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Wildcatting Days

Adventure is not only about getting your highs skiing down Everest, meeting cannibals in Papua New Guinea or riding bulls in Texas. There is more than enough adventure in our everyday lives if we can see beyond the obligatory routine which most of us are unfortunately stuck with. Here, as an example, are some of the adventures I had, just running a restaurant.

During the late sixties, early seventies oil-boom years in Ecuador there were only four bars in Quito, the capitol. The Wildcatter Club, the Town House, the City Bar and the Silver Slipper disco. The four catered almost exclusively for the numerous ex-Pat, oil-field workers and were frequented by the type of characters one could expect who were involved in the hard world of exploration, drilling and petroleum production. The customers were rough and tough and they made and enjoyed spending their hard earn dollars.  I was a part owner of the Wildcatter.

On becoming manager, my American partners had advised me of the dangers of handling drink fuelled roughnecks and suggested that, being English, I could perhaps tone down the atmosphere somewhat. In an attempt to accomplish this I decided to try and change the dress code. After all we were a club. I made it known that in future, only well dressed members would be admitted; suits, jackets, ties would become the order of the day. It never occurred to me that a roughneck’s wardrobe chiefly consisted of: a half a dozen pairs of blue jeans; a lot of white T shirts; the standard of pair of snakeskin boots and a belt with a large silver buckle.

The first day of this new dress regime and to set a good example, I wore a suit. The first customers to arrive were two huge, slightly drunken American Red Necks. They ignored me, calling for the barman by name. This was my opportunity. They listened politely as I introduced myself. They glanced at each other and back at me before the largest of the pair took hold of my suit lapels, lifted me clean off the floor and informed me, “And my name’s Swamp Smith boy and don’t you ever forget it.” Word had apparently gotten around that there was a new boy in town and they decided to ‘suss it out’ for themselves.

These two were typical of many of the Wildcatter customers. They had spent their adult lives drilling for oil in all the arm-pits of the world. In general they and the other ‘oil field trash’ – as they liked to call themselves - were the salt of the earth. They worked hard and played even harder. Following our introduction, Swamp and I got along famously. Swamp was not over impressed by the Brits. He was want to repeat that his three pet hates were, “tea with milk, wet toilet paper and smart assed Limeys.”

Little l by little I managed to change the tone of the bar, even keeping some of the wilder boys as customers. The really difficult ones were not the oil-field trash but their wives. While their men were doing their seven days on in the Oriente (the eastern, Amazon jungle region of Ecuador) a few of these crazy women, who could out-drink any man, used to maraud the city’s four bars. A particular rough bunch of six, all from Bakersfield, California and all of them large enough to have qualified for the World Wrestling Federation, called themselves the Silver Slipper Drinking Team and would parade the streets of Quito in around  in Logo-ed T shirts and cardboard bowler hats.

As we started to get a name for being the smart Limey bar, we became a target for them. They loved to make a surprise visit, usually at the most inconvenient of times and as there was no doorman, they were in before we could stop them. Getting them out was more difficult.

Soon a different type of clientele began dropping in. Thanks to the British Ambassador’s son, who was a regular customer, the Ambassador and his family would come by to dine or listen to the weekly, live music al events of folk music and classical guitar. The US and other embassy staff became regular customers as well as officers from  Ecuadorian Ministry of Defence  and junior Ecuadorian diplomats from the Foreign Ministry; some of these later to become ambassadors themselves (Archive: A fond farewell from Bulgaria. April 09)

It was not always smooth running. At times it could be rather Wild West and there were still the difficult moments when Oilfield clashed with Ecuador. We had one good-but- difficult-when-drunk Ecuadorian customer who owned a distillery. He once told me his secret recipe for making whiskey. He used pure alcohol, water, saccharine and brown shoe polish for colouring. On one particular evening, during an argument with a Texan, he pulled a pistol on him. The Texan answered by pulling out his own gun. The situation was diffused by my American partner who kept a 45 behind the bar to referee such moments. 

On the occasion I was able to ban the Silver Slipper Drinking Team permanently, the American Consul, a female who had apparently had problems with one of the group, was in the restaurant having lunch with two friends. This woman, quite drunk, spotted her from the bar. She left her team mates,  walked over to the consul’s table and explained that she would like to show them a trick. This was to pull the tablecloth swiftly off the table, leaving all the dishes in place. Obviously the trick did not work – if it was ever intended to – and the three guests got their food all over them.

Admittedly, or perhaps for the best, not many of these incidents I have related will happen in an everyday life but take it from me, there’s still plenty of urban adventure to be enjoyed and Intrepid-Optimist and our readers would love to hear about them.


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