The Language of
THE NAME OUT FRONT SAID " PIONEER CLUB." A DARK AND DINGY BAR NEAR the end of Arvin's commercial strip, it was a place respectable residents made a point of avoiding. The clientele was mostly male, mostly farm- workers. Its unsavory reputation was probably deserved. Drinking was not the only activity the premises condoned. Men went there to play pool, gamble at cards, flirt with the handful of women present, and, with some frequency, to fight.
Every San Joaquin Valley town had its Pioneer Club by the end of the 1930s, though sometimes one had to scout the lonely outskirts to find it. There the flip side of the Okie population congregated: daring women, single men, married men with a taste for liquor and independence. Saturday nights might be a bit different. If the place was big enough a band would be playing and couples dancing. Women and married couples then felt more comfortable. The very serious Christians saw no distinction, but others might sin a little on dancing nights.
Like the evangelical churches, these drinking establishments advertised their association with the Okie population through sometimes subtle cultural clues. No sign at the door said Southwesterners only (though "whites only" would have been typical); the place signaled its socio-cultural allegiance in the rude decor, often a Western name (or one like the "Texhoma Club"), and a jukebox filled with hillbilly hits. Not that the clientele was