Friday, September 27, 2013

Club Metro retrospective

This was a response to an article that the Inland Empire Weekly ran on a nightclub reunion that I organized last year. I want to preserve it outside of Facebook, so I'm reposting it here as one of my fairly rare non-gaming posts. Even so, I think that for many people in my gaming circles this post will be somewhat relevant.

Last week the Inland Empire Weekly ran an article on the Club Metro reunion, “Party Like It’s 1989.” While it was great seeing coverage for the reunion – which blossomed from a small Facebook group to include hundreds, and inspired people to come from as far as northern California - I feel that the author missed the mark somewhat.

In its heyday, Club Metro attracted thousands of people per month. While it did offer various formats in multiple rooms, for the most part its patrons were pretty typical dance club types. They were in their late teens to early twenties and most did not yet have families, careers or other responsibilities. Students from UCR and other nearby colleges were always plentiful, as were service men and women from Twenty Nine Palms, Norton AFB, March AFB and even Camp Pendleton. All of them went to Club Metro to have a good time with their friends, and mostly didn't think much of it after they left.

But there was a parallel culture within Club Metro that had more cohesion than the party-goer flash mob. These people went regularly every week, sometimes even more than one night. They were music lovers; fans of the Smiths, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, and many other alternative and post-punk bands and music styles. But it wasn't just their taste in music that was different. Many were outcasts in high school. They were loners and geeks; the insecure, shy and unsociable; the too skinny or too fat; the unfashionable and the unpopular; those that wanted someone to like and accept them and those that wanted to be left alone. Walking through the doors to Club Metro they found others like them, acceptance and something more. Former ugly ducklings turned into swans. They found their niche, and had their eyes opened to new experiences and emotions. People who were mocked, who were never able to get a date, found out that people were interested in them. Many took ownership of pain caused by years of being an outcast and spun it into self-confidence and self-esteem.

This group, even as old members stopped going and new ones started, often referred to themselves as the “regulars.” Club Metro became a home away from home for them, a place where they could find comfort and support. A regular could go to Club Metro alone knowing that friends would be there. In an age before email and text messaging, when a phone call from Ontario to Riverside could cost more than a long distance call across the country, Club Metro provided a hub where people could connect with one another. If someone was absent, they were missed. The few that suddenly and permanently stopped going stayed in people’s thoughts, either as a question mark or to be mourned. Club Metro’s doors weren't the boundary for these friendships either. Going to “Fishbowl” (a named given to the Denny’s in Colton because of how people walking outside would stare at the oddballs sitting inside) was a hallowed tradition, so that people could continue to get to know one another outside of the loud and smoky club environment. Groups of friends went to Disneyland together, ventured out to other night clubs in Hollywood and elsewhere, and helped and supported one another outside of the club. Couples met, fell in love, broke up and even got married. To be certain, many things happened that most people wouldn't think are “good”. The dark undercurrent of sex, alcohol, drugs and reckless behavior was a strong one with the Club Metro regulars. Occasionally other patrons of Club Metro – usually the ones from “the other room”, but not always – reacted very badly towards some of the more “different” Club Metro regulars. The results of that intolerance often were violent and tragic. All of those things were catalysts that brought people even closer together, and most Club Metro regulars say their experience there was good, and had a positive effect on their lives. The regulars at Club Metro formed an extended family, complete with mother and father figures, brothers and sisters, cousins and that one cross dressing uncle. Like any family, people branched out and dispersed but took a small part of Club Metro with them. Even 20 years later, it’s not unusual for me to discover a coworker or colleague was a Metro regular, even if I didn't know them. After all, in a large family it’s hard to know all of your cousins.
Finally, any discussion of the regulars has to include the DJs. Over the years the DJs became an important part of this extended family, providing not only a soundtrack to the evening’s entertainment but a nucleus for the regulars through their friendship. One of those DJs, mentioned in the article but not by name, was John Griffin (aka DJ Johnny Quest). I first met Johnny at Harry C’s in Riverside through another friend that has passed away named David Gordon-Ross, where they were collaborating on an alternative format night. After leaving Harry C’s, Johnny was brought on at Club Metro along with Mike Calabrese (DJ Jedi). Many of us who had frequented Harry C’s were happy Johnny was now part of the Metro family. Johnny was not only a talented, passionate DJ but he genuinely cared for the people that he saw every week at the club. As the music format and crowd in the “other room” began to shift toward the elements that would ultimately result in Metro’s closing, Johnny’s real emotional investment in the regulars caused a shrinking, already close group to become even tighter. The impact that he had on people - whether it was playing a song someone requested because he knew it would make them feel better, giving advice, offering his assistance, or just asking how you were doing – was and is a very real one. But mere weeks away from the reunion he was so excited to be a part of, Johnny passed away. Johnny’s passing, as well as the deaths of others within the group, made the reunion more poignant. It transformed the reunion into a tribute to him, and to what he represented to so many.

So, those who don’t quite understand will call the reunion a nostalgic mid-life crisis for people who should have grown out of pulling on a pair of Doc Martens, squeezing into those pants or that shirt or that jacket, and dancing the night away to Depeche Mode and New Order like a 20 year old. Yet the smiles and laughter at the reunion this past Friday night weren't those of sad old people not “letting go” of their youth. They were the faces of people who understood the message Johnny transmitted from the DJ booth every single night: people make things special. People are special, and remembering the ones who were a big part of your life is something that no one is ever too grown up to do. Judging by the wild success of the reunion, we are all still receiving Johnny’s message loud and clear.