The Short Stories of Edward R. Doughty
The Rickshaw Room
When you're young and single and you find yourself in a new city your instincts cause you to search for two things: a nice girl and a good place to drink. I arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1963 as a freshly minted Ensign in the United States Navy assigned to a Destroyer Escort. The first night in that city I drove into town with a Lieutenant Junior Grade who took me to his favorite bar --- the Bison Club. We walked through the main bar into the back room and sat at the bar. The LTJG introduced me to the bartender and explained to me that in Texas you could only drink wine or beer unless you were a member of a private club. As such a member you could order mixed drinks. I was instructed to give the bartender fifty cents whereupon he gave me a membership card and I ordered a vodka and tonic. It was the quickest that I had ever joined a club. In subsequent days I returned to that the Bison Club several times but I never met any nice girls and I was tired of that bar already.
Then one day I discovered The Rickshaw Room. It was located in the Jack Tar Hotel near the beach and three brothers ran it. One brother was the downstairs greeter who checked you out to make sure you were a member before he permitted you to go upstairs to The Rickshaw Room --- which was a private club costing somewhat more that the bar in which I had been wasting time. The second brother was the chef. The third brother was Diamond, who greeted and seated people in The Rickshaw Room and who appeared to be really running the whole show. After all these years I don't really recall the names of the other two brothers, buy I sure do remember Diamond --- the guy with the silver hair and the wide smile. Diamond could make you feel welcome in hell --- but I digress.
On my first visit there, the downstairs brother asked me who I was. I told him I was, Ensign Doughty, the new Naval Officer aboard the Destroyer Escort. The brother then relayed this information to Diamond who told his brother to admit me. I ascended the chairs to be met by a smiling Diamond at the top. I introduced myself and Diamond escorted me to the bar. This was a very nice place! There was a long mahogany bar on one side, there was an upholstered bandstand on the opposite side of the room and there were many tables covered with tablecloths throughout the room. The place was nicely decorated, people were properly dressed and a four-piece combo in tuxedos was playing on the bandstand. The combo consisted of a piano, sax, bass and drums. This place was neat! Diamond bought me a vodka and tonic and left me at the bar. As I sipped my drink I talked to a few people at the bar and listened to the combo. Couples were dancing on the dance floor.
After I'd had a few drinks, Diamond was back for a chat. I asked him if I could sing a number with the combo. He said, "Sure, you can, Ensign Doughty!" Diamond then personally escorted me to the bandstand, introduced me to the leader of the combo and told him, "This young Naval Officer would like to sing a number with you gentlemen!" Diamond then returned to his seating and greeting. The leader of the combo introduced me to the audience and explained who I was. So with the combo backing me up I sang a couple choruses of "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey". The crowd seemed to love it and I received a big round of applause. Diamond took me to a table, introduced me to some older folks, sat me down and ordered me another drink on the house. A little while later, I was asked to do another number --- which I did. Another free drink was sent over to our table. I was really feeling welcome.
When it was time to leave, I approached Diamond, thanked him for the great hospitality and asked him about the possibilities of me joining this very nice club. Diamond smiled and said, "Ensign Doughty, whenever you're in town you're always welcome here. I'll tell my brother to just send you up. Since you're in the Navy --- there won't be any charge." I couldn't believe it! I had found a "nice place" to drink.
In subsequent visits to the Rickshaw Room I was made equally welcome. I would usually sing a few numbers with the combo and I would always receive some free drinks. One time I brought a Naval Reservist with me who was about twenty years older than me. After arriving upstairs, I introduced him to Diamond. Said Diamond, "Well you gentlemen are in luck tonight because I'd like to introduce you to two very nice ladies!" "Oh, my God", I thought, "he's going to take us to a couple of scags!" He then escorted the two of us over to the bar where he introduced us to two very attractive blondes. It turned out that the two blondes were an Aunt and her niece who were visiting from Shreveport, Louisiana for a couple days. They were just about our respective ages, as well. We spent the rest of the evening with the Aunt and Niece team and even escorted them back to their motel room, getting back to the ship very late. The reservist could not believe our luck!
In the two years that I was stationed in Galveston, I visited The Rickshaw Room frequently, with or without a date or a guest. I was part of the entertainment by now --- as well as an "escort" for some single woman if I didn't have a date. Late in the evening Diamond would always bring around a tray of very spicy hors d'oeuvres that his brother in the kitchen would make. It was part cheese and part chili pepper and lord knows what else. You could not eat one without taking a big drink of something immediately afterwards. If you didn't have something to drink immediately you would lose your ability to talk. It felt so good after the burning stopped!
Eventually I met a few nice girls in town --- and some at The Rickshaw Room. I would often take a date to The Rickshaw Room. But one time I took a Cherokee Indian girl from Houston who was nine years older than me. We had dinner there, danced and drank. But afterwards Diamond politely told me that he'd prefer that I not bring any Indians into the club again. Another time I met a girl named June who used to hang out there with a group of friends. June and I had a few dates but we were more like brother and sister. After a while she said she had a girlfriend she would like me to meet. So a blind date was set up and a few nights later I met Kathy, a very cute and petite Italian girl. Kathy and I really hit it off and she became my "regular date" for the last ten months I was in Galveston. I now had a nice girl and a good place to drink.
There had been something like twenty different officers on my ship during those two years --- but none of them ever belonged to the Rickshaw Room. I would bring some of them there as my guest --- but they would never go there alone. In effect, The Rickshaw Room belonged to Ensign Doughty. The last time I visited there before departing Galveston for good, I said goodbye to the three brothers and thanked them for their generosity. The next morning Kathy drove me to the airport in Houston. I never returned to Galveston after that.
Many years later while surfing the Web I brought up a list of Galveston Restaurants. There was no longer any Rickshaw Room --- nor was there even a Jack Tar Hotel anymore. Yes, in a strange city you need a nice girl and a good place to drink. Sometimes --- if you're very, very lucky --- you might also find a Diamond.
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