At 11:40 on Friday and Saturday nights, Carl Rollinghoff stands on the stage looking over the wooden dance floor at The Bayou. From the crowd, he picks seven or eight couples who look like they know what they're doing, and the dance contest begins.
Rollinghoff is one of the people who work through the weekend, helping the good times roll for the crowd that frequents the Georgetown bars and clubs. But it's not all work for him, either. On the job, he gets to hear a lot of rock and meet entertainers, and after all, he hangs out in Georgetown every night.
For the dance contest, Rollinghoff, as emcee, lines up the finalists on the stage and teases them a little. If the lineup doesn't understand his instructions, he says, "Oh, we've got college students here tonight." Or if a woman contestant is wearing stretchpants, he can't resist saying something like, "Looks like she poured herself into them."
"It's all in fun," says Rollinghoff, whose method of judging is to hold his hand over the contestants as the audience claps its choice. "It's not how well they dance. It's how the crowd feels about them. Or it's a matter of how many friends they have on the dance floor.
"One guy in the Army is a regular; every time he dances, he dances with a different girl, but he always wins," says Rollinghoff.
"Sometimes I pick an older couple. People in their 50s come out, relatives of the band. They usually win. The audience seems to really get into the idea," he says, though the crowd's age ranges generally from 18 to 35. The winner is awarded a bottle of champagne.
Rollinghoff knows the ways of contests. A couple of years ago, when he used to hang around the Crazy Horse on M Street, he served as water- pourer for the wet-T-shirt contest. That's how he met his girlfriend: "She was the only one who didn't take her jeans off. She didn't win, of course," he says, adding that everyone had to wear underwear.
"It's a pretty easy job," says Rollinghoff, about being assistant manager at The Bayou, "but I have to put up with a lot of abuse. I get a lot of nuts. I get notes from them, why didn't I pick them? Sometimes I pick the same couples every week because not that many people want to do it." Lighter forms of harassment are his nicknames: for the dance contest he's "Captain Carl, the working girl's favorite." Another is "The Wrench," derived from his additional duties as handyman. He's the one who carpentered the little shelves for resting drinks on while playing Jungle Lord; he also built the game room and tiled the foyer.
At The Bayou, he says, there are three kinds of customers: "There's the type that comes here just for the band; people that come in here for a good time, to dance and to meet people; and then you get some people who want to meet someone and go home with them. It's a little bit of a pickup spot. You see some people every week with a different person."
On weeknights, to draw people downtown, The Bayou holds concerts. "I meet just about everybody who comes in here," says Rollinghoff. "Gary U.S. Bonds is one of the most sociable people to talk to. Same thing with Bruce Springsteen: he had all these security guys here, he goes over and sits down and talks to somebody. I guess they need to unwind, to release tension. Some are snotty, I won't mention any names. But most of the groups get along with everybody around here."
Yet when Rollinghoff has a day off, he doesn't listen to music. "I'll have the radio on just to have it on. I hear enough music down here," he says.
When he isn't scheduled to work, he sometimes just sleeps the day away. "If I get off at 4 in the morning, if I don't have anything to do, I'll sleep from when I get home until 8 that night. Then I wake up and wonder where I am."
Or he'll hop on his Honda 400. "When you're on a motorcycle you are more aware of things around you than you are in a car," he says. "You just notice more. It's very impressive to get out, feel the wind against your body and cruise, right out to the mountains. It's cool out there; you come back shivering. I enjoy riding around and looking to see what's out on the road. I'll see a junkyard I've never seen before and go in and see what they got."
A former auto mechanic, Rollinghoff loves working on cars -- especially on his baby, a custom van: "Monday I put a gas tank in it. Tuesday I put seats in it. It's a Brubaker Sports Van; they only made 34 of them, I understand. I have fun trying to find parts for it." One weekend he didn't have anything better to do, so he just pulled the back end off and started rewiring.
Affectionately named "the moon mobile," the odd-looking van turns a few heads. "When I first got it," says Rollinghoff, "people followed me into gas stations just to see what it was."
The low-slung van with the single door on the passenger's side and backseat like a loveseat is never perfect, though it glistens, in the lights in front of The Bayou, with a shimmering finish of gold metal flake. "I don't like it," says Rollinghoff. "I'm going to have it done in bronze."