Tucson and started taking out the truck just as the city began to boom. The number of breweries and craft beer bars exploded. The streetcar was built and became fully operational. A whole bunch of new businesses opened up downtown and it was no longer the scary shithole it used to be. Gabe says the positive responses to his food started off small but never stopped. After several years of grinding he heard people telling him that Blacktop was their favorite food truck. And even through it all he still says that it started pretty much by accident.
When I asked why he focused on hot dogs and quesadillas only he said it was because he couldn’t do much more than that in his little cart. When he stuck to those two items it gave him the opportunity to try different styles of each. He experimented like crazy.
“We tried it all. You name it we tried it. I even tried a PB&J hot dog,” he told me, causing me to almost gag reflexively because peanut butter and jelly are really gross together and I don’t know how some of y’all grew up eating that bullshit.
I felt a little better about it when I asked if he actually attempted to sell that garbage to people and he said no. His experimental dogs were done at home and he tried to have a sense of quality control before he put anything on the menu. He made sure I knew that he takes everything he does seriously, even if it’s just a hot dog.
He credits Tucson’s breweries for giving him a platform and allowing him to reach a wider customer base. “It was a great relationship. They pumped me with beer and I pumped them with food.” And his constant drive toward creativity allowed him to offer a menu that was different enough to stand out from the crowd. Gabe was never going to be just one other Mexican guy with a hot dog cart in a town full of them.
Not being one to rest on his laurels, he spent those years improving his recipes and expanding his menu as much as he could. It wasn’t a huge expansion given that he still had a very small workspace. But I remember the day that his dogs appeared to suddenly become twice as big as before and he told me that he made it a point to find a heftier weenie after he got some feedback from customers telling him that, while his dogs were delicious, there was more bun than actual dog. And then there was the release of El Elotero. A hot dog topped with roasted corn and cotija cheese that was better than any other hot dog I’ve had in Tucson. And I’ve had some amazing ones given that I’m always trying every Sonoran dog cart I can find because I’m not afraid of those parts of town because I always kinda wanna die. El Elotero has yet to be beat to this day as far as I’m concerned.
And throughout it all Gabe still made time for his music. There were several times that he spent the first part of the night serving food at a brewery and the rest of it playing gigs around town with Los Streetlight Curb Players.
“Everything I do I love,” he said to me. “It’s not work.” And I know that on paper that sounds like total trite bullshit. And if I heard anyone else say that to me I’d roll my eyes and think, yeah whatever asshole, to myself but when you’re sitting in front of Gabe Ceniceros and hearing those words come out of his mouth you have no doubt that he means everything he says. You believe it because he truly believes it and I can’t help but admit that his optimism is pretty goddamn contagious.
Eventually he linked up with the UberEats app and was the first food truck in town to do so. I remember how excited I got several years ago on a weekend when I was on the couch either too hungover or already too drunk to go out to eat. I opened the app and saw Blacktop could be delivered to me while Gabe was serving outside of a brewery downtown. It was a new approach for him that seemed like it was paying off. He got an order sent to his tablet at the truck, had a driver come over to pick up the food, and he could continue to serve the customers in person. But of course he didn’t know just how crucial this delivery service would become in the year 2020 when everything changed.
I ran into Gabe in February of 2020 at Caps & Corks and was a bit surprised to see him. He and the truck weren’t out as often as they used to be and I hardly saw him at his usual downtown brewery haunts for what felt like months. I was a bit worried that he was pulling away from it all so I asked why he had been such a stranger lately. That’s when he told me that he’d been spending a lot of time working on opening a Blacktop brick and mortar location and asked me to keep it to myself for the time being. And I didn’t tell a soul but now I want to make sure y’all know that I knew about his restaurant long before most of you did. So I got my usual Elotero order and walked away excited and optimistic about what the future would bring for Gabe and for all of us. 2020 was gonna be our year alright!
Well. We needn’t rehash everything that happened just a few months later. Cut to some time in April after several weeks of me spending as much money as I could supporting local breweries and restaurants picking up to-go orders during the lockdown and encouraging others to do the same. I saw on Instagram that Gabe was still serving food out of his truck somewhere on the northwest side of town. I called in an order and drove out to whatever the address was. I honestly had no idea where I was going but by the end of the trip I realized I was at Gabe’s actual home and that he had the truck set up in front of his yard. It was so nice to see a familiar face after all that time in isolation. And the first thing I asked was if he ever signed anything for his brick and mortar location. Luckily he said he was able to put a pause on the whole deal before anything became official. The timing was nearly disastrous for him.
A year later I was sitting with him on the patio of that restaurant that almost never came to be, asking him what business was like during those lockdown months he spent serving from home. He said that sales slowed down, of course, but that he was still able to make a living. His neighbors, passersby, and even Fedex delivery drivers would stop by on their way through the neighborhood to check out what kind of food he was serving. And he also credited the delivery apps for keeping things afloat for him.
Since those apps started being used like crazy during the Rona times we’ve now learned that they all gouge businesses and leave restaurants with a very tiny portion of the profits. So I asked how he was able to keep making a living when those apps where taking such huge percentages for themselves. His face lit up and he answered, “Because I make quesadillas, bro!”
The lack of significant overhead for the food truck allowed Gabe to pay the bills when so many other businesses were clinging on for dear life. He admits that it wouldn’t have been as easy if he were selling barbecue or anything that was much more expensive than cheese, tortillas and weenies. And as we know there have been several places that didn’t make it. We lost too many local restaurants and bars last year in Tucson. But through it all it seemed like The Blacktop Grill was destined to succeed. And I want to make it clear that when I say Gabe has made it all this way with a certain amount of luck I don’t want that to diminish the hard work he’s put in. Obviously it wasn’t only luck that got him to where he is now. The man spent years struggling every day to make a name for himself. He’s clearly earned every ounce of his success with a mixture of hustle and foresight. But goddamn, there’s no denying this guy’s also a lucky sonofabitch in so many ways.
When the chance came to revisit the idea of the restaurant he was able to get a great deal on a lot due to the nature of doing business during the pandemic. And while he describes signing a contract for his own place as “nerve-wracking” he always fell back on his typical optimism. Even though he saw the same stories we all did about small businesses closing down he still knew he had to try and make a go of it. That vision of growth and opportunity that he saw in Tucson way back in 2008 was coming to fruition for him during one of the worst periods for the entire goddamn planet. But he’s never been a man to walk away from a challenge and he wasn’t going to start now.
“Everything worked in our favor,” he told me. “It’s like it was meant to be. We keep things simple and that’s our business model. We don’t need a lot to succeed.”
When I sat down for my interview with Gabe I decided that I wanted, more than anything, to paint a picture of the man in front of me. And I knew I would spend only a minimal amount of time in this profile talking about how good his food was. Because, seriously, there’s not a lot to say there. The food is really fucking good and you absolutely must try it. But that’s not the part of the story I wanted to tell. I wanted you to know what it feels like to talk to this dude. Because a cynical prick like me would typically roll my eyes at an eternal optimist like him. But Gabe has the power of sincerity and humility at his back and it’s enough to win over even an asshole like me.
He’s had his fair share of detractors. He told me about the people who used to try to bring him down by telling him that he was ridiculous for thinking he could make a living with his music or with a food truck. He was called “weenie man” by people making fun of him. But he didn’t let that slow him down. Because he believed in himself and in what he was doing. And finally achieving his dream of owning his own business and being his own boss proves he was right to do so.
So after this longass profile I’ll leave you with one last thing. It’s how I always remember Gabe and how I think I can distill him down to a single moment and a single sentence. I was at Borderlands Brewing Co. on a weekday night and he was out in their beer garden serving food. It was pretty dead in the bar so I went out to put in my hot dog order. Because he wasn’t very busy I took advantage and had a long conversation with him. I can’t remember the exact details of what I shared but I do know I was feeling a bit frustrated with the craft beer scene and my place in it.
Gabe understood exactly what I was saying because he was also building something for himself within the same industry. He talked about how people can default to constantly complaining about their situation in life and turn to tearing others down. He told me that he doesn’t spend too much time stressing about that and how he never saw other food trucks in town as competition. He went on about how he just saw an opportunity for people to learn from and support one another. And that’s when he said that one sentence that will always stick with me. He said the words that will always define Gabe Ceniceros in my mind. He said something that still makes me smile as I write this.
If you know me, you know that I hate myself and that I kinda wanna die. So when the garbage seafood chain known as Red Lobster announced they were selling something called a Dew Garita, which is a margarita made with Mountain Dew, my first thought was, “Sure, fuck it, why not? I hate being alive anyway.” I already can’t resist booze in its purest form and it’s even harder to resist when it’s something as stupid as this. Plus I’ll do anything for a blog post. Now, I want to make it clear right off the bat that I DO NOT condone going to a Red Lobster establishment. I made a name for myself by supporting small businesses and avoiding chain restaurants and bars as much as possible. Sure, this might make me seem like a hypocrite but I already mentioned how much I hate myself so go ahead and add this onto the long list of reasons why.
I can’t remember the last time I was inside of a Red Lobster. Well, I mean, I vaguely remember drunkenly trying to have sex with a literal red lobster back in college. Also, chill out, animal activists, the thing was already cooked by that point. It didn’t matter how shithouse trashed I was, I wasn’t gonna risk those aggressive ball pinches. But I didn’t remember the last time I was inside one of the restaurants. I realized it was a haven for old-as-shit white people. I was serenaded on all sides by the sounds of cracking knees, racial slurs and those muffled taps from the rubber ends of canes hitting the floor.
I honestly don’t know if I had ever tried Mountain Dew before. I’m assuming I must have because of the many years I spent shoving absolute garbage into my face indiscriminately. I was once leaving a bar and got handed two Four Loko bottles (yeah, glass bottles for some reason) by a strange Mexican I had just met and I drank both of those bitches on my walk home. So I’m exactly the kind of trash person who must have had a Mountain Dew at some point in my life. But even so, I had no memory of it so I asked for a shot of straight Dew on the side so I could try it by itself first.
In my mind Mountain Dew was always a bright green color. But seeing it up close I discovered it was really a weird mix of green and yellow, which reminded me of the exact color my pee took during that week I was doing an all-veggie smoothie diet to try and flush out the poison from my body. Drinking it was a strange experience. (I’m referring to the Mountain Dew, not my pee.) The soda was kind of tangy with an unnatural metallic flavor at the end. The word “unnatural” is key here because I’ve had plenty of metal objects consensually shoved into my mouth during sex stuff but it wasn’t a similar taste at all. Something like that couldn’t possibly exist in the world. It tasted like the feeling you get when staring into the dead eyes of a porcelain doll you found in the attic.
As a man who grew up in Houston, TX with easy access to amazing Cajun seafood for the entirety of my childhood, the very existence of Red Lobster offends me. It’s like listening to rap music when it’s being done by white people. But since I was already there I decided to order a meal called The Ultimate Feast, which had shrimp scampi, a lobster tail, snow crab legs, and fried shrimp. (1,070 calories? Fuck me.) I think this meal alone made me realize that I don’t need to have butter ever again.
And then came the star of the show. The Motherfucking Dew Garita. It’s supposed to be a super secret recipe but I saw my bartender pour Midori into the shit so, like, that’s basically the secret. She used red sugar on the rim of the glass and the Midori is what really gave it that super green, snot-like, radioactive-y color. Mixing soda and tequila is nothing new for me because I’ve been to movie theaters and have snuck in many of those tiny plastic bottles inside my butthole before I realized that the 16-year old movie theater employee wasn’t getting paid enough to pat me down so I could’ve just carried those things in my pocket if I wanted to spike my drinks while watching The Avengers or whatever.
The first sip of the Dew Garita wasn’t as bad as I expected. I mean, it wasn’t GOOD, but it wasn’t as disgusting as I had prepped for. I got the melon-y flavor of the Midori right up front and the red sugar rim gave it so much extra sweetness, it reminded me that my dad was a diabetic so this is probably the last thing I should be drinking. My dad was also a cocaine addict on top of that, which explains the total lack of self-control I inherited.
And through those other flavors that strange, metallic taste from the Mountain Dew broke through. It was always lingering in the background like a glitch in The Matrix. Every sip made me feel like this world was not my own. Plus the red and green colors together made the whole thing taste like I was going down on a Roomba on Christmas morning. Everything in my mind and body and liver told me that I was making a mistake by drinking this. And I can’t even say that they were wrong. But hey, no matter what extra crap went into the drink there was still tequila there to make everything feel oddly familiar. So was this stupid Dew Garita worth it?
No, of course not. I’ve mixed tequila into all kinds of dumb stuff while sad drinking alone at home and I can’t think of a legitimate reason why you should go to a fucking Red Lobster restaurant ever. You can buy both Mountain Dew and tequila at a goddamn gas station so if you really want to experience this you can just mix them together and drink them on the couch. So essentially, I drank this Dew Garita so you wouldn’t have to. I rate the entire experience zero stars because an unfortunate side effect is that I’m probably going to live even longer now that I’m avoiding butter forever.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to check my blood sugar because I think I may need to get my fucking foot cut off.
On Saturday, September 19th Button Brew House celebrated their third anniversary by hosting a semi-private event at the brewery. It wasn’t exactly a secret but it definitely wasn’t promoted either. Tickets were only offered and sold to their annual members, close friends of the brewery, and celebrities like me.
I’ve written before about how conflicted I am that things are starting to get back to “normal” during the current Rona pandemic while understanding that small businesses I love are struggling to survive. The bottom line is that I think being out and congregating is still a risk and that significant precautions should be taken. And if you want to argue with me about that then you can take that Facebook comment you’re working on and shove it right up your asshole because I couldn’t possibly care.
So local bars and restaurants are doing their best to continue operating through the new normal with reduced capacities, masks, social distancing, etc. But the Button anniversary celebration wasn’t just a typical day at the taproom. It was a special event with live music and a food truck onsite. And I’m here to tell you that not only was it a lot of fun, it was so meticulously organized that I and the people I spoke to all felt completely safe being there. Part of the reason I wanted to write about this is that it could serve as a blueprint for other breweries wanting to host something similar in the future.
Since public gatherings have been limited to under 50 people by Arizona’s Dept of Health Services, only 48 tickets were made available. A large section of the parking lot was closed off and tables were placed no less than 15 feet apart. No more than 8 people were allowed per table. Guests were asked not to mingle and the only reason they were allowed to go into the taproom was to use the bathroom. Four bartenders on staff became servers for the night and brought beers to the guests’ tables.
If all that sounds like a pain in the ass to put together, I can assure you that you’re correct. A lot of time went into the planning and even more hard work went into serving the guests and making sure they felt comfortable. So was all that effort worth it for a four hour-long event in which people couldn’t even mingle with one another?
It absolutely was. And I’m not the only one who thought this. The feedback from the attendees was universally positive. The event started at 5pm and every single ticket holder was checked in and seated in under hour. The patio was used as a stage for local singer Paul Opocensky who started out the night strong. Of all the white guys with guitars who play at breweries (which are fucking legion), he is definitely the best. Other local musicians Bryan & Koko followed him and Brooke Sample closed out the night.
A lot of the guests said similar things. They talked about how much they missed live music and being out around other people, even if they couldn’t hang out with them. As strict as the guidelines were, this event was still a small taste of normality in the middle of an ocean of shit and people really appreciated it. But the main reason it worked was that everyone followed the rules. That’s gotta be the key for anyone who holds an event like this going forward. And based on how things went on Saturday I would love for other breweries to try something like this.
A ticket to the event included four beers and a meal from The Blacktop Grill food truck. Plus we all got a BBH mask and a dope “Fuck Covid” shirt that you can buy at the taproom right now.
As the sun went down, the weather got cooler, and people got a couple of beers in it didn’t even feel much different from the old days. It was an intimate night out with good food, music and drinks…just with a little bit of extra distance between everyone.
I asked Gabe Ceniceros, owner of the Blacktop food truck and always a man with words of wisdom, what he thought of the event.
“It’s our first time out since March. We’re happy to be out to celebrate another small business that made it through and look back at the warrior status. It puts the badge of honor on people who make it past this.”
Happy 3rd birthday, Button Brew House. I hope to be celebrating many more of these with you in the future.
The Classy Alcoholic was able to move much faster thanks to the imperial stout he slammed. He slipped and dodged the double punches from Gary, the Torpedo Boy with four arms. He tried to get his own hits in but Gary’s gigantic mutated body felt like punching a brick wall. The only way to survive was to keep his distance until Cousin Chico’s team could make their move. Every Torpedo Boy on base circled the two fighters. The pale, deformed fucks carried machetes, nooses and flagpoles, just waiting for The Classy Alcoholic to lose the match.
An explosion rocked the supply warehouse and caught all of the Torpedo Boys by surprise. Cousin Chico and his four goons ran out tossing smoke grenades and firing stolen machine guns into the crowd. The Classy Alcoholic took cover behind Gary’s bullet-ridden body until the firefight died down. He looked up to see Cousin Chico extending his hand but instead of offering to help him stand he was offering a bag of cocaine.
“No thanks, Chico. I mean…maybe later,” The Classy Alcoholic said as he took the bag and stashed it into his suit jacket pocket.
“Fucking hell, Classy, I can’t believe you survived a fight against that damn monster! You’re a beast, dude. It would’ve been a lot easier if you used some of the blow, just saying.”
One of Cousin Chico’s goons came up to him to report that Torpedo Tony had escaped in the shootout and was nowhere to be found. He brushed it off, thinking Tony was no longer a threat. Chico replaced his old Mexican rifle with one of the Torpedo Boys’ automatic weapons and he grabbed a couple of the beer can grenades for his utility belt. The Mysterious Stranger walked out of the warehouse with a beer keg on a dolly.
“This is the last one. All the other beers in there are in cans and bottles. Thank you, Classy. This means more to me than you could ever know,” she said, which was true, because he still had no idea who she actually was. “Will you come to The Pipeline with me?”
“Yes, of course. How could I say no?” He couldn’t wait to check out whatever this new bar was supposed to be.
“I’m coming too,” Cousin Chico said. “You’ll need me to get you in. The guy at the door won’t let anyone through unless I vouch for them.”
“Alright, but you’ll have to leave your guys here to protect the rest of this booze. And don’t hoard it. Open it up for the people. Put out the word that Arizona’s alcohol supply is back.”
“You got it, Classy. We’ll give the people what they want.”
“By the way, I have some questions. How did these Torpedo Boys get to be the way they are? All deformed with multiple limbs and shit?”
“Oh yeah, they’re all former military guys from this base. After the pandemic they tried to make their own nuke and they fucked it up real bad. It was hilarious.”
The Mysterious Stranger, The Classy Alcoholic, and his Cousin Chico all made their way south toward the U.S. – Mexico border until they came across a small brick house in the middle of nowhere. A Mexican man with a machine gun stood guard outside. Cousin Chico spoke to him and handed him several bags of cocaine before they could all be allowed in. Another dust storm was brewing close by. The Mexican man, who introduced himself as Freddy, opened a trap door on the ground leading to a tunnel. The Stranger smiled for the first time since The Classy Alcoholic re-met her.
“Alright, Classy, this is it,” The Stranger said. “We can finally leave all of this behind forever. Are you ready?”
“Wait, leave what?”
“The country, man. We won’t have to worry about any of this bullshit again. You can even change your identity and be whoever you want to be.”
“Wait, I’m sorry, so does that tunnel not lead to a killer speakeasy-style bar called The Pipeline?”
The Stranger’s smile faded immediately.
“What the hell are you talking about? Oh no. No, do you not remember what The Pipeline is? Do you not remember that you told me about it? Goddammit, do you not even remember who I am?”
“What the hell, Classy, you FUCKING ASSHOLE!”
Luckily The Stranger’s berating was interrupted by the familiar sound of jeep engines and machine gun fire. The last six Torpedo Boys left alive, led by Tony, pulled up outside of the small house and started unloading their machine guns wildly. A couple of them could even hold four or five guns if they had multiple hands or opposable thumbs on their feet. Everyone inside hit the ground.
“Suck my dicks, Classy!” Tony yelled. “I want that keg and I want you plopped onto this jeep like a hood ornament, bitch!”
The Torpedo Boys started approaching the house with their guns still firing. Freddy escaped through the tunnel and locked it from the other side. Chico tried to open it back up but it was latched shut and there was no getting through.
“We’re not gonna make it, Classy!”
“Yes we are. Give me one of those beer grenades you took and get ready to fire back. I need you to move faster than you ever have before so put a big hunk of coco into your face right now.”
He didn’t have to tell Chico twice. The Classy Alcoholic held out his white handkerchief and waved it by the window for Tony to see.
“Alright, I’m coming out. I’ll give myself up. I’ll send the keg first.”
The Stranger grabbed his arm to stop him.
“No, you can’t do this. I need that keg.”
“You’ll have no use for it if we’re all dead.”
“Since when does The Classy Alcoholic not want to die? That’s kind of your whole thing!”
“I mean, yeah, I’ve lost the will to live more times than I can count but the world is different now. I can’t just walk away from everything that’s happened out here.”
The Classy Alcoholic rolled the keg out the front door toward Tony’s feet. He opened the beer grenade can and took a quick sip of the hazy IPA inside before he tossed it outside and took cover. The grenade blew up the keg and most of the Torpedo Boys nearby. Cousin Chico’s coke rage took advantage of the confusion and he expertly finished off every last Boy with a single bullet each before they could run off.
The dust storm grew louder and made its way closer. The Mysterious Stranger sat on the ground and cried into her hands. The Classy Alcoholic finally had to admit the truth.
“I’m sorry, I meet so many people, I can’t keep track. I used to be a celebrity before the world ended, you know.”
“I know! You would never shut the fuck up about it. The Pipeline is a smuggler’s route into Mexico. From there we could’ve gone anywhere in the world. Don’t you realize that every other country got this virus under control and we’re the only ones cut off from traveling outside our borders? I need to get out of this shithole. I can’t live like this anymore. The Mexican militia would’ve let us pass but only if we paid them with a keg of authentic Tucson craft beer. This was literally your idea. You told me about The Pipeline a while ago and you told me to find your cousin for help. Do you really not remember any of this?”
“No, I don’t. I went on a bit of a bender when all this craziness started.”
“You and I spent two whole weeks in quarantine together at your place, you prick. Just us, every day.”
“I mean…it was a hell of a fucking bender.”
“Wow, I knew you had a drinking problem but I didn’t realize it was that bad.”
“I don’t have a drinking problem; I have a being sad problem. And I try to fix it with drinking. But I truly am sorry. If you give me some more details maybe it’ll jog my memory.”
“No. It’s fine. If that time is gone then it’s gone. At least one of us will have some good memories from this absolute shit period to look back on. Fuck you for ruining my chances to make it out into the real world. I would’ve happily taken you with me.”
The Mysterious Stranger put on her mask and hood and started to walk away.
“Wait, can you just…will you at least tell me your name again?”
“It’s Max. My name is Max.”
The Classy Alcoholic grabbed another beer from his bandolier and held it out to Max. She accepted it without another word and walked into the dust storm until she disappeared.
The Mysterious Stranger made her way through the desert and The Classy Alcoholic followed. She didn’t speak much which made it harder for him to figure out how they knew each other. But it didn’t matter. Everybody dropped a key hint at some point. He once talked to a guy for a whole 20 minutes at a beer fest before realizing it was the dude he escaped a Russian prison with the year before. He would’ve remembered right away but he was shithouse Vodka drunk the whole time they were locked up together.
“We’re close,” The Stranger said, despite the fact that they were in the middle of the desert and there was nothing visible for miles. “Put your hands up and don’t make any sudden moves.”
She whistled loudly enough to make the earth start moving. The sand and rocks slowly stood up around them. The Classy Alcoholic was about to shit himself when he realized he was just looking at four guys in ghillie suits that had been camouflaged as the desert landscape. Four rifles were pointing at his head.
“No disparen, no disparen!” yelled a familiar voice coming out of a cactus. “Holy shit, Classy, I thought you were dead. It’s so good to see you!”
The Classy Alcoholic’s cousin Chico took the top off his cactus camouflage outfit and ordered the other people to lower their weapons.
“I’d hug you but, you know, I’m dressed like a fucking cactus. Oh also there’s that airborne virus that’ll kill you if we get too close. How you been man? It’s been months. You want some cocaine? I got the real good shit.”
“No, Chico, but thank you. I mean…not now. Maybe later.” Cousin Chico fucking loved cocaine.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you for leading me to your cousin, Classy,” The Stranger said.
Shit. He apparently knew this lady well enough to mention his Cousin Chico but he still had no idea when and why he would do that. Did she love cocaine? Maybe she also loved cocaine. Luckily she got down to business before The Classy Alcoholic had to deflect again.
“The Torpedo Boys hit my last safe house in Tucson, Chico. They took the only keg I had left to their base. Classy and I want to take it back.”
“Woah, woah, no, fuck that! I only have four guys right now and The Torpedo Boys have at least fifty in that place. Not only are we outnumbered but I’m not putting my cousin at risk. Sure, most of the family hates him for being an embarrassingly drunken shitshow who ruined our Nana’s funeral by replacing all the holy water in that church with vodka after he escaped from that Russian prison but I’ve actually always kind of somewhat liked the guy. And once The Torpedo Boys find out he’s back, they’re gonna eat him alive.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Chico? How would these people even know me?”
“I’m not the only one who thought you were dead, Classy. Most of Arizona did. But even so your name still means something out here. A lot of people refused to believe you were gone. What’s left of the Arizona booze community still talks about you like you’re the hero they need.”
“But I thought I was doing the right thing by staying indoors throughout the whole pandemic.”
“Maybe you were. I don’t know. But what I do know is that The Torpedo Boys have definitely heard of you. And they would love to take you as a trophy. Their leader is a guy who calls himself Torpedo Tony and he’s a sick fuck. He’ll get his dudes to beat the shit out of you, tie you up, tattoo you to make sure everyone knows you’re their property, and display you on one of their jeeps at the top of a flagpole. And the flagpole is gonna go up your ass.”
“Damn. Of all the ways I thought my life could possibly end, that’s actually kind of in the top twenty.”
“You fucking idiot, you’ll be alive throughout the whole thing! Even with the ass pole!”
“Ugggghhhh. Okay, well, what I’m hearing is that if I walk into that base and grab everyone’s attention they’ll give you a chance to take over their weapon and beer stashes while they’re distracted, right? Pretend it’s just another warehouse full of pallets of cocaine and raid the hell out of it, Chico. I’ve seen you do the impossible to get your hands on some sweet, sweet yayo. I know you can do this.”
Cousin Chico talked to his team of four guys and reached a consensus.
“You’re a fucking maniac, Classy. And I wouldn’t expect anything less. Give us fifteen minutes’ worth of a distraction and we’ll take over that entire place. You can count on it.”
The team made their way toward the Sierra Vista military base. Cousin Chico and his goons hid in the desert again and waited for their cue. The Classy Alcoholic chugged a West Coast IPA can from his bandolier to build up some courage. Three beers left.
He walked right through the blown-up gates of the former entryway shouting as loud as he could.
“TORPEDO TONY! GET THE FUCK OUT HERE. THE CLASSY ALCOHOLIC IS CALLING YOU OUT!”
The army of Torpedo Boys came out of their barracks and watched in awe. They heard tales of this guy for months and months on end. Most of them didn’t believe The Classy Alcoholic even existed and they sure as hell didn’t think they’d ever see him in person. He was like a ghost…a legend around these parts. They started to get the ass flagpoles ready.
Torpedo Tony walked out of the giant warehouse that stored the massive reserves of beer, wine, liquor, handguns, rifles, grenades, flashlights, fleshlights, tuna cans, sex dolls, vape pens, hand sanitizer, butt sanitizer, and ramen noodle packets. He was the only one of the troops who didn’t have any visible deformities. He had the standard number of fingers, hands and heads, it seemed.
“Holy fucking shit, it’s really The Classy Alcoholic! Is it Christmas already? ‘Cause I’m about to hang you up like an ornament for all The Boys to see! Welcome to my home. Can I offer you your last drink?”
“I’m not here for one drink. I’m here for all of them. I’m taking back all the Arizona booze you’ve been hoarding, asshole.”
“You can’t be serious. After all the things I heard about you I guess I should’ve imagined you’d be this stupid. Your time is done, guy. I’m the original Torpedo Boy and I’m the new Classy Alcoholic. I control the booze for the entire state. And I’m twice the man you are. Two times. Like…double.”
“Literally twice the man you are. Twice the man any man is. Like, take any man and I have two times-”
“Dude, are you trying to tell me that you have two dicks?”
“Hell yeah! I got two dicks and it’s dope. You see that guy over there? He has two noses. That other guy over there has two goddamn heads. I’m the one only who came out on top after our evolution. Well…me and this fella Gary.”
A massive, pale, Torpedo Boy with four arms walked out of the warehouse. He was easily an entire foot taller than The Classy Alcoholic.
“Gary, please take good care of our guest.”
The mutated Gary let out a series of grunts that roughly translated to, “I’m about to fuck you up real good.”
The Classy Alcoholic wasn’t fast enough to avoid punches from the Gary monstrosity. He lost a lot of agility during the months he spent drinking on the couch. Gary managed to land hits to the head and the ribs at the exact same time, over and over. The Classy Alcoholic ended up on the ground, bleeding from the mouth and nose in no time. This was the longest fifteen minutes of his life. Every last inch of his body hurt but he had one last play. He opened a can of an 11% ABV imperial stout from his bandolier and chugged it as fast as he could. The high alcohol content helped him push through the pain and he managed to get himself up off the floor.
“Is that all you got?” The Classy Alcoholic asked as he got into a fighting stance.
Tucson was a wasteland. The Classy Alcoholic made his way through a dust storm wearing a mask over his face and a bandolier across his chest that held six beers. The last of his stash. It had been several months since The Virus started spreading but he wasn’t sure exactly how long he spent in hiding. Time no longer existed the way it used to. He got news here and there of the outside but his sources started slowly falling away until there was complete silence. The small portion of the population that hadn’t died from infection was staying indoors and making only limited supply runs. Bars and breweries were closed and the alcohol had practically run dry in town. The only local “businesses” still open were food trucks selling snake and tarantula meat cooked by campfire with the option of getting them in tacos or in quesadillas. And they both tasted like fucking shit.
The Classy Alcoholic would’ve been perfectly happy staying indoors avoiding the pandemic as long as he had enough booze and easy access to pornography. But his legendary stockpile of beer, wine and liquor that people thought was more than a single person could ever drink in a lifetime ran out way before his life did. So he had to make the trek outside to scrounge whatever he could.
He heard a rumor from the last of his friends on the outside that some craft beer kegs were being hidden in safe houses around town. Once he made it past the dust storm he saw what was left of Historic 4th Avenue. What used to be a hub for bars and restaurants ended up being a dead zone full of buildings with boarded up windows and graffitied dicks all over their walls. The Classy Alcoholic opened an IPA from his bandolier and drank. Five beers left.
He spent what felt like hours crashing through the wooden boards and searching the remains of the bars he used to love looking for any sign of leftover drink. He was getting discouraged until he broke into the shell of a former restaurant and found a single keg hidden behind some cardboard boxes and a shitload of dead rats. The keg was clean while everything else in the building was covered in dust and cobwebs. It felt cold to the touch. The Classy Alcoholic shifted it around and it was obviously full. He was about to cry at the beautiful sight until he realized how suspicious it was that a cold keg was sitting here in such good condition. He heard a rustling behind him. He wasn’t alone.
A figure in a dark hood leapt out at him with a wooden staff and bashed him on the side of the fucking head before he could move away. He could already feel the blood dripping down his cheek.
“Holy shit, it’s you!” The Mysterious Stranger said. She pulled down her hood to reveal a woman in her 40s with completely gray hair. “I didn’t realize who you were, Classy. What are you doing out here? Did you run out of booze and pornography at home?”
This was all a familiar situation for The Classy Alcoholic, actually. He got bashed in the head without warning plenty of times by his ex-girlfriend Rosario Vargas when she was in a coke rage and he was also used to people recognizing him without him remembering who the hell they were. It happened enough times at beer festivals that he became an expert in pretending he knew the people talking to him until they said something that jogged his memory.
“Ran out of booze. Not pornography. I keep that shit on physical media. I’m basically a doomsday prepper but for porn. I’d say it’s nice to see you but it’s never nice to see people who bust my skull open.”
“That’s not what you said about Rosario Vargas.”
Fuck. She knew who Rosario was. That means he and The Stranger had some deep conversations about his ex. Which meant she wasn’t just, like, some rando he met at a bar once. Unless he met her when he was sad tequila drinking because Rosario left him for prison and he was desperate to tell anyone how fucked up he was about it. So she could either be someone he truly bonded with or someone he drunkenly bonded with for a brief part of the night. Either way, he still had no idea who she was but there was no way he was going to admit that.
“The world is on fire. Everything is sad enough right now. I don’t need reminders of Rosario on top of it all.”
“Fair enough. I know you’re not always in the right space to talk about that.”
Fuck yeah, he nailed that shit.
The Classy Alcoholic was lucky that their conversation was interrupted before he had to come up with more ways to pretend he remembered who this woman was. The sounds of jeep motors and gunfire broke through the growl of the dust storm outside. He saw the panic on The Stranger’s face as they got closer.
“Stay down,” she said as she tackled him to the ground.
A barrage of heavy bullets flew over their heads as shards of wood and glass rained over them. A beer can flew through the open window of the restaurant and landed right in front of the Classy Alcoholic’s face.
“Dope, free beer!”
“No, you idiot, get back!”
The Stranger pulled him behind the empty bar as the beer can exploded like a grenade and made both their ears ring. The Stranger yelled something that The Classy Alcoholic couldn’t hear but she grabbed his hand and led him toward the exit in the back of the building. They both ran as far as they could away from the wreckage.
“Who the fuck are those people?” The Classy Alcoholic asked as soon as they were at a safe distance.
“Wow, you really have been out of the loop haven’t you? Those are The Torpedo Boys. They’re the real reason why craft beer and other booze is in such low supply around here. They’ve been stealing and hoarding it all for months. Here, check them out.” The Stranger handed The Classy Alcoholic her binoculars so he could get a closer look at the people who attacked them.
He counted ten guys that were bald, shirtless, and pale as fuck. One of them had six fingers on each hand. Another had two noses on his face. Another had a third arm growing out of his goddamn chest.
“What happened to them?”
“I honestly don’t know. They’ve been raiding the city for months and they used to have to right number of limbs at some point. All I know is that they’ve been rounding up all the booze in town and taking it to the old military base in Sierra Vista. I hid the keg here because I need it for The Pipeline. But these damn Torpedo Boys always find my hiding places.”
The Classy Alcoholic had no idea what “The Pipeline” was but he would never admit that either in case it was a dope new bar that he didn’t get invited to the opening of.
“How did the can explode that way back there?”
“The Torpedo Boys have so much beer they started making it into grenades and using it as bait. It would’ve work on you if I hadn’t saved your ass.”
“They’re using beer for evil? Those motherfuckers! If these guys are hoarding beer in Sierra Vista then I’m going there and taking it back. Are you coming?”
“Of course. I desperately need that keg.”
The Classy Alcoholic cracked open another drink from his bandolier. It was a spicy red ale brewed with chiltepins. Four beers left.
“Oh wait, I have a question,” The Classy Alcoholic said. “That ‘Torpedo Boy’ name…is it supposed to be, like-”
“Yeah, it’s a dick thing.”
“Okay, right, I totally thought it was a dick thing.”
I’ve recently been told that my blog posts are too long. And that dumb-dumbs prefer short articles that are just a list of places and things. That’s how to get maximum social media exposure. So here is a list of 4 bars that are bars in Tucson, AZ.
1. World Famous Golden Nugget Tavern
This is a bar-ass bar. The kind of place that you walk into and think to yourself, “Holy fucking shit, I’m in a bar.” The Golden Nugget has everything: Beer, liquor, a bar. It’s practically the perfect dive. People of all ages, races and physical disabilities come here and feel like home, as long as their home is a bar. If you’re looking for a place with pool tables, a jukebox, bathrooms for men and women, and an area where you can sit to order drinks and then drink them, then this place is definitely a bar.
2. Brodie’s Tavern
Brodie’s is one of the very few gay bars currently in Tucson, yes. But it is also a bar. Which means they will sell you booze even if you are not gay, which is great for me because while I fully support gay rights and the gay community, I am also a straight dude who bangs hot straight ladies and also likes to drink in bars. If you’re looking for one of those (a bar) then Brodie’s is the place to be. They even have a patio where you can drink drinks. Now that’s what I call a bar.
3. The Shelter Cocktail Lounge
The Shelter is a bar that’s so dark inside at any hour of the day, when you walk in you don’t know if you’re going to get murdered or if you’re going to have a great time at a bar. But you know it’s going to be at least one of those. The retro look and the velvety portraits on the wall give this place a really cool atmosphere that makes you want to have drinks, which you can absolutely do here because this place is a bar. They have a variety of infused vodkas which can be mixed into drinks and also beers on tap. That’s the kind of place I’m looking for when I want to go to a bar. Share this article on Facebook, you fucking assholes.
4. Bay Horse Tavern
This bar is known for having a bigass chair in it. Like, an oversized wooden chair you can sit in to take pictures. It’s pretty cool, unless you’ve been drinking and fall off of it and land on your fat fucking face like I may or may not have in the past. But let’s not talk about that because this is not actually an article about 4 bars where I’ve fallen on the floor and landed on my fat fucking face. This is an article about bars and The Bay Horse has enough things going for it to qualify for a spot on this prestigious list.
Oh, full disclosure, all of these bars are currently closed due to the pandemic. But at least you know where there are bars?