“Why don’t we get something to eat and then stop over at the Country Palace? It will give us an opportunity to chill and relax,” the host of the law enforcement seminar said after we had finished the long day’s study.
I had never been inside a honky-tonk bar before, and was a bit unsure. There were several other law enforcement officers in our group, including a couple from the Columbus Police Department, which served as the host agency.
I don’t remember exactly where the bar was located, but I do remember it was in a rough part of Columbus.
We walked in the front door, and every head in the bar slowly turned to look hard at us. We had come straight from the classroom and were still wearing white shirts with rolled up sleeves. To say we looked out of place is putting it mildly.
The cigarette smoke was dense and ponderous, winding like a swollen river throughout the club. We couldn’t see the band standing on the small stage in front of the room, or the people sitting at the tables.
One man was smoking a cigar, but the women preferred cigarettes, with many packs of Kools strewn on the tables.
“They might have to move the tables back so there is room for the smoke,” one of the officers remarked sarcastically.
As we walked further inside, we were able to see discernible faces for the first time. We sat down about four tables away from the stage.
We noticed a group of factory workers were sitting at a table with a pitcher of beer in the middle. They had their first names embroidered on their shirts just above the name of the local factory where they all worked.
I wasn’t at all convinced this was the best location in Columbus to “relax,” as the host had earlier suggested.
The smoke thickened as the crowd increased. The bar noise was so loud it was hard to hear anyone talking at our table.
“Do you think we should stay here?” a young officer from a rural county sitting next to me asked. “There seems like a lot of tough people here to me.”
“We don’t have much choice since we rode over here with these guys from Columbus,” I replied.
The band suddenly stopped playing, and a larger-than-life appearing man walked on stage. His bouffant hair was jet black, with long, huge sideburns. He was dressed in a bright red, ruffled shirt, with a large cowboy belt holding up his coal-black, skintight trousers that flared at the bottom.
His name was Paul “Tiny” Wellman, and he was the personification of a honky-tonk country music singer.
The eager patrons let out a thunderous applause.
“Tiny” stepped up to the microphone, and in a very pleasant voice asked the crowd how many had been to Luckenbach, Texas. His question was met with whistles, howls and yelps.
“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys, this successful life we’re livin’, got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys,” he sang in a very pleasant tenor voice.
Tiny started his next song with no introduction. He began to sing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and an entire table of women, with the exception of two older ones, jumped onto the dance floor.
To our surprise, two of the officers with us walked over to the table and asked the remaining women to dance. The women smiled, held out their hands, and eagerly walked to the dance floor with the officers.
When the same young officer who had asked me a question earlier saw the officers dancing, he asked this time with more urgency in his voice, “Do you think this is a good idea? Should they be dancing with those women? I think they are asking for trouble. Do you think we should stay here?”
“I don’t think they are going leave anytime soon,” I said.
Seven or eight slow dances later, the young officer’s concerns were realized.
The singing and dancing came to a complete stop when one of the women began yelling at one of the officers.
“I’m going to call the cops!” she shouted. Then, she hit him hard in the ear.
“I think it is time to leave,” I said to the young officer. Evidently, the other two officers agreed as they scampered back to the table, and one of them nonchalantly said, “It’s smoky in here. Let’s get some fresh air,” as we left the building.
“I hope they arrest that woman,” the officer said as he rubbed his ear.
“Yes. It’s people like her give who nice places like this a bad name,” his partner said, as we climbed into the car and headed back to the hotel.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.