After dinner at Mac & Ernie’s, I headed back to the Double U Barr Ranch to get cleaned up for my last night in Bandera. My destination was Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon, and I brought my DSLR camera, because I had stopped in the night before, and saw photo-ops all over the place.
The owner, Arkey Blue, is still around, and according to my host, Gil, he is an incredibly generous and supportive man, particularly with his employees. He pays his barmaids and waitresses in cash after their shifts every night. Gil said that one time, Arkey noticed that one of his employees needed new tires and told the employee to go to the local tire shop and tell the owner to put a set of tires on his/Arkey’s tab. Gil’s daughter even worked at the silver dollar for a while.
The Silver Dollar has a door on Main Street in Bandera, but the saloon is actually in the basement. It’s a little dark (like all true honky-tonks should be), and there’s memorabilia plastered all over the walls. There is even sawdust spread across the small, concrete dance floor.
As I got to the bottom of the stairs from Main Street, and was paying the nominal cover charge to the hostess, I asked her if it would be okay if I took some photos of the band (showing her my DSLR). She called over to the lead-guitarist (they were between songs) and asked him. Jessie, the guitarist, said, “Sure! Take all you want!”
That’s how friendly it is at Arkey’s.
Here are some photos of the band that I was able to capture:
Now, I haven’t mentioned this, but before my trip, I had a travel-blog card made up, to give out to people to help break the ice, and let them know, I was only on vacation and was photographing and writing about this adventure. That card has already come in very handy, and was particularly helpful in navigating Arkey Blue’s.
First, when I am actually photographing, I’m moving all over the place, trying out different angles, crouching to get low angles, etc. This activity naturally draws a lot of attention. And as I’ve said, Texans are not bashful about looking you over, or even approaching you to ask what you’re doing.
So, as I began moving beyond photographing just the band, I began introducing myself to people and asking them if they’d mind me photographing them…behind the bar…shooting pool…whatever. And when I felt it might be helpful, I’d pull out a card, give it to the person and explain my road-trip. This went a long way to dispelling any potential misinterpretations of what I was doing, and actually triggered my making a bunch of new friends.
Here are some photos of some of the folks at the Silver Dollar:
At one point an entire table of about eight people were watching me, and one gentleman from the table finally approached me. I gave him a card and explained my trip. Then, another man from the same table joined the conversation. Before I knew it, the first gentleman offered me a drink…a whiskey and Coke on the rocks.
You see, at many bars and restaurants in the South and Texas, there is a term called a “Set-up”. I always wondered what that meant, but could never find a definition on the internet. But, as Brett at the ranch explained, a Set-up means that patrons are allowed to bring their own bottles of liquor…whiskey, tequila, rum, whatever…into the bar or restaurant, but they have to buy the soda, water, etc., from the bar. They can even bring in their own ice buckets and cups.
So, this gentleman was offering me a whiskey and Coke that he made for me himself, from his set-up. To me, that meant that he knew I was on-the-level, and was almost an apology…or a “no hard feelings” kind of thing…for looking me over. He also invited me to his table, where I met everyone and just hung out for the rest of the evening.
Here are a few photos from this group of new friends:
Another older couple also approached me…very friendly. They were from Oklahoma and drive their RV to Bandera…about a ten-hour drive. We chatted, as well. Here’s a nice photo of them:
So, this is how it goes. I realize I’m going to get looks when I really start getting in my photography zone, so I do everything I can to reassure folks around me…and ask permission…so, that we can all have a good time. I am in heaven on nights like this. It’s an honor to meet everyone I meet, and to be given the opportunity to photograph these slices of honky-tonk life.