A Big Bar Scene Print Photog

Club Berlin at Sybil’s, 4th & Island, 1989.

I can’t call this a selfie. It’s of me with my camera but someone else shot it. If I recall correctly, and I’m pretty sure I do, it was a girl who I’d just met and never saw again. It was late at night and I was drunk as usual at the time, so if I ever did run into her again I didn’t know it. But I do remember being asked by her to take a picture of me with my camera. People would sometimes ask me to take a photo of myself with my camera at bars when I was shooting the crowds but I’d always (usually) decline the offer because I was reluctant to hand over my camera to anyone and also I was of the mindset that as “the photographer” it was always my job to take the photos and not be in them. This time however it was near the end of the night, the girl was really nice looking and I had shot a lot of the dance floor crowd already and figured, “Yeah, sure.” So I placed my pre-focused Nikon in her hands.

My clothes are funny, Levi’s 501s with rolled-up cuffs and white hi-top sneakers. I had zero club dress style but I didn’t care. Most everyone vied for my attention so they could get their photo in print. The trench coat wasn’t just a theatrical gimmick; it had big pockets for lots of rolls of color Savon film and extra double-A batteries for my camera-mounted Vivitar flash. The t-shirt is a Hard Rock Cafe Cancun shirt I’d bought at a thrift store, just like my trench. I’d never been to Cancun.

To give you an idea, back then I was a 25-year-old who had a two-bedroom apartment in Carlsbad on Acacia Avenue that was a couple of blocks from the beach, and worked for myself doing residential tree trimming in North County. Back then rents were really cheap, and business was good, even when often hungover. So I felt I had money. On the side, I had plenty of time to contribute to Revolt-In-Style magazine in San Diego as a photographer and sometimes writer. Doing so wasn’t exactly the best-paying gig but it was a fun way to convince myself I’d maybe have a job with a real magazine or newspaper one day. Ha ha, boy that was folly. But the lifestyle suited my personality. I was captain of my destiny, as they say, although navigationally very naive.

I’d usually begin most evenings after work at my apartment by drinking a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes. Those wine coolers were big in 1989 and considered cool. After it got dark I’d drive down to Pacer’s strip club on Midway Drive and play pool or sit at the end of the bar and have one or two Budweisers. Then, by or around 10 p.m., I’d go to whatever dance club night was happening that day of the week. On Thursday nights it was Club Berlin at Sybil’s Down Under, a brewery at 4th and Island downtown, which was the weekly party Trevor Watson and Thad Temple, the publisher and ad director of Revolt, were throwing. It was always House music being spun and that’s Dave Curtin whose face you can see in the DJ booth behind me. He was half of Chaos Productions along with Mike Garrett who shared the office space with Revolt-In-Style Magazine upstairs at the north-east corner of Cass Street and Tourmaline in Pacific Beach.

The dance club is where the serious drinking would begin. Whiskey sours were what I liked early in the year but shifted over to gin and tonics later on because I liked the flavor better, and the bartenders often wouldn’t charge me for the drinks because I was shooting club photos for Revolt that gave the bar publicity. But I was too young and dumb and didn’t know I was supposed to tip, I’m still regretful about that. This was my pattern every night almost for several years. Making it back home and driving to North County while staggering drunk. It’s a wonder I never got into a crash or got a DUI. Man, I was lucky. I wouldn’t try that again now.

Somehow I survived.

Me in 1989, a 25 year-old nightclub photographer.
Me in 1989, a 25 year-old nightclub photographer.

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