Friday, January 4, 2008

The Sound of 50 Ticking Clocks


Originally published on January 3, 2008 in the Oregonian. Text and photo of Jim Caldwell by Jason Simms.

Joe Estes spends his Christmas Eve on a bar stool, reminiscing about bulldozed bars in outer east Portland.

The Gamecock was torn down to make way for Interstate 205, he says, and the Flower Drum was replaced by a Fred Meyer. But he still has the Tik Tok Restaurant & Bar, a dark, smoky 24-hour joint at 11215 S.E. Division St., where booze flows during legal hours and at least 50 clocks tick away on the walls.

It reminds Estes, who’s lived in outer Southeast since 1972, of the way things were back when Powell Boulevard was lined with dairy farms.

“It’s still a family restaurant, a family bar,” he says as the crowd of about 30 starts to thin after the 2:30 a.m. last call. “There’s no gangbangers that come in here. None of that nonsense.”

Just before 3 a.m., Tabasco and ketchup bottles start flying at a nearby booth. A woman stands and yells at another woman, momentarily drowning out the restaurant’s lazy, jazzy Christmas music.

Two tables of people in their 20s and 30s rise. The women come to blows and are pulled apart by friends and the two waitresses on duty. The fight moves to the parking lot, then breaks up. A police officer comes to collect statements and finds that chatter between tables ignited some jealousy.

Estes is disappointed. “Why do I want to live in that?” he asks. “My neighborhood has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

But soon, Estes’ description of the Tik Tok as a quiet neighborhood place is accurate again. It has so many regulars, a waitress thinks she recognizes a first-time visitor.

“Most of the people I see in here at night are here every day or every other day,” says Victoria Berry, 28, who has worked the graveyard shift since March.

The Tik Tok’s other location at Southeast 82nd and Powell is bigger and offers dancing but has fewer regulars, she says. Berry says she sees a fair number of drunks and meth heads. A customer once ran out with her purse. But she likes the job because of the regulars.

As she walks past Jim Caldwell, who leaves at about 1:30 a.m. but is back on the same barstool by 4, she wishes him good luck with upcoming knee surgery.

Caldwell, a 58-year-old retired car salesman who lives close by, says he usually comes in at about 11 p.m., goes home and sleeps, and comes back for breakfast about 4 or 5. He checks in with whatever sports are on the TV but generally sits with a cowboylike stoicism.

“I just like to be left alone,” he says, eating pancakes that look at least a foot in diameter. Is this is a good place to be left alone? “Most of the time¤.¤.¤.”

Also at the Tik Tok are Sean, a young construction worker who, until recently, was a cocaine dealer, and Bill, a professional pool shark with cue in tow who’s so drunk he keeps saying it’s New Year’s Eve.

The Young brothers — Matt and Wade — are here, too. Matt, 25, has just finished his shift at DV8, a strip club at Southeast Powell and 50th. His night was busy, too.

“It does get packed on Christmas,” he says. “It’s usually the regulars. People who don’t have anything to do.”

Wade, 28, insists that a visitor try Big Ron’s Breakfast Sandwich (two eggs, ham and cheddar on sourdough, $4.25). He says his Christmas agenda includes beer, pool and a movie.

To the Youngs and the scattered booths of newspaper readers and chain-smokers in the wee hours of Christmas at the Tik Tok, the holiday was just another Tuesday with less traffic .¤.¤. and a brief production of "The Jerry Springer Show."

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