What Would Joe Do?

Pre-concert juicing in downtown St. Pete

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Joe Walsh quit the booze and pills and powders years ago. On stage Sunday, he appeared lucid and agile. But it's a safe bet that a good portion of the estimated 1,700 people who watched him perform at the Mahaffey in St. Pete on Sunday were hammered.

The guys buying me Irish Car Bombs at Courigan's before the show were definitely plowed. I wouldn't be surprised if my new friend Car Bomb Chris passed out during the opening act's yawn-inducing, 45-minute set. "I kinda hate when I do this," he said shortly before ordering another round of shots about an hour before the show. "I don't even have any memory of the second half of the Clapton concert."

I arrived in St. Pete around 5 p.m. — way too early to start drinking before the show. I remembered a campus bookstore being nearby the Mahaffey and thought it would make a nice place to kill time. Drink a coffee. Eat a Danish. Read the paper. Maybe even buy a book.

"Nice shoes," said some punk who I passed on the sidewalk just as I approached the campus. I had on cowboy boots. He waited until he passed me to crack wise. He wore a wife beater, white shorts and shiny white sneakers.

"Nice shirt," I hollered back, turning around to see his reaction.

He smirked. I shook my head, offered a smart-ass smile and kept walking. Screw hanging with a bunch of college brats at a bookstore that may or may not be open. I turned around and decided to stop in the first watering hole I could find.

My search didn't take long. The Bayfront Hilton has a small lobby bar called the Tangerine. I took a long pull of my $4 domestic beer and tried not to notice the two guys stuffing their faces with what appeared to be cream of mushroom soup. Maybe clam chowder. The hefty spoonfuls were too big for their mouths. Clumps and chunks kept dropping back into the bowl. Disgusting.

The guy closest to me wore an In-N-Out Burger shirt, so I figured the soup-eaters were out-of-towners. The same fellow with the burger shirt had a scruffy beard and a barrel of a belly. He spoke with a thick brogue. Probably British. The fellow next to him said something that piqued my curiosity: "I just have to give him the box and the pick, and then I'm done."

Turns out the soup-eaters drive buses for Joe Walsh. Turns out Joe Walsh doesn't travel in the same vehicle as his band. Turns out I probably asked the same lame question everyone asks them.

Me: "So, what's Joe Walsh like?"

Bus driver: "He's nice. ... But very private."

There you have it, folks.

A dude in his late 20s, who I later learned was Car Bomb Chris, sat at the corner of the bar. Two guys in their 50s — Clean Cut and Burly — who I would also do shots with later, entered the Tangerine looking for action.

"So, where do we find girls?" Clean Cut asked.

"In St. Pete?," the bartender replied. "On a Sunday? Nowhere."

I finished my beer and left, strolled around the corner and stopped in Courigan's. I spent my first hour there sipping Blue Moons and eavesdropping on a conversation between a 63-year-old who looked and spoke like the Thurston Howell III character from Gilligan's Island and a 22-year-old who looked and spoke like the Steve Sanders character from Beverly Hills, 90210. They were sloshed, bonding; Thurston Howell was going through a breakup and so was Steve Sanders' father. In fact, when I walked into Courigan's, the place was silent except for the sound of Thurston Howell bellowing into his cell phone: "It's paramount to the profession. ... I can't live alone. ... I won't forget, sweetheart" blah, blah, fucking blah. I pitied the old guy.

Thurston Howell and Steve Sanders stumbled out just as the Joe Walsh crowd livened the place up around 7 p.m. Car Bomb Chris and Steve arrived, overjoyed at having just met the guitar great.

"I didn't have anything for him to sign," Car Bomb Chris said. "So I just shook his hand. It was pretty cool."

Chris then proceeded to buy a round of Car Bombs (a trifecta of Jameson's, Bailey's and Guinness). Clean Cut and Burly showed up, looking tipsy. I thought Burly might punch me when I argued that Michael Vick's crime wasn't so different from shooting a deer. I was playing devils' advocate, but he didn't get the joke.

"Whatever, dog killer!" he replied.

Luckily, Chris jumped in to save me with another round of Car Bombs. But Burly wanted a Redheaded Slut. Chris finally sold him on a complimentary Car Bomb, which probably set him back $7. Burly let the Baileys get curdled and didn't even finish his free drink.

As fate would have it, I was walking out of the Mahaffey Theater after the show, and there were Clean Cut and Burly, right beside me in the parking lot.

"Hey look," Burly said. "It's our buddy, dog killer."

I smiled, shook my head, successfully bummed a smoke from Clean Cut and went on my merry way.

Courigan's, 1 Beach Drive S.E., St. Petersburg, 727-551-9019.

Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, 333 First St. S., St. Pete, 727-894-5000.

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