During the day, Braza Dancante Brazilian Steakhouse is a pleasant enough place. It’s in the middle of a massive outdoor shopping center right off the highway in Allen. Nice suburban couples, families celebrating birthdays, and business travelers out on expense accounts can consume copious amounts of meat from a variety of animals and drink wines from all over the world. Candles flicker. The waitstaff is attentive.
All that changes at 9:30 pm.
Tablecloths come off, and the tables go up against the walls. The lights go down. Relaxing music is replaced with thumping rap played at three times the volume. A go-go dancer appears on a platform near the door. Outside on the patio, there are a handful of fire pits and a dozen or so torches that burn bright into the night. Soon, they’re surrounded by young people smoking cigarettes and downing $2 domestics and $3 Crown and Cokes.
The crowd is white, mostly male, and under the age of 26. There are flip-flops, tank tops, and ball caps worn. Most of the people here are relatively recent college grads who have moved back to the suburbs as they try to figure out how to navigate adulthood. At a glance, this could look like some suburban den of iniquity: young people smoking, drinking; women twerking by the flickering fires. There’s even a beer pong tournament every Wednesday with a $300 to $400 cash prize.
That’s why Tim Carey and Jim Jewison are here tonight. Known to most regulars by their beer pong team name, The Antagonists, Carey and Jewison have been coming every Wednesday for months. They’ve won this tournament five times, including three weeks in a row at one point. They both have day jobs, but recently they’ve been able to pay their bills with their beer pong winnings.
Carey and Jewison logged countless hours over beer pong tables in college. Now, they look forward to this night all week: the people, the drinks, those intense moments of competition when pure joy or utter disappointment is determined by the bounce of a ping-pong ball.
“Win or lose, this is the best night of the week,” Carey says. He has to be at work at 7 am on Thursdays, which means getting up at what now seems like an unthinkable hour. He sighs.
“One time I woke up and I wasn’t even sure what happened the night before,” says Jewison, who opens up a bit the more he drinks. “I just looked down and saw all this money, and I was like, man, that must’ve been a good night.”
In the commercial development around the restaurant, there are several furniture stores, pet stores, clothing stores, toy stores, and at least five spas or beauty-supply stores. But by 10 pm, nearly everything is closed and the giant landscaped parking lots are eerily empty—part of life back in the suburbs.
Carey grew up in a place that looked a lot like this, and Jewison grew up a few miles away, in Plano. There are tall fences, unnaturally green lawns, golf courses galore. At the end of every exit, there are chain restaurants and big-box stores. Even during the recession, this area continued to sprawl. Last year, Allen finished a high school football stadium that cost more than $60 million. (And the team rewarded the taxpayers with a state championship.) It’s clean. It’s safe. It’s where families move when they want good schools. And, of course, to someone under the age of 30, that means it’s also boring. It’s where they start to become their parents, which they put off for as long as possible. Young people need an outlet.
So they come here, and, for a few minutes, as they drink and play, it feels like old times, that time before insurance premiums and cellphone bills and Social Security tax.
On this night, The Antagonists make a run to the quarterfinals. Carey and Jewison take on two guys with backward ball caps and shaggy hair. The Antagonists start slow this time, knocking out only one cup before their opponents get to five. And twice their opponents have a ball bounce up and back into the cup. Soon, The Antagonists have five cups left to hit, and their opponents have only one.
Within a minute or two, they’re out. That fast. Another Wednesday gone, another winless week. This means they’ll probably have to pay rent with their regular jobs this month.
“Next week,” Carey says.
In a week, they will make it back to the semifinals but lose again. In two weeks, they’ll finally win again, and they’ll learn that the prize will be going up to $500 soon. Sometimes, you wake up a winner. Sometimes, you just wake up.