"You turned down Creed for this shit?": Debate Watch from a dive bar.

As this election reaches an oversaturated frenzy, it sometimes seems like everybody in the country reads Wonkette or the Drudge Report and listens to NPR. But step out of the cubicle, and away from that SoBe debate watch party, and you'll realize that's not true. So while I had plans to watch Biden vs. Palin at yuppie haven Lucky Strike bowling alley, or in a Republican-friendly theater room of a Brickell highrise, at the last minute I decided: I have to find America. Or, for conveniency's sake, the closest thing to it on the barrier island north of Miami Beach, where I live. After all, what's more American than convenience? We invented that shit.

The triple innuendo in the name of On the Rocks Sports Bar are all very apt. One, yes, the dimly-lit tavern on 71st Street off Collins is near the water, and a giant copper lobster and upside-down dinghy hanging from the ceiling fulfill a nautical theme. Two, it serves alcoholic drinks. And three, it's the type of place that seems especially attractive after your woman leaves you or the IRS puts a lien on your Tercel. The place is always humming queasily with a clientele of middle-aged regulars getting hammered after a day of work- or, in some cases, a day of getting hammered.

When me and my girlfriend arrived last night, there was nothing on the big screens except baseball- the last innings of Philadelphia whooping Milwaukee. I asked one of the two bartenders- a tall Alan Alda look-a-like with an Ukrainian accent- if he would be putting on the debate, and he pointed to a small set perched near the ceiling. He would put on the close-captioning, keeping it muted so as to not clash with the Ace of Bass currently blasting from the stereo system. Ah, America.

Alda, it turns out, was a Palin-hater glad to have the excuse to put on the debate, and as it progressed, he gradually pumped up that TV's volume until it drowned out the jukebox on our side of the bar. That split On the Rocks into two camps: the debate-watchers- namely, me, my girlfriend, the bartender, and a rotund moustachioed guy who looked like President Taft- and the rest of the barflies, who slinked as far away from the TV as possible, not pleased to have their Pabst-soaked oasis invaded by these too-familiar morons with flag pins on their lapels. "You turned the music down for this?" said one guy, still toting a a big plastic lunchbox from work, before turning back to his beer and sulking with disgust.

As Palin put on her best Tweety Bird impression, and Biden fought the verbosity that was seeping from his pores, I found myself distracted by less predictable developments around the bar. For instance, the Dodgers-Cubs game that was now on, or the conversation that transpired when a female bartender couldn't fit the hood of her sweatshirt over her head. "You can't get it up?" asked the guy with the lunchbox, helpfully offering a hand over the bar.

"Just like you," she replied.

And On the Rocks hosted a couple of momentous debates of its own. The bar offers three Bud Lights for $5, with the bartenders handing out poker chips representing each beer that you're owed. At one point, it was discovered that one of the drinkers was running some sort of scam with the chips, trying to get more beers than he paid for. This, as one might imagine, caused much commotion. After the drunken scam artist pled his case, and the bartenders conferred like umpires, it was decided that it would be too much trouble to kick him out, and he could stay, as long as he didn't, as the female bartender put it, "fucking do this to me anymore."

Every so often, the anti-debate faction chimed in a few impatient words about the election. "The bottom line is Obama is a better candidate for the country!" bellowed Lunchbox Guy suddenly. This aroused a few seconds of yelling from the other barflies, including- I shit you not- the declaration, "Hogwash!" from somewhere in the crowd.

After the debate ended, I went to use the urinal, but the contentious theme of the night continued, as I was confronted by an apparent foe who engaged me in a war of words- or, actually, really angry mumbling.

He was a big dude in a Nascar hat and a generic basketball jersey over a sweatshirt, who entered the bathroom as I was in mid-stream. He went into the toilet stall beside me, but kept his head poked out. "Buff subuddah table danno," he told me in an ominous tone.

"What?" I replied.

"Pinoshoos fuckin' fuck you bathroom Darfur," it sounded like he said.

I had had more than a few beers myself, and this confrontation presented a mental challenge. I couldn't think of anything clever to say, and besides, I had to tread carefully: this guy was a lot bigger than me. While I had wanted to travel to America, I didn't seek a busted cranium from the journey. So all I managed was: "Okay, buddy," as I zipped up and left the urinal.

"I'm not your buddy," he enunciated, and took over the vacated urinal like a conquered territory.

So who won the debate? Sadly, I must say, the Nascar Hat Guy. That last line destroyed my whole campaign.

-- Gus Garcia-Roberts

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