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Salvia and psychonauts at Eagles Drift In

Before you set foot in Eagles Drift In, you have to reconcile yourself with the name. What does it mean? You'd expect the sign to read "Eagles Drift Inn," for one thing. At least then you would only have to figure out what a "drift" was, in relation to eagles. Does it refer to the waft of air that their flight creates? Does it allude to the one-time decline of the bald eagle's numbers? To me it just brings to mind a bird fart. But no, they have called the place "Eagles Drift In." It's a sentence, with a subject, verb, and preposition. It seemingly refers to the idea that eagles that happen to be passing through town often dip into the bar to wet their beaks. "Oh, yeah," the old barkeep would say (to whom, for the sake of dramatic effect, I'd like to give a Chicago accent). "We get some eagles in here from time to time. Can't say they are the best tippers, but they seem to like to play Skynyrd on the jukebox."

Perhaps the name is an allusion to "Fools Rush In." An eagle would be the opposite, symbolically, of a fool, and would probably be cool and confident enough to drift into a situation rather than barrel into it too quickly.

Whatever the meaning of its name, the place is awesome, because it has caused me to take pause, to think things out. I even ended up questioning my existence there, but that had more to do with my company than the sign over the door.

Inside the establishment, Eagles Drift In is all mirrored beer signs and real honeyed-wood paneling, with a whole area devoted to bar games like darts and pool. There are, of course, images of eagles enveloping the bartender in a rainbow of majesty and patriotic splendor, especially around the liquor display. This just might be my favorite dive bar in the city. The jukebox is 99 percent classic rock, with one Pixies record — their crappiest one, IMHO — thrown in for some reason.

On the bar sat a crumpled front page of the Chron, and around the Chron sat an array of crumpled customers, who were discussing an article on the front page of the paper. The piece was about the hallucinogenic properties of the plant salvia. Apparently this shit is legal and easy to get, and when smoked, is like being hit by a freight train. The effects are sharp and quick, and frequent users describe intense visuals and trips to fantastical lands. "I was on a hillside with tiny little hobbit houses," said one guy. "I was a hair on the arm of a giant clown," said another. Dang, everyone had done this stuff but me. Even the bartender had taken it. "It was terrifying," she told me. "I was running, and right behind me was a huge wave trying to engulf me the entire time." Gads.

"Once you take it, you realize that you have been to that place before," said Ray, who, according to the bartender, had single-handedly turned half of the city onto the stuff. "You are returning to something, not visiting some place anew." Ray reminded me of Billy Bob Thornton in a Peter Tosh T-shirt. He was a seasoned psychonaut who had read every book written on the subject of hallucinogens. He happily listed off a series of titles that I should check out. Basically, from what he was saying, salvia seems to have the same effect as a near-death experience, with a feeling of familiarity and understanding. Like most psychonauts, Ray was very open to discussing drug trips as portals for the true meaning of life. We talked about DNA, and molecules, and the mind/body problem, and whether or not your spirit really travels to new places when you take the plant, or if it's all a chemical reaction. But maybe chemical reactions are travels. The conversation ended the way they always do, with the two of us shrugging our shoulders and saying, "I dunno. We will never know."

I cited the first Deep Thought I ever had when I was a kid. I remember sitting in a tree and having a profound discussion with the French kid who had just moved in down the street. He couldn't understand a word I said, but hey, I had a captive audience. Anyway, I said to him, "What if you woke up one day and you were in Kmart, and you don't know how you got there, or why you were there, or where you were going after that? You would freak out. You would totally freak out. But you know what, Phillipe? That is what it is like to exist as we do. We live in that Kmart every day. We don't know where we were before we were born and we don't know what will happen when we die and we don't know why we are here."

"TV?" Phillipe said in his heavy French accent. His parents wouldn't let him watch TV, so all he ever wanted to do when he was with me was come over and watch TV. Sigh.

Back at the Drift, Nick, who had been talking about his myriad bad experiences with salvia, went over to the jukebox and played "Who Are You" by the Who. I was so caught up in existential thought that I didn't even think of CSI when I heard it.

Since we had been so heavily into conversations about meaning, I brought up the name of the bar. Just as with human existence, no one really knew its exact origins, and there were many theories. "Have you stood across the street and looked at the bar?" said Ray with a gleam in his eyes. Nick stood behind him, nodding knowingly. "It used to be a church. You can tell."

"Or a school," added Nick. The gist I got was that Eagles Drift In was sacred ground of some sort. We were all there, chatting together, in God's little acre of MGD and Santana. I felt moved, and decided to play my favorite classic rock songs. I picked "Cortez the Killer" by Neil Young — as a nod to Latin America's love affair with hallucinogenic properties — and "Tuesday's Gone" by Skynyrd.

Ray said he had a bunch of salvia at his place, and the intrepid reporter in me almost asked if I could try it. Almost. But no, I have resigned myself to the safety of Kmart. Aisle nine, row three, next to the back massagers and the raised toilet seats, with, of course, the muzak Eagles playing 24/7.


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