[00:00:00] Chris Rodell: Hi. Today we're going to talk about a real killer bar in Bellingham, Washington, where patrons were considered good even if they left a string of bodies in their wake.
Hi, I'm Chris Rodell. I've written stories and features for just about every major magazine or publication in America. This is the Use All the Crayons podcast where I'll share those colorful stories with you.
Use all the Crayons Colorful Living Tip Number One: Make time for the important things and consult a nearby five-year-old anytime you forget what's important. Greetings from the heart of Latrobe. The third floor of the Quatrini building, just one block from the landmark Fred Rogers statue. In one way, that's some precise coordinates. And in another way, the heart of Latrobe is maddeningly vague. Because Latrobe, for more than 170 years, has spread so much of its massive heart all around the planet. It's deep in the impenetrable gorse, far from the fairways in Scotland and amidst the Lobali pines in Augusta, Georgia. It's in medical centers and children's hospitals. Make no mistake, wherever people gather to study love, they're doing it in rooms infused with the heart of Latrobe. It's still saluted in taverns around the world, where grown men and women become tipsy, trying to resolve why the little green bottles they've been clutching all night have that little 33 painted white on the back. The heart of Latrobe beats in ice cream shops wherever people order one of the most enduring and popular summer treats ever concocted. In fact, if you look closely enough, you might find some of our heart right there in yours. It's in there with your best instincts, the ones exalting fair play, kindness, sportsmanship, appreciation, and a desire to make it all better. So you see, this may be a small town, but it's always having a big impact. How small? Latrobe is about two minivans shy of a proper 8000 folks, population 7989. But what do you expect from a town that gave the world Arnold Palmer, Fred Rogers, professional football, banana splits, and Rolling Rock beer? What else could one town possibly have left to give the world? How about me? Sure, my accomplishments are meager. But I've spent the last 30 years on a restless quest to discover and tell the most compelling stories on the planet. It's only natural to wonder about our purpose in life. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my purpose. What is the point of immersing myself in more than 2500, oddball features involving indelible characters in extraordinary situations? So for years, I figured my purpose was to be interesting company should you and I ever get stuck together in an elevator. Then the technology to produce podcasts like this came along. And here we are.
[00:02:31] Matthew Fridg: I'm Matt Fridg and Colorful Living tip number 991 is open an art gallery with nothing on the walls. Then invite people to enter and be greeted by 40 guys who say nothing but “Hi, I'm Art.”
[00:02:48] Chris Rodell: I'm the local author, best known for writing popular books on Palmer and Rogers. In fact, I'm the author of ten books, but four of them are so bad, I refuse to acknowledge their existence. Do you have any idea how bad a book has to be for the author to refuse to acknowledge that it even exists? It's like having a kid so ugly and stupid you refuse to put his picture up on the mantle. But I'd be guilty of false modesty if I didn't accept that many people consider me a local celebrity. They buy me drinks, laugh at my jokes, and make me feel relieved. Neither Palmer nor Fred Rogers are around to dispute what it takes to be a real celebrity. I'm often asked if I wish I was more famous. No, I say, I wish I was more solvent. There should be some rule that says you can't drive a car as crappy as mine and still be considered a celebrity. How crappy is my car? My car is so crappy, I'm careful not to leave it unattended in front of the high school. I'm afraid an administrator would confuse it for one of those tax-deductible, scared-straight donations to teach kids a lesson about the dangers of reckless driving. But that's to be expected when you do what I do, which on the surface, appears to be nothing at all. I haven't had a job since 1992, and when people ask what I do for a living, I answer truthfully. I stare out a window. I do this for, like, an hour at a time. Then I type for about two minutes. Then I resume staring out the window. Needless to say, the gig doesn't pay squat.
The window from whence I stare is the third floor of the Tin Lizzie, a tavern that dates back to the. Below me are three distinct and lively bars. Circumstances have led more than a few to observe. I'm just like Ernest Hemingway, I say. It's true. If you take away all his bestsellers, all his prestige, all his accolades, all his six-toed cats, we're practically indistinguishable. When people who have enjoyed one of my books makes the effort to climb the three flights of creaky steps knock on my open door, they invariably say, we don't want to disturb you. Hell, I say, I've been disturbed since 1992. Come on in. And we invariably head to one of the bars, and another day is shot. Hooray year. 1992 was the last year I was gainfully employed. Some who do what I do refer to themselves as authors or writers. My business card says I'm a prostitute.
[00:05:00] Buck Pawlosky: Oh, I see. I'm Buck Pawlosky, owner of Tin Lizzie here in Youngstown, PA. I put up with Chris Rodell every day. Three points of colorful living. Point out the medical irony anytime doctors diagnose bald men with hairline fractures. Number two see a movie solo. It feels very liberating. And the third thing, predict the next drink sensation will be bottled gravy.
[00:05:25] Chris Rodell: When's the Tin Lizzy going to start serving bottled gravy?
[00:05:28] Buck Pawlosky: Probably never, Christ Rodell. Probably never.
[00:05:30] Chris Rodell:
I've come to the conclusion my brain is like that of a free-range chicken seated at my window, utterly motionless for hours at a time. My brain is untethered and ranging around the universe. It's turning over rocks. It pecks its beaks in fertile soil. It is seeking sustenance. It is asking questions that it thinks should be of concern to all of us. Questions like if fans of the Grateful Dead are called Deadheads, what does that make those of us who'd revere the book Moby Dick?
Or if the Invisible Man eats a visible hoagie, how far into the digestive system must it travel before it disappears? What's been on my mind most of my life finding the world's greatest stories, ones like this one that ran in the Esquire magazine in 2007, headline A Real Killer Bar. There's a sign at the Waterfront Seafood and Bar that prohibits loitering. There's another that sternly warns about rules, about cashing checks, but there's no poster telling customers not to stab asphyxiate, shoot, or sever heads. This could be an oversight. The Waterfront Bar is, by our reckoning, the roughest bar in America. Through an OD and bloody coincidence, the Bellingham Washington Saloon has slung booze to no less than three of America's most notorious serial killers Ted Bundy, Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi, and DC. Sniper John Mohammed. And that's not to mention the occasional small-time felon and local murderer looking for a game of darts. On a recent Friday, there was no evidence that any of the two dozen patrons swaying to Willie Nelson on the jukebox were capable of homicidal rage.
Their seemingly benign nature made them all suspect in the eyes of bartender Wally Oyen. Bianchi was the nicest guy in the world, Oyen says. That's why I wasn't surprised by Mohammed. Bianchi taught me you'd just never know. Mohammed drank beer and made no trouble, though Oyen does point out that he didn't even leave a tip. On the other hand, no one was shocked when regular James Allen Kinney was convicted of a 1998 murder of a Massachusetts woman, Oyen says. Now that guy was just an obnoxious ass.
The dimly lit bar sits on a barnacle-encrusted stilts above Bellingham Bay. It's got two-dollar beer, four-dollar clam chowder, a Cluttered Bay View brandy-colored paneling, and a century of history. No one's sure why the Bloodthirsty chose the waterfront to quench their other thirst, but regular John Riley has a theory the bar is the lowest point in the hilly town. That is as far as anyone can run without leaving the country. Restless troublemakers roll into town. Then gravity brings them down to the waterfront. Says Riley. Regulars do know this for sure former waterfront patrons now incarcerated in Penitentiaries or hell have been convicted of or await trial for a minimum of 46 murders, which is enough to give even a designated driver a killer hangover.
[00:08:16] Matthew Fridg: Colorful living tip number 813: Ask paleontologists if they know what Cavemen called house flies.
[00:08:27] Chris Rodell: I used to brag I was friends with Arnold Palmer. Then one day, it dawned on me that Arnold Palmer was friends with everyone. This became clear in 2018 after a publisher asked me to write a book about what it was like for a small town like Le Trobe to be the primary home of a legend like Arnold Palmer. One of the first things I did was call Le Trobe bulletin editor Steve Kitty to tell him the news. I was hoping to get the hometown paper to show its support. It did so in a most emphatic way. Steve asked me if I wanted to write the story myself, and he'd put it on page one. His gracious gesture spared me weeks of painstaking legwork. Instead of me going to Leitrobe, Le Trobe came to me. I put my phone number and my email address at the bottom of the page and asked all the Leitrobe to send me their very best Arnold Palmer stories. I received 210 calls and emails. Now, maybe I'm a cynic, but I thought out of 210 calls and emails, there'd be maybe five or six that said he was cheap. Maybe he'd inadvertently stiffed a waitress or two, or maybe he'd cut someone off in traffic.
It could have been any number of things. Latrobe is a small town. Live here long enough, or your entire life, as Palmer did, and you're naturally going to acquire some adversaries. Not him. Not here. Of the 210 calls and emails, the number of negative reactions was zero. Not one bad moment. No grudge, no bitterness. It was like he awoke every morning, looked in the mirror and said, I'm Arnold Palmer, and today's going to be a really great day. And that's exactly what happened to you. Thanks for listening. Follow me on Instagram. Please share this with an aggression that's unbecoming. You can buy Crayon signed copies of use all the Crayons and five of the other ten books I acknowledge [email protected]