Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gruene Hall

I've written before about research for my book. I favor the going-out-and-doing kind. And I'm lucky to have set the book in a place overflowing with lived-in character.

My last jaunt was to Gruene Hall, a famous almost-dive on the edge of New Braunfels. Early stomping grounds of Willie and everybody. So a few weeks ago, fueled by a beer and a good band, we walked into the setting of a confrontation in Chapter 24. I walked out knowing how Selby Wade, my mid-thirties finding-herself main character, would see it:

"Five minutes later Selby emerged from her house newly showered, hair in a high ponytail, wearing jeans and a fitted red t-shirt that said “Aged to Perfection” under a sketch of a wine bottle. She climbed into the little red truck and turned the radio volume up to ‘blast’ before weaving through downtown, out Common Street, then left on to Gruene Road. The truck skidded to a stop a block from Gruene Hall, exactly eighteen minutes from the time she hung up the phone.


Down the street, she could see the ramshackle white front of Gruene Hall. The establishment took pride in being the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas. It looked the same as it had a hundred years ago—rusty metal roof, chicken-wire windows with slat-board shutters, and creaky hand-sawn floors. But it booked the up-and-coming in the Texas music scene, and it packed in patrons from all over Texas--which was enough to renew a person’s faith in the power of music.


Selby pulled open the 1940’s era screened door and walked into the front room. A chalkboard sign behind the bar read Cash$ Only!$ and rough plank walls were lined with black and white pictures of musicians past. A young guy in a green Mid-Tech ball cap manned the cash register, dispensing beers as fast as he could get the money. A short line of college-aged kids in jeans snaked out from his station. Other patrons wandered between the front room and the big hall.


She joined the line in time to see a bearded face appear in the open window between the bar and the main hall. “How ‘bout a long-neck?”


The Mid-Tech student reached into the cooler. “Coming right up.”


The ball cap turned to Selby, “What’ll you have?”


“What’s going on today?”


“CD debut party, the Texas Crazies.”


“When does the music start?”


“Whenever they get around to it, I guess. What’ll you have?”


She read the labels on the row of empty bottles on the bar behind him. “Shiner Bock.”


He pulled out a bottle and popped the top.


She gave him a bill, putting change in a jar on the counter before taking her beer and wandering into the warehouse-sized music hall. The shutters were flipped down against the building outside and sunlight spilled through the wide openings, lighting long rows of narrow tables and benches.


Over the years patrons had carved their initials and romances into the tables until the carvings formed a hieroglyphic of beer-fueled history. Except for that, the scene reminded Selby of an old-fashioned camp revival meeting hall. Everything was hand-hewn—walls, ceilings, floors, tables and benches. The idea made her smile. A been-there-and-back temple to music.





4 comments :

Elizabeth (Beth) Westmark said...

Great! The photos are a fabulous accompaniment.

I am WAY behind where you are with your book, but I do finally have a character who has begun talking to me like you say they will do. Her name is Kate. She's a county judge, a 40-something mom, a karate sparring champion and loves fancy spike heels.

I think Kate and Selby would hit it off big.

I really like the detail in this section, and especially putting the thought in our minds of the similarities between the dance hall and a camp revival meeting scene.

Sounds like you and Denny are having fun with the research!

Kathleen Scott said...

Thanks, Beth. Sounds like Kate and Selby would be right at home together. I'm excited that you've found her and look forward to hearing more.

Meredith Bell said...

Love this excerpt and the photos. Can't wait for the whole book!

deb said...

I am hooked... I feel that bar, how it isn't trendy, but I know my husband and I would drink the beer and walls and the grime , into us. Awesome.