THEY HAVEN’T made steel in Bethlehem, Pa., for five years. But up the hill, at the Top of the Town Cabaret, they’re rolling out a hardened product of tattooed flesh and burned-out souls.
Yuengling is on tap, and a brunette is on the stage.
“Gimme a break,” the guy one stool over growls, without taking his eyes off her thighs.
He’s not talking about the waves of cellulite, either. It’s me, with a notebook in hand, wondering what he thinks about the upcoming election.
You know, for governor, I say. Rendell versus Fisher.
“I tol’dja, get outta my face. “
OK, maybe the pulse of the state won’t be found in a Lehigh Valley sleaze joint. The patrons are here for cheap thrills, not politics.
But on a taproom tour of this stale but hopeful town, it seems clear that the governor’s race is off the radar.
Ed Rendell versus Mike Fisher? Never heard of ’em.
One of the candidate’s ubiquitous commercials is on the tube at Mary’s Shamrock Inn when I ask a guy named Robbie his thoughts on the election.
“Who’s running?” he says, without taking his eyes off the screen.
“That guy, up there,” I say, pointing at the screen.
“Oh, I’m just waiting for the lottery. “
It goes that way all night. The Tally-ho, the Happy Tap, J.P. MacGrady’s – nobody has a clue, or even cares about the race.
“They haven’t done nothing for me,” says Steve Terby, sipping a mug of Bud. His eyes are glued to the big screen at Your Welcome Inn – the Oakland-Minnesota game is in the seventh.
What do you mean?
“I mean none of ’em, whoever . . . You know, they do what they want, them politicians. “
I ask him about taxes, supposedly a hot-button issue.
“Taxes, I don’t care about taxes. I need a decent job,” Terby says, pulling on a Camel. “Right now, I get paid under the table half the time. “
For him, and others who no longer can depend on an $18-an-hour union job, full employment means working two or three jobs.
The bartender, Dave Bonawitz, nods.
“It’s been that way for the last 10 years,” he says. “They used to have twenty-, thirty-thousand employees down the mill. They worked ’round the clock.
“There were bars on every corner, and they’d come in after every shift. We could depend on getting three hits a day, the bar would be packed at 7 in the morning. “
Nowadays, many of the bars cater to a younger crowd, students from Lehigh University.
And many of those union workers are retired or, like Bonawitz, working $7-an-hour jobs in restaurants, at the local hospital or the overnight delivery firm at the airport. They put in long hours and wait for better days.
So it’s no wonder that, on a weeknight in October, their fists are wrapped around a mug and their minds are on something else.
“Dude,” says the guy with the brunette grinding away at his knee. “As long as they don’t outlaw this, I don’t give a . . .”