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Welcome to the Entrada

The Entrada Resort & Motel opens its first sleepy eye at dawn. Though the lounge's doors shut only three hours earlier, the horseshoe bar is serving again at 7 a.m. Its small double-sided cooler brims with beer, ice froths in an aluminum bucket, and mute television sets flash the weather and news. Even as daylight dissolves the night sky, the lounge looks as if it hasn't closed for a second. It's ready for the regulars, who know this place will open early, the same way it has for decades.

The rest of the motel sits in shadows, its insides lit only by soft green floodlights and the glow of the pool. The Entrada readies itself for the rhythms of its day: the early-morning stillness, the afternoon's check-in chat and bustle, the evening's soundtrack of jukebox and bar talk.

In less than an hour, patrons trickle in and squeak into the vinyl-backed chairs that fringe the bar. They light cigarettes and sip their beers, swap "good morning"s and "how are ya"s. The lounge is the motel's temple, a place where regulars can have a quiet drink, meditate, and be alone. With each other. It takes only a few drinks for their silence to lift. When the booze kicks in, the conversation swirls about the dim room. Like smoke, it's all over the place.

If my husband calls, tell 'im I'm not here.

Green peppers are always cheaper than red or yellow.

I still love her. I just can't live with her.

The whole camp was on fire. We lost seven men.

You know who I like? Goldie Hawn.

Nixon didn't wear makeup during that debate. He looked like shit.

This cobweb won't pull apart.

This morning's bartender sits at the base of the bar fiddling with a fake spider web. She's not having any luck. She sets the stringy clump aside and turns to one of the three men who have materialized. "This is the longest hand job I've ever given," she tells him. They both crack up, and he orders another beer. She gets up and chucks open the cash register.

The joint is dripping with the kind of spooky Halloween props you'd find inside an elementary school classroom or on the front porch of an Old Florida house. More cobwebs stretch across wood-paneled walls, along with orange balloons, ghosts, and a crepe fringe of smiling bats. A glow-in-the-dark skeleton jangles from the ceiling. But the décor is not the prime attraction.

"Breakfast for two bucks," gushes Jim Burke. "Free dinner with two drinks. You can't beat it. You could eat for free all week long if you really wanted to."

The 64-year-old Burke sits in his regular place beside the cigarette machine while someone from the coffee shop brings him a steaming plate of eggs and potatoes. A Styrofoam cup of coffee sits before him. Everything about his appearance is just so: His fine white hair is combed back from his forehead, his polo shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts are crisp. He's animated, alert; even his eyebrows seem energized, poking out from his brow like minuscule gray antennae.

His convalescence is progressing well. A few weeks ago, while walking around Young Circle, a panel truck backed into him and fractured his hip. Last week his face was drawn and his light brown eyes sagged at the corners. When he shifted his lanky frame in his seat, he winced. At first he needed a rubber-tipped walker to get around. He's graduated to a four-pronged cane, and he uses it to hoist himself from his chair.

Burke lives at the Entrada, and despite his injury, he can still manage the stretch between his room and the lounge. He found his way to the motel after a blowout with a roommate prompted him to pack his belongings and call a cab.

"I said, "Take me somewhere.' So he took me here," says Burke, a New York City transplant and retired financier with Eastern Airlines. While he eats, Burke gabs with a couple of other regulars about his love of mincemeat and his hatred of peas. He talks about how he wishes he'd taken better care of his gums, how he plans on getting his teeth fixed for his daughter's wedding. "God, I hate dentists," he confesses between bites of his breakfast.

Burke likes living at the motel. He likes that the front-desk clerk knows him by name, that the coffee shop serves him his breakfast at the bar, where he can talk and pass the time. He is grateful that the maintenance man drops by with an extension cord for his toaster and that he can trust the maids. "You can leave a hundred dollars on the nightstand, and they won't touch it," he declares.

The Entrada is a lot like Hollywood. Not the city's recent makeover of faux Spanish architecture and sidewalk buskers crooning "The Girl From Ipanema." The motel is old-school Hollywood, a sleepy coastal town without a wrecking ball or barricade in sight, a place where locals can leave a spare key under the mat or frequent Melina's Lingerie Shoppe and its display of housedresses and butt pads, maybe stop by Sacks Shoes to check out its rubber-soled stock. Like these other die-hard businesses, the Entrada holds its place in the shrinking enclave of low-end commerce that hangs on in the face of terra-cotta condos and overpriced restaurants.

Only three owners have run the Entrada in its 42 years of existence. The original owner, Leo Hanzelik, retired to Florida from New York in the late '50s and decided to invest the money he made in his wood-flooring business into a different kind of venture. "I was in the South Pacific when I was in the Army. I like warm weather in January," offers the 80-year-old Hanzelik, who now lives in Boca Raton. He was 38 years old when he first opened the motel's 50 rooms. When the bank told him it would lend him more money if he built 60, he added 10 more. He planted palm trees that still stand and drove his staff home after the day's work was done.

"My help was mostly black, and back then they couldn't be in town after dark," remembers Hanzelik. "I'd pick them up on weekends too. There were no buses driving on Saturday or Sunday. We paid them $5 a day." It's the same amount he used to charge for a single room. In season. A double cost $7, and an efficiency pulled in a whopping $12. Hanzelik recalls his clientele as being well-to-do. "They came in Rolls-Royces, pulled in there with big cars from Minnesota, the Midwest, New York. People with money. All nice people," he says.

According to Hollywood City Hall's archives, the Entrada drew international clientele as early as 1968. One black-and-white photo shows delegates from Hollywood's then­sister city, San Salvador, El Salvador, sporting bouffant hairdos and I Love Lucy­style dresses, looking over Entrada postcards in the lobby.

The archives also house the motel's original plans. The place hasn't changed much; it's still wedged between Fillmore Street and Federal Highway, just north of Young Circle. The same two-story rectangle of rooms still surrounds the kidney-shape pool. Once the glass-walled front of the motel offered a view through the lobby straight to the pool. The glass has since been painted over, perhaps as a shelter from the brouhaha of Federal Highway.

Hanzelik came up with the moniker from his time living in Spain. "I used to go to a lot of bullfights," he remembers. "Of course, to get in is called the entrada [entrance]." To further honor his memories, he even had two statues made for the front of the motel: a bullfighter brandishing his red cape and a snorting bull. The display didn't last long. "A car hit it!" he says with a laugh. The bullfight might be gone, but the motel's façade now offers passersby a modest trompe l'oeil, a simple painting depicting an x-ray view inside the motel, where painted guests loll about the pool and its surrounding patio. The Entrada's retro countenance has lured more than tourists: A few months ago, a California production company scouted the locale for an upcoming flick about Muhammad Ali.

Hanzelik sold the place to a couple of investors in the late '70s. They held its mortgage for only two years before selling the Entrada to Michel Tremblay, a French-Canadian motel operator, in 1980. Hanzelik has occasionally kept in touch with the family over the years but prefers not to meddle. "It's their place now," he says. "I had good memories being there. I made a nice living." Almost as an afterthought, he asks if current owner Steve Tremblay, Michel Tremblay's son, is looking for front-desk clerks. "Maybe I could do it part-time. I know the business, that's for sure."

Steve Tremblay can be seen running around the Entrada's grounds on any day of the week. A huge ring of keys clinks against his leg as he hurries off to his many tasks. A washing machine pipe sits in the center of a small dinette where Tremblay has just taken a brief respite for breakfast. Within minutes he will begin his rounds once again, here with an aluminum ladder over his shoulder, there with a bucket grasped in one hand, doing the myriad little jobs that come with maintaining 60 motel rooms and more than 54,000 square feet of grounds.

"We save a lot of money because we're handy," he says. "My dad taught me. We just got the pool redone. I did the fiberglass work myself. When you contract those things, they cost thousands. You can save so much if you do it yourself."

The lobby is quiet now; check-out time isn't till 11 a.m., and the only sounds are the gurgling of a freshwater aquarium in the corner and the classical music lilting from the desk clerk's radio. Tremblay has eaten both breakfast and lunch here for seventeen years; he says he hasn't taken a day off in six. In fact he even lived here until he and his wife started a family. When his father passed away last year, full management of the Entrada fell into his hands. "Before that, I was taking it a little easier," he recalls. "But now I'm totally in charge, and there's no one else. I have all the responsibilities."

Tremblay is proud of what he's accomplished. While walking around the motel's grounds, he points out the locks on the gates, pokes his head into the modest but well-scrubbed rooms. While the rest of the Entrada is a pretty standard motel, the 40,000-gallon pool catches a visitor off guard; it's a quiet and pristine oasis. Royal and coconut palms stand sentinel within the white expanse of patio, and a thick row of ficus hedges camouflages the gate and surrounding streets.

"Most of the people that come down here in the wintertime, they just worship the sun," he says. He leans his head back and spreads his palms toward the sky in imitation of his seasonal sunbathers. "They're out there all day long, sunbathing, swimming. They love it."

While still in high school, Tremblay handled a slew of part-time duties here, ranging from front-desk clerk to maintenance man. With his mother in charge of housekeeping and his father at the helm, Tremblay says the first ten years of business were good ones. Especially during season. "Everything was full. Everything would get a top rate; at check-out time, people were literally rushing the lobby just to get a room. It was only for three months or so, but during that time you could bank on making that amount of money," Tremblay recalls.

He says the flow dried up about six years ago, when the Canadian dollar spiraled downward and many of his onetime countrymen began traveling to the Caribbean islands, Mexico, or even Cuba instead of Florida -- anyplace where tourists didn't lose half their spending money just by exchanging it. "That killed Hollywood's tourism," Tremblay says. "You ended up making half of what you used to make. You'd have a hard time filling up, and there was a lot of shopping around, a lot of bargaining. Everybody was cutting their rates. It was a whole different ball game." He adds that he knew of many motel owners who lost their businesses because they couldn't pay their mortgages.

Tremblay credits his father's experience as a motelier in Canada as part of the reason the Entrada stayed afloat. In order to meet expenses, the family began renting at weekly rates during the summer, sometimes as low as $55 a week.

"There wasn't that much profit there, but anything was better than an empty room that wasn't making any money," he says. "It was tough. It was many years where, at the end of the summer, we were up to our necks in debt. The credit cards would be to the max. We were really struggling to make it."

Slow seasons and a sluggish exchange rate weren't all that plagued the Entrada. With lower summer rates came a more transient clientele. And problems. Often the Entrada would get what Tremblay calls a "bad room," guests who fought loudly or who tried to sell drugs or pimp out of the motel. Once the Tremblays realized what was going on, the family would immediately boot out the undesirables.

Most motels in the city are legit. But some aren't. "For a multitude of reasons, they fall behind [on their bills] and choose to engage in illegal activities," says Lt. Ritchy Allen of the Hollywood Police Department. "They rent for the purposes of prostitution, or they allow drugs to be sold on the premises." Allen adds that the introduction of crack cocaine on Federal Highway in the mid-to-late '80s contributed to the devolution.

Allen heads up the city's crime-suppression unit, a task force that has focused on areas with high arrest volumes, including the Federal Highway corridor, which hosts 26 motels in Hollywood. Within the past three years, Allen's unit has charged the owners of three motels -- the Budget Motel, the Venezia, and the Blue Sands -- with multiple felonies. The charges included health and safety violations, credit card fraud, delivery of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school, the purchase of crystal methamphetamines, and the ever-present problem of renting for purposes of prostitution. Between October 1999 and October 2000, Hollywood police made 1300 prostitution-related arrests along Federal Highway. About 90 percent of the girls arrested have substance-abuse problems.

Unlike some other motels, the Entrada isn't on Allen's hit list. "We certainly don't think he's running an errant motel," he says and adds that more than half of the 56 vice-related calls this year surrounding the motel were stings conducted by the police on the Entrada's adjacent street, which intersects Federal Highway. He speculates that the rest of the calls were made by Entrada's management in an attempt to kick out unruly or suspicious guests.

Despite his efforts Tremblay still feels the community holds a roughhousing image of his motel. "Every time you see something on TV about Hollywood and prostitution, my sign always comes up somehow," he says with a sigh. Five years ago he spent close to $20,000 on a security gate that now encircles the motel's rooms and common areas in order to make his guests feel safer. "I wish we could have done it many years before. But we just didn't have the money. Now people feel more private, more secure. They like it."

He has also hired a security guard to patrol the premises seven nights a week, and Tremblay's office contains four surveillance cameras monitoring and taping the property 24 hours a day. He and his staff notify one another if they witness rooms with too much traffic or noise. He's always required a photo ID for check-in, but a few weeks ago, at the suggestion of one cop, he bought a color copy machine so he could keep more accurate records.

"We're on the same side," Tremblay says about his and the police's cleanup efforts. But he shows sympathy for smaller motels that are more reluctant to expel unseemly guests. "A lot of other motels have a hard time doing that, throwing out someone who's paying 175 bucks a week. They need the money. I know, it happened to us many years ago. We always tried to fight the bad element, but sometimes you just didn't know. Now we're doing well. So we really try to keep this place quiet.

"A lot of people finally realize that it's clean here, it's safe," he adds. "There's no prostitution or drug activity. People are starting to know this now. Plus we're affordable. Guests are going to get a clean and safe place where they can sleep."

More than six million visitors rested their heads on Broward County hotel pillows in 1998. Many of those domestic and international travelers filled up the county's 386 motels, a total of 11,000 rooms and counting. In fact the ratio of motel-to-hotel lodgings in Florida is approximately three to one, mostly because of the rates. Offering rooms for as little as $36 a night during the off-season and as high as $75 a night in the winter, the Entrada is a thoroughly typical Broward County motel.

This summer has been the Entrada's best yet; Tremblay credits his efforts and downtown Hollywood's fledgling renaissance as reasons for his full house. He's looking forward to the completion of the Diplomat Resort and the Marriott's takeover of the Howard Johnson's on Hollywood beach. He's banking on their overflow of guests and conventioneers. He hopes his still-slow lounge business will return the way it was before the Diplomat was demolished in April 1998 and that his battle to keep his motel vice-free will make subsequent summers as profitable as this one.

Veteran bartender Ed Aspen has worked here on and off for nine years, watching employees drift in and out of the Entrada at almost the same pace as its guests. Aspen came in early today to train a new bartender, one he hopes will stick around. (He likes to squeeze in a few rounds of golf in the morning.) "You're lucky if one out of five people work out," he says about today's trainee.

Aspen takes a sip from the glass of ice water he usually has on hand. Jim Burke buys his only fellow patron in the bar a beer. "I'm a soft touch," Burke admits with a modest nod. The sturdy, 62-year-old Aspen leans over and fishes a Bud out of the cooler. He wears suspenders while he works, and they too have Budweiser scrolled across their length.

"I wear them because when you bend over all day, your shirt comes out and you look like a bum," he explains. "I've never come to work without 'em." He pops the top off the longneck before handing it over.

Aspen started his gig at the motel as a lounge regular. Tremblay hired him part-time, but the stint blossomed. "I worked 22 days straight. Good thing he didn't hire me full-time!" he says, laughing. The chortle turns into a cough. It usually does. Aspen has smoked for 50 years, and he's tried everything to quit, even acupuncture. His habit is de rigueur at the lounge; virtually every patron who plunks down in a chair has a pack of smokes close by. Like his boss, Tremblay, Aspen is lamenting the way business at the lounge has tapered off in the past few years.

"Friday nights are still pretty good, but it's slowed down," Aspen says. "This used to be one of the busiest bars in Hollywood. We used to have night workers waiting for us to open the doors. Waitresses, bartenders. They want a drink because it's their nighttime. They'd have a drink in each hand. You couldn't keep up with them!"

Aspen blames some of the bar's struggles on unreliable help and police crackdowns on drunk driving. "It's good, because nobody runs anybody else over, but it's bad for late-night bar-hopping," he says. "People are afraid, and this isn't really a cab kind of town." He should know. Before working at the Entrada, he owned and drove his own cab between Miramar and the beaches. "I got quite an education driving that cab, but I always felt secure taking a customer here. I knew they wouldn't get mugged or have any problems like with the other motels." As if to mark the lounge's glory days, he buys Burke a Bloody Caesar and flicks a pinch of horseradish into it.

Aspen also anticipates an upswing as Hollywood beach hotels are refurbished and downtown begins to flourish. He dreams about setting up a tiki bar by the pool where the bronzed can sip daiquiris, kids can grab a hot dog, and perhaps even a small band can croon a bit of calypso. For now, though, he'll settle for the slow but steady stream of regulars who haunt the lounge like devoted ghosts.

When Burke finishes his drink, he settles his tab and gets up to leave. Except for Aspen there's no one left. The bartender lights a Pall Mall and asks Burke where he's going. "I won't have anybody to talk to," Aspen says with a laugh and a cough.

While Burke finishes his breakfast, Joyce Brais is already sweeping the outside patio with her leaf blower. Every day at 8 a.m. she points the long black nozzle toward the ground and blasts dust and leaves back into the hedges. Every once in a while she'll look up from her work and shout "Hallo!" to a familiar face in her lilting French-Canadian accent. After the patio is swept, she'll scour the outside bathrooms. Then she's off to wash linens and clean rooms. For six years she has worked the motel's second floor. "It's my floor," she says matter-of-factly. "I know what my customers need."

With that, she whirls around and tears down the hall to her next room, her thin, veiny legs doing double time as her two long, blond ponytails twitch behind her. She makes the bed while she talks, expertly flicking a white flat sheet over the mattress, then smoothing the bedspread over it. Brais is always in motion. Even if she's chatting with a customer or another employee, she's stuffing linens into her Rubbermaid hamper, scrutinizing her room report, emptying trash baskets. "Oh, I love it. I love it. Working and have fun too. But I don't lose my time. I'm talking and I'm working," she says with a nod.

During the off-season the Entrada's second floor hosts the live-ins: mostly blue-collar workers who stay in the summer when rates are cheap. When season begins they move on, making room for the tourists who book both floors of the hotel. Most of them are French-Canadians, and many are repeat customers.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that French-Canadians make up Broward County's largest contingent of tourists, with close to half a million visiting in 1998. For the same year, tourist-related spending soared to more than $3.5 billion dollars; hotel and motel rooms alone garnered $768 million. That's a lot of work. And a lot of laundry.

"Up and down, up and down," says Brais as she climbs the two flights between her floor and the laundry room. "A million times a week!" She cackles and waves at one of the live-ins. "Hallo!"

Brais guesses she washes five full loads of linens a day -- a total of 150 pounds -- in her Dexter commercial washer, which she polishes once a week. The laundry room is her office, and she takes pride in it. Comet cans and carpet cleaner stack the back closet in meticulous rows. She prefers white vinegar and hot water for cleaning the outside windows and tiles. Sheets and towels are folded on shelves, with yellow Post-Its distinguishing the old linens from the new.

When season begins she'll break out the still-zipped-in-plastic comforters, along with the rest of the linens, for the tourists. The Entrada buys new each season; whatever is left over is used for the slower summer months or shredded into cleaning rags.

The room's temperature rises, a result of the now full-blown sunlight outside and Brais' ever-tumbling dryer. But she hardly breaks a sweat as she plucks a sheet from the hamper and fluffs it out before stuffing it into the wash. Even with the heat, the room offers the comforting smell of warm soap and fresh towels.

Brais moved to Hollywood nine years ago with her husband. "Ten months after we got here, he was gone," she says. "He says it was too hard -- to work, to speak English. Me, I stay here," she says resolutely. She stops to take a swig of ice water out of an Igloo jug she's brought from home.

"Ahhhh yes, I like the sun."

Most motels in Hollywood offer little in the way of dining; the Entrada boasts its own tiny restaurant but serves only a small trickle of guests throughout the day.

"They only come down here in the morning for coffee or cream," says Sylvia Supino about in-season visitors. She's run the motel's coffee shop four days a week for five years and offers an experienced take on the shop's dining trends. "They've got their kitchens in their efficiencies. Why bother?"

She doesn't take the lack of business personally; most of Supino's cooking goes straight to the lounge anyway. By the time Brais hits the deck with the blower, Supino has already opened the shop, a modest affair of five tables and a Formica counter with three stools. Behind the counter a stainless steel storage bin houses two incomplete sets of water glasses, a creamer, and a quarter-filled bottle of Tabasco sauce. A silk philodendron hangs near a window.

Supino adds her own snug touch here and there. A spread of muffins on paper doilies sits in the middle of the counter, along with a row of copper-topped sugar canisters and the morning paper neatly folded. A red tablecloth, place mats, and full sets of silverware already adorn each station. A full pot of coffee sits newly brewed on the Bun-O-Matic by the register. Last summer Supino painted the base of the counter and the stools in blue, fuchsia, and lemon -- Goombay style. For Halloween she fashioned ghosts out of Kleenex and baked orange cupcakes.

"You gotta make the people want to come," Supino says. "It's gotta hit their eye when they walk in -- like it's warm. I want to make it like a little cottage," she explains and points to the side of the room. "This is going to have wallpaper."

Supino breaks out a stack of photos she's taken of her own home's kitchen to show what she has in mind: fabric blinds, stenciled flowers on cabinets, ginger jars, and candlesticks. "It came out bee-yooohhh-ti-ful," she says. Even though she came to Florida 11 years ago, when she speaks, there's still a trace of New England in her voice, and she drawls out a random vowel every now and then. "I still miss the snow, saying, "Whoever gets home first starts the fireplace.' I miss that."

Supino waitressed for four decades in Rhode Island, New York, and Las Vegas, but she didn't start cooking until she hit her forties and felt the urge to feed her second husband. "He was Italian. I didn't know how to cook," she says with a shrug of her shoulders, "So I went to Johnson & Wales [University]." She picks up a sponge and wipes down the already spotless counter. "We had a class on what to do with leftovers," she says on her way to the back kitchen. "Because this place is so small, you've got to use what you've got. You've got to use your imagination."

Today Supino's flair with food led her to dice up leftover carrots and spinach, then bake a quiche in one of her high-tech blue baking pans. "I bring my own," she says and points to her final product: a confection of yellow fluff she's set out to cool. She'll bring it out to the lounge for snacking before she leaves at 1 p.m. During her current Monday-through-Thursday workweek, she always makes Tremblay his breakfast and his lunch.

"I'm a waitress, a cashier; I cook, I clean," Supino says. "I could make so much more money somewhere else, but because of him, I stay. I've seen Steve lend money to people that needed it. I tell him, "Steve, they're using you.' He says, "If they use me, they use me.' He's the nicest guy. The best boss."

She opens the freezer to figure out what she'll need to buy at Publix tomorrow morning. She plans her menu from day to day. All of the chow goes straight to the lounge. Shepherd's pie, barbecued wings, spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed shells. "I'll make a nice antipasto. They love it, but they're drunk anyhow," she says laughing. "Any food, they'll eat!"

Sometimes she whips up a batch of fresh soup and leaves a bowl at the front desk for the clerk. She brought a helping to Burke's room after his accident. "You get to know the people who stay here," she says. "They're like family."

When two children flutter through the gate and plunge feet-first into the pool, a guest tanning on one of the peach-and-aqua lounge chairs might feel he's poolside at a posh resort. Two speakers mounted on the motel's trellis add to the effect, pumping out oldies from a gentler era: "Sugar, Sugar," "All Shook Up," "Doo Wah Diddy."

By late afternoon the poolside patio is deserted. In a couple months, French-Canadians will tromp down in droves, check in, and worship the sun. They'll play cards at umbrella-covered tables, perhaps barbecue beneath the palms. But for now there's not an oiled paunch or Speedo in sight. Church bells clang from across the street.

Five middle-aged men have already gathered around the Entrada's U-shape bar for their after-work round. One brings his own ceramic stein; another feels comfortable enough to reach behind the bar, grab the Coke nozzle, and freshen his drink. The jukebox glows in the corner. So does the underlit center of the bar, and the men hunch around it as if it were a campfire, drawing warmth from bottles of Midori Melon liqueur, Goldschlagger, Johnny Walker Black.

Outside the open French doors, a ponytailed man grills burgers and dogs. Baked beans and tossed salad sit in a Tupperware bowl on a table. One by one each patron saunters outside to fill his paper plate. No one eats at the tables by the grill. They prefer the dimness of the bar.

Late afternoon folds into evening, and the lounge shifts into third gear. The grill vanishes with the after-work crowd, replaced by regulars pounding beers. Most-ordered brew at the Entrada lounge: Bud. Favorite hard liquor: vodka. Most-popular mixed drink: rum and Coke. By nine o'clock, the dozen people gathered around the bar are drinking all three. The lounge is jumping.

Hey Donna, slow today?

Hey Donna, did they call you to testify at Dale's trial?

Tonight's bartender, Donna Parra, glides over to her latest customer. She's wearing matching white shirt and hot pants, tan pantyhose, and platform Mary Janes on her feet. She takes the bill offered to her with one red-nailed hand and offers a longneck with the other. "I told them I'd be in the south of France," she deadpans in a throaty growl. Laughter. Swigs.

Don't you just love Donna?

Everyone agrees he or she does. Unfazed by her sudden fan club, Donna turns to a gangly kid who wants to know the price of a bottle of Hennessy. She offers a patronizing smile. "We don't sell bottles."

"How about a cup?" he responds.

Donna gives him a hard look and floats away to her next customer, a Key West­ looking dude with a leaping bass on the front of his T-shirt and a ZZ Top beard. He sits by himself and contemplates his cocktail, mouthing the words to a country ditty someone's punched up on the juke. After he finishes the last of his drink, he looks up.

"I just got divorced," he offers. "Seventeen years. It's been two years and I'm still trying to accept it." After another drink, he talks how about his mother looked like Lucille Ball, how he fed his cancer-stricken father morphine until his death.

His name is Brian, and if his confessions seem a tad personal, they lack any trace of self-pity. He's just thinking out loud. The Entrada lounge is more than a place to drink. It's a place to unload whatever ricochets inside your head. It can be tearful. It can be dull as a stone. Most of the time, it's full of the same faces and the familiar chorus of truths, lies, and drunk guffaws.

Brian cheers up after a few more. He talks about his job as a pool cleaner. He says that he won't kill the frogs and spiders he finds. He catches them and sets them loose in the yard. "There's an intelligence there," he relates. "Spiders don't build webs again in the same place." He then invites the couple sitting next to him back to his trailer for a drink and a smoke. The clock is closing in on midnight, and he wants the company. He wants to keep talking.

While he pays his tab, Don Henley's "Sad, Sad Café" pours from the jukebox. If Brian notices the irony, he's not letting on. He shuffles out the door and into the night with his new friends, his flip-flops scraping the pavement as he moves on to his next stop.

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