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"I've been here for six years—since I was 20—paying my rent this way," Steve says nonchalantly. "There have been times when we've gotten 700 people in here on a Saturday night—every space packed with humanity, an absolute circus, complete madness. Once a few years ago, when everyone still wore leather and mohawks, I saw a girl give head to some guy right in that hallway, surrounded by talking, drinking people. Those were still the original hard-core punk days.Steve has ethics. He waives the $3 cover charge for a woman who flashes him her boobs after she shows him her valid drivers license, but he refuses admission to a paying customer whose ID has obviously been tampered with. He also accepts offerings of food.
"There used to be risers in front of the DJ booth. Once I saw a couple do it right on the third riser, in front of everyone. In those days people would fix in the toilets. We'd have to break up girl orgies in the ladies' john. Of course, all that has changed now."
A muscular young man in a T-shirt and army boots approaches the door, smiling at the sight of Steve. He is carrying a foil package. He walks up and unwraps the fat, steaming burrito. "Hey Steve," he says. "Just the way you like it: a nice big chicken one."As the night goes on, Steve amasses a fairly complete buffet that includes pizza, salads, and Gatorade. He sets the offerings on a table in front and offers to share with selected guests, including a friendly police officer who stops by to deliver an item that had been stolen from one of the club's waitresses and then recovered. (She declines.)
"Thanks, man," Steve says, and tears off a huge bite. "People always bring me lots of free food," he says. "It's kind of an Exit tradition."
Back inside there's a mixed crowd of black and white men and women—lots of students, punk rockers, and yuppies. A young man with a huge fin of bleached blond hair stands on the edge of the sunken dance floor, bobbing his head with the music. Next to him a couple straight from the Mercantile Exchange sip mixed drinks.Exit is still around, but it's moved down the street closer to the expressway and not too far from the proposed Lincoln Yards development. A city is an organic thing—it doesn't quite fit the biological definition of "alive," but it's always in a state of flux, almost of its own volition. Sometimes you want it to hold still for a minute, just so you can appreciate how perfect it can be. Instead you have to rely on old newspaper articles.
The black brick walls around the dance room are covered with paintings of Reagan, Gorbachev, and nuclear explosions. Multicolored lights shoot across the dance floor; the perimeter sinks away in darkness. Plastic mummies hang horizontally above the sweating crowd of dancers. A white screen that's been pulled down from the ceiling serves as the rear border to the dance floor; Female Trouble pops across it, accompanied in turns by the Ramones, U2, and Iggy Pop.
Occasionally a particularly hard-driving song inspires the dancers to slam. Big young men take heavy, skipping strides across the floor, scattering the timid. Two lumbering bodies collide, and their sweat bursts in arrested motion under the strobe lights. There seems to be camaraderie and affection among the slam dancers, even at their most ferocious.