Night Clubs in Amarillo TX

He Who Casts the First Stone

Photo by Matt Wright-Steel

A little over a year ago, Amarillo’s swingers geared up for their New Year’s Eve party at Route 66 Party and Event Rental, a downtown business owned by a prominent couple, Mac and Monica Mead. Few in this conservative, church-heavy city knew about the weekend parties, and the swingers liked it that way. “Everybody in the lifestyle has to be very, very discreet, ” says Mac, a leather-skinned truck driver with a shaved head, piercing blue eyes and an earring.

The Meads enforced strict rules at the members-only club: no drugs, no single men, no audio-visual equipment. Most couples, even ones who had been in “the lifestyle” for years, are on a first-name basis only. The location of the club is (or was) “to be kept strictly private.” So imagine the swingers’ surprise when they arrived at their New Year’s Eve bash to find two dozen protesters, local media in tow, holding signs and singing songs. This was a most unwelcome coming-out party.

Some protesters, mostly young men in their teens and early 20s, wore black hoodies and military fatigues. The men, Amarillo would soon learn, were foot soldiers of, a new, militant evangelical group that advertises itself as “the Special Forces of spiritual warfare.” Their leader, , a security guard at nuclear-bomb facility Pantex who moonlights as a pastor, explained the action. “We’re here to shine the light on this darkness, ” Grisham told the Amarillo Globe-News. “I don’t think Amarillo knew about this place. This is adultery. This is wrong. There’s no telling how many venereal diseases get spread, how many abortions.” The goal, Grisham says, was not just to save the swingers’ souls, but to shut the club down.

It’s hard for the swingers to drum up powerful allies in Amarillo, where real men worship Jesus at one of the biggest cowboy churches in the world and conservative politics run deeper than the Ogallala Aquifer. Citizens of Amarillo will tell you, with a certain pride, that their city is the biggest little town in Texas. For all the open space, it can seem like the walls are closing in.

For the past year, this Bible Belt city of 200, 000 has been consumed by a between Repent Amarillo and their targets, a list that includes everything from gay bars to liberal churches. For the Route 66 swingers, Grisham’s “special forces” have been a near-constant presence. Jobs have been lost, families estranged, assault charges filed and businesses shuttered. So far, no public official has stood up to defend these businesses, which operate legally. To the contrary, Repent Amarillo has managed to turn the city’s own laws and employees into an effective weapon. Amarillo, it turns out, doesn’t have the stomach to stick up for gays, swingers, strippers or even Unitarians. Absent a peacekeeper, the conflict might end up being settled the old-fashioned way, frontier-style. “This will not end until somebody gets hurt, either us or them, ” one swinger warns.

On a crisp winter night, Mac and Monica Mead lounge at the Route 66 club and recount the strangest year of their lives. The club consists mainly of one room, a clean space with a tiny dance floor and some chairs and tables. Off to one side is a hallway that holds three “playrooms, ” each tackily decorated according to a different theme: Oriental, Egyptian (featuring a wall hanging Mac’s son brought back from a tour in Iraq), and jungle. There is an eyebolt in the ceiling of the Egyptian room. Mac says it’s for one of the more popular attractions, a sex swing. Mac chokes up a bit explaining how the place has been a “home away from home” for many. The swingers are a decidedly working-class bunch: truckers, cabbies, schoolteachers and tow-truck drivers—hard-working couples, mostly married, who, for reasons known only to their libidos, enjoy having sex with each other’s partners. They’re mostly middle-aged and aren’t going to win any beauty pageants.

A large-screen TV, which the Meads occasionally glance at, displays the surveillance camera on the parking lot adjacent to the building. The lot, owned by the mayor’s husband, has been the staging area for most Repent protests. It’s also used by Route 66 patrons. Since the owner hasn’t objected, Repent members can use the space, which puts them in direct contact with swingers and their vehicles. Repent has been at every swinger get-together in the last year—32 times, according to Monica’s tally.

After the New Year’s party, Repent tried to get authorities to shutter the club, first suggesting to local law enforcement that the Meads were running an illegal brothel. When the cops showed no interest (on-premises sex clubs are legal in Texas), the group filed complaints with the fire marshal and the city’s code-enforcement division. As in many cities, Amarillo code enforcement is primarily complaint-driven. While it makes a certain amount of sense to focus on violations being noticed by the public, this case shows how easily the system can be manipulated. The city did find some minor violations, like the lack of separate-sex bathrooms. The club was shut down for five months while the Meads sank $20, 000 into bringing the building up to code.

In June, when the building reopened, Repent Amarillo became an almost-constant presence, shouting through bullhorns, blasting Christian music, haranguing club members, following swingers in vehicles and sticking video cameras into people’s faces. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has been called out twice. Police records show that nearby businesses have called frequently with noise complaints. Repent even showed up on occasion when the Route 66 building was rented out for non-swinger events. “They have been here every time we open our doors, regardless of what kind of functions we have, whether I’m down here doing maintenance, cleaning, whatever, ” Mac says. “They don’t have a life. Well, I guess we are their lives. We’re their blood. At three or four in the morning, we’ll open the door, and there they are. They come waddling out of their vehicles with their cameras.”

At first, the swinger community was mystified by the attention. On the 60-some hours of surveillance footage the Meads have, a swinger can be heard telling a Repent member that the swingers haven’t done anything to bother them.“You’re going to hell, and it bothers me, ” Grisham responds. “What bothers me is you’re going to hell.”

Perhaps the most insidious tactic Repent uses is trying to destroy the reputation of the swingers. In Amarillo, people can be ostracized over a whiff of impropriety. On one tape, Grisham directs followers to get the license-plate numbers in the Route 66 parking lot. “A new couple can be here three or four hours, ” says Mac. “Whenever they leave, the Repent Amarillo group will call them by first and last name, know where they live, know where they work, just within a very few hours.”

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