“Dude, can you take us to Santa Clarita? We’re going to Mabel’s Roadhouse.”
They exulted the name Mabel’s the way one might mention Bunny Ranch. I had never heard of the place.
“We’re going to get laid.”
“Seriously, can you get us there in 20 minutes? We need at least an hour to work before last call.”
They were professional types in their 20’s and they had just ditched a family BBQ. As we made our way up I-5 they plotted strategy and I tried to get my head around the idea of two young men, money in their pockets, fleeing Los Angeles, to the exurbs, to score chicks. One would think the natural currents flow in the other direction. On this Saturday night one would be wrong.
Santa Clarita is all broad, sweeping boulevards, immaculately swept of any trace of ugliness or disorder, landscaped arterials connecting walled developments with fanciful, arbitrary, non-geographic names like Portofino, River Village and Canyon Heights. Names chosen with the same marketing whimsy applied to color chips at the Lowe’s paint department. Not a single streetlight bulb was missing.
Bike paths abounded, I couldn’t help noting, with envy. Also, bridle trails. Later, when I got home, I looked at Google earth and saw the developments were built inwardly, with streets ending in open cul-de-sacs, connected by greenways, lagoons and hiking trails. Mr. UpintheValley experienced gnawing disloyalty to his beloved working-class brigadoon.
The master-planning abruptly halted, and we pulled into a dreary 1970’s-era Van Nuys-like mini mall. We had reached Mabel’s, a windowless bunker with metal bars around the entrance, the most un-Santa Clarita-like place in Santa Clarita.* To complete the tableau, the police were making an arrest in the parking lot.
My passengers sprung from the car like gazelles, ID’s in hand for the doorman.
I assumed this would be a deadhead run. A long fare to the middle of nowhere, and no fare back, making for a haircut to my hourly rate for the night. Again, I was wrong. My next ride was waiting at Wokcano, next door in master-planned Valencia. A young couple, they were familiar with Mabel’s. For the next hour I did a brisk business shuttling people home from upscale chain establishments like BJ’s Brewery on placid, car-less, pedestrian-free boulevards, and everyone seemed to have a Mabel’s anecdote:
I stopped going there. The fight rate there is like 75%.
Only after one A.M. Until then it’s more like 50%.
I wish I could go back, but my ex lives there. Now if I want to dive, I have to go to Schooners.
The bartenders are thieves, but the women are hot.
The women are skanks and the bouncers are thugs.
The a/c never works.
What became clear was Mabel’s was the place people in Santa Clarita went to bark.
At 1:40 am, on my way back to the freeway and to LA, ready to call it a night, I got another ping…this time from Mabel’s Roadhouse. I couldn’t resist.
I parked by the entrance, alongside the exiled smokers, and caught a whiff of spilled beer and ammonia coming from the open doorway, and glimpses of bare legs dancing in the dim light. Then three girls in short-shorts and crop tops –I call them girls because they looked that young– emerged from the mouth of Hades, one after another, fresh-faced as a Mountain Dew commercial.
Every male watched them climb into my Uber like it was the last helicopter out of Saigon. Off we went.
Girl 1: That seemed like the kind of bar we should be snorting coke in the bathroom.
Girl 2: It’s the kind of bar they should just give you coke when you go the bathroom.
Girl 3: I’ve never done coke.
Girl 1: You’re not missing much.
Girl 2: Gyllenhaal fucked up my whole evening again by not showing up.
Girl 1: Jake, where were you?
Girl 3: Jake!
Girl 2: I’m so into him I could wrap his body around me and wear it like a skin jacket.
I mentioned I had dropped off two men there earlier in the evening. They were hoping to meet girls.
Girl 1: That’s SO not happening.
Girl 2: I’m hungry.
Girls 3: Can you take us to the Taco Bell drive thru?
Girls: Taco Bell!
Girl 2: I could live at Taco Bell six days a week.
There endeth their evening, at the drive-thru, Three Beauties gorging happily in my car, just about the time they turn on the ugly light at Mabel’s.
Probably about the time when the fight rate hits 75%.
*Technically, it’s in Saugus.