By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
At the moment, singer-guitarist Todd Lewis is playing "Crazy Train"; the riff echoes through a venue about which entire epics could be written. Charlie's can hold upward of 6,000 people, and its massive interior is some combination of airport hangar, barn, and monument to modern advertising: high, tin roof; wood beams aplenty; and wall space covered to its last inch with banners that pimp everything from Met-RX to Nair to Futurama to all extant brands of beer.
Though none of these banners bears the island's unofficial mantra ("Show us your tits!"), several employ a similar theme--most notably Moosehead ("Nice Rack") and Hiram Walker Sourballs ("We Got Balls!" and "So sour it makes your butt pucker"), whatever those are. From the ceiling hang any number of Hawaiian Tropic Beach Balls and huge, inflatable Coors Light cans. The stage sits along the south wall; the floor houses about a dozen picnic tables and four huge bars.
Outside, there's a fenced-in area that contains booths for ear-piercing, tattoos, and Copenhagen snuff; a mechanical bull; and a couple of extreme-sports type rides. One of them is a little slice of hell called "The Ejection Seat"--basically a reverse bungee-jumping situation in which two passengers are flung 60-some feet in the air via elastic rubber, the primary objective clearly being to determine the relative sphincter strength of whichever nimrods stumble into the thing. Indeed, between the laxative properties of The Ejection Seat and the availability of butt-puckering sourballs, Charlie's management has neatly addressed all the potential evacuatory needs of its patrons.
Exterior, Charlie's Paradise Bar, 4:30 p.m. In sky, airplane carries banner that reads "Live Concert Toadies Charlie's." On ground, pick-up truck carries bumper sticker that reads, "Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder."
Interior, Charlie's Paradise Bar, 5:30 p.m. Sound check is over. Ken, the band's merchandise guy, has concocted a plan that he guarantees will turn a profit: He'll go buy a bunch of beer now and stash it in room 613 of the Sheraton, where everyone is staying. At 2:15 a.m., 15 minutes after all the bars and liquor stores have closed, he'll begin selling it to desperate partiers at a markup of about 500 million percent. It is at this point that the intrepid reporter first adds the suffix "the Crazy-Ass Merch Dude" to Ken's name.
Another thing about Ken: Though he is both crazy-ass and a merch dude, he possesses some weird psychic energy that immediately invites trust and inspires calm. When he walks into a room, questions become answers. Thus, within five minutes of presenting his plan, he's on his way to a liquor store with $120 in his hand.
Exterior, Sheraton Hotel, 6:05 p.m. Slogan written in shoe polish on window of van parked outside hotel: "We eat pussy '99."
Interior, Sheraton Hotel, 7:10 p.m. Each February, the South Padre Sheraton--like pretty much every other resort space on the island--prepares for a hotelier's version of war. It hires about 110 extra employees. It removes the coffeemakers and glassware from its rooms. It blocks off its entire second floor, which houses meeting and banquet rooms. On all the other floors, it covers the elevator-direction lights with wood paneling. "History," says rooms division manager Andrew Fine, "has shown us that these can sometimes get damaged."
It downgrades the menu in its restaurant, orders three times its normal supply of liquor, gets stingy with towels, requires all guests to wear pink wristbands, and has at least one of its employees mopping the lobby floor at all times. All of this in anticipation of the impending five-week assault of spring breakers--about 125,000 total for the entire island.
Thirty of these revelers sit near Andrew Fine in the Sheraton's Beachside Bar & Grille as he recounts all of this. The boon to Padre's economy--an estimated $68 million--has meant that island clubs can afford to bring in a bunch of bands during those five weeks, and according to Fine, most of them stay at the Sheraton. He mentions Run-DMC, Robert Earl Keen, and Digital Underground as recent patrons. He adds that Mstley CrYe was here last week, and that Vince Neil was a "terrific ambassador." He hopes aloud that the Toadies will show their appreciation by giving him some "product."
The conversation ends when the lights go down, the DJ starts blaring that really annoying song by the Offspring, and a wet T-shirt contest begins.
7:45 p.m. While standing in a 10-minute line to get on the elevators, it becomes clear that word of the Toadies' presence has spread throughout the hotel. The girls in room 310 want them to come by for autographs. A guy in 925 can play guitar and declares himself "primed" for tonight's show. A young Southern girl gets on an elevator and asks for "the sixth floor--The Toadies' floor." Found later, the band members seem oblivious to the din of anticipation. Their mission, according to guitarist Clark Vogeler: "Get in. Rock 'em. Take their money. Get out."