My long-time friend Adam and I visited Virginia Beach in the shoulder season. Visitors were scarce, stores closed, and hotels on sale. We went to surf but found no waves. Our planned adventure turned into something more like fishermen waiting on the storm. We found the nearest watering hole.
It was a Saturday, and that first fishermen’s pub was the catalyst to another bar in stumbling distance, then another, and another, until we settled into a dead dance club after midnight. I’d drunk so much it felt like spring break again and I would have entertained Jell-O shots. My inebriation also convinced me that I was a young, hot dancer. I rushed the empty floor alone, flashing my best moves to the few ladies on the perimeter.
No one joined.
So Adam and I, losing our hair and white as Bahamas sand, ended up walking to our hotel after last call, alone, and not getting invited to whatshername’s place for an afterhours party. No surf and no dance parties, Virginia Beach in September was a bust.
We reached the walkway to our hotel and I found the door. I turned to hold it for Adam but he wasn’t there. I had no idea how I’d lost him. I lurched back to the corner, and indeed found him, deep in conversation with three unaccompanied ladies, nodding his head as if agreeing to a plan, laughing like he knew them from before.
This must be the ways of the south, I thought. Everyone is trustworthy in off-season beach towns, particularly those who linger by a vacant Courtyard Marriott at 2 am.
I turned on my best swagger as soberly as possible, and moseyed closer. But seconds before I could blurt Hellooo Ladies, a van-cab pulled up like a getaway car. They all hopped in, including Adam. He didn’t even invite me along.
“What’s yo’ friends name?” One of them asked, and he answered.
“C’mon Victuh,” she said. “You comin’ wit’ us.”
“Where we going?” I asked, not necessarily objecting, but the planner in me needed to know although it had to be better than an empty hotel. I climbed in before they answered.
I don’t do these things. I don’t climb into cars with strangers, nor travel without a plan. But I was drunk, and women have special powers that make men abide. And something was especially different here, something that desperately intrigued me. Never had I gone anywhere with three black women.
The slender one ran the show in her thick secretary glasses, with a smile so big it could captivate audiences. She talked fast with charisma and thrill. Her hair was short like a boy’s. She wore an unbuttoned flannel over a stark white tank top. Her name was Jacquita.
“We goin to da club,” she said. “This MiShonda, this Leann.”
The other two wore gold jewelry and lipstick like they were on a date. Their southern drawl from Atlanta felt warm and sweet, particularly for us two Yankees. Turned out we were staying at the same hotel. How could I not trust them? We were already neighbors.
Jacquita, commanding with her salesman smile, told us all about her life and the others. “I’m a cop, a lesbian, I’m married, and I luhhh my woman.” She was so proud. “But these two, they into boys, and they trouble.”
They laughed. “Mmmhmm.”
But Adam and I were still in the spotlight. They pounded us with questions. “Where you from? Whatchyou do? What a couple nice white boys doin out this late?” Seemed like this was a first for them too, and our mutual, virgin interest fueled a lively conversation.
But 25 minutes had gone by and we were still driving farther from the neighborhood that bonded us. No ocean anymore, just a highway cutting through desolate suburbia. I had no idea where we were. The southern girls were getting flirty. Were we going to a sex show? A house party? Why’d they choose us?
Oh right. Marriott. Neighbors. They probably sensed my hot dance moves.
We exited the highway and followed another empty 4-lane strip until we slowed by a used car lot with burned-out show lights. We crossed the lanes and stopped in front of a dark, flat-roofed building with a pawnshop sign. Cars parked aimlessly in the grass around it. It didn’t look like a club, but something inside was making a scene.
We got out and headed toward what looked like the main entrance. But before we got there, Jacquita stopped and turned toward us with a scowl.
“We a team.” She pointed at the four of us like a cop. “We came together, we gonna leave together.” Her giant smile was crinkled up. “Got it?” She looked mainly at Adam and me. “No one leaves here without the team, ah-ight?”
The bouncer gave me a second look like my ID didn’t match my face. He glanced at my crew, lowered his brow, then passed it back. The exchange seemed awkward, but whatever, I was in. My new team had my back.
Patrons could still smoke inside and it showed with its yellow-stained drop ceiling, poor lighting, and dusty air. The long bar turned the corner past four pool tables, a dance floor, cocktail tables, benches, and a hundred other seats. It was so packed, the bathroom line meshed into the crowd. The dance floor was empty while music bumped, but every other spot on the floor had feet on it. This place wasn’t on Google Maps, but was as popular as the BET Awards.
Then I realized this experience was another first for me. I scanned the entire venue in a flash and noticed it instantly.
Adam and I were the only two white people in the whole place.
I have never in my life been a minority. My high school was all white. I once lived in Montana where the black population was less than 2%. I had just moved to a culturally rich neighborhood in Brooklyn, but things moved so fast there, no one has time to notice anyone’s color. This night, locked in a rural place that Uber wouldn’t find, I felt out of place for the first time in my life, because of the color of my skin.
I thought about that lackluster club from earlier. Did I then look old to those young ladies? Was my style cool? Did my dance moves impress? But those common insecurities didn’t cross my mind inside this busy place. Instead, I had only one thought. What do these people think of my whiteness?
Anytime we must question our sense of belonging, racially, has to be the heaviest of uncertainties. Worried about our looks or our dance moves seems superficial. But being uncomfortable over something we cannot change seems far more complicated. I couldn’t articulate it then, but at that moment, I felt like I was naked in a dream and everyone was looking. But this was real. I was out of place, feeling unexplainably vulnerable, and nothing I did would cover it up.
I wasn’t sure if I should have been embarrassed like a 40-year-old virgin, or ashamed like I’d failed a test I should have passed. Would they snub me? Call me a cracker? I was especially embarrassed that I was even making a thing about it. There was really nothing to worry about. Black people had to do this all the time, like the 2% in Montana, that one Ghostbuster, even Obama. Being a minority is part of life, no reason this night should be any different.
I played it cool, cool like Outkast, Ice Cold, Ice Cold… I bought a round for the team and we started a game of pool. I leaned against the wall, stood guard with a cue stick, and waited for my turn. MiShonda cozied up beside me.
“You ever slept with a black girl,” she asked. Her bluntness didn’t surprise me. She and Leann hadn’t stopped flirting since the cab. It was a constant source of harmless fun, so I amused her too.
“You ever been with a white boy?” I asked. And I tried to say white boy the way she would, but it came out like “whaat boy” which sounded like I was trying too hard.
She said she hadn’t. We were more alike than I’d thought.
It was my shot so I headed toward the table. I passed Leann who turned to Adam. “Is it true what they say about white boys?” She asked him. I was intrigued so I leaned in to hear his answer.
“What,” he asked with a smirk, “that they’re hung like pornstars?” We all busted out laughing. I naturally started to relax. We were simply friends that night, out for a good time, curiously enjoying what made us different and alike.
As I worked my way around the table, I was no longer worried if people were looking at me. We were the guests of these sincere black girls and they were our friends. If you had a problem with it, talk to them. We cool.
I thought about it afterward, as if the roles had been reversed. If we’d invited the girls to one of our all-white parties, my friends would have wanted to know their stories like they wanted to know ours.
The pool game ended. I don’t remember who won. The dance floor was still surprisingly empty, and the DJ was playing Dr. Dre, my high school favorite. I thought all black people liked to dance, but it turned out, they were all just as shy to step up. Unlike my dance appearance in the last club, this time, I had a partner. And I was ready for redemption.
I poked Jacquita. “Let’s dance.”
She looked back at me as if I was joking. “You fer real?”
So there we were, dancing on display, just the two of us, bumping hips and fronts and backs like we were made for each other. She kept smiling like she was about to laugh, shaking her head at me like, you crazy Victor, you crazy. I wasn’t sure if my moves were that bad or she thought I was funny for dancing with a lesbian. Or maybe, it was her first dance with a lone white guy. I didn’t care why, and that smile of hers continued to shine. More dancers joined. And then I was an Oreo Cookie, sandwiched between MiShonda and Leann. Before Dre sang his last line, the dance floor was full.
I wanted a drink so I headed to the bar, but really, I was out of steam and ready for the Marriott. It was close to 5 am. Before I ordered, a muscled dude with cornrows leaned into me.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“Brooklyn,” I said, not mentioning that I was new there and actually from small town America. I couldn’t tell if he was friendly. He wasn’t smiling.
“Yo,” he said. “Way to represent.”
I looked at him puzzled. Did he mean my killer dance moves, or being the token white guy? I must have looked confused like I needed clarification.
“For the white people,” he said, then immediately put his fist to his mouth like he said something he wasn’t supposed to—like he said something racist and didn’t know how to take it back.
But it was true and I wasn’t offended. I was a white boy where white boys don’t go. It was new to both of us, and we weren’t exactly sure how to say the right things.
“Aww man,” he said, still looking embarrassed. “You know what I mean.” He stuck out his fist. I bumped it. Then he disappeared back into the crowd.
Seconds later, the girls and Adam were beside me. Everyone knew it was time to go. We all nodded, and walked out just as we’d planned. Like a team.