Rick's Gabfest with Gertrude
Written by Rick Archer, March 2006
THE COMEBACK KIDS
Saturday Night Fever Disco Era
1980 - 1984
Urban Cowboy Western Era,
1985 - 1987
201 Nights of Dancing, Tom
1988 - 1997
Studebaker Group, Sharon
Crawford, SSQQ Staff
1998 - 2000
Millennium - The Daryl Armstrong Experience,
Heartbeat, Swing Kids!
LATE NINETIES - SSQQ GETS THE
frowned. "So how did you escape your rut? Or did
"Yes, we escaped, but I can't take much credit for it.
I wasn't getting it done because my days as Leader of the
Pack were over. I was married. If there is one
thing the reader of the Matchmaker Epic has learned from
these stories, it is very difficult for a Married person to
lead the way with a Singles group. Singles and Doubles
simply have different needs, different goals.
'One' is looking for love, 'Two' wants to enjoy the fruits of
finding love. One thinks Saturday
Night is the perfect time to hit the clubs, Two
thinks Saturday Night is dinner and a movie together.
The resurrection came from my Staff. Several people from the SSQQ Staff stepped up and came to
I suppose they just got tired of waiting for me to do
something, so they did it themselves. Among my veteran
Susie Allen and Ben Liles made huge contributions.
From my newly-hired set of instructors came wicked Gillian Tilbury, vivacious
They all had one huge advantage on me - they were
Plus there was some other guy who helped a little. Hmm. Can't remember his name.
Oh yeah. Him.
If I am the
Matchmaker, then Daryl
the Troublemaker. In a fun way, of
course. Daryl had the ability to bring out the
insanity in people. Take a quick look at Daryl's
friends for instant proof.
Enter the Insanity Zone - The Daryl Armstrong Experience
Rocky as Wild and Crazy Guy
Rocky and Laura as Scarlet Women
Rocky as Chupacabra
Rachel Seff as Elvis
The Wicked Monicas - Gillian and Joanne
More Wicked Women - Leather and Lace!
"So who is Daryl
Armstrong is an SSQQ teacher who would give
Tom Easley, the
Look-a-Like ringleader from the Eighties, a serious run for the money in the
inspired lunacy dept.
Daryl began to collect an entire band of crazies to help him cause
trouble and raise hell wherever they went. I named the group
Joanne White (Daryl's girlfriend and eventual wife), Gillian Tilbury, Rocky Kneten, Laura Wilde,
Verladyne Arbaugh, and Rachel Seff were all just as nuts as Daryl. Maybe
Daryl got his Margarita Tours going. Daryl would
rent a bus, then take a group of 50 or so hedonists to
various bars and dives that he had discovered around town
for a night of drinking and bonding. Then he would
drop them off at the doorstep of some Western Club - usually
drunk out of their minds - and let them dance it off.
They could barely walk or stand up, but for some reason they
could dance. Go figure.
Masochists and fools from every walk of life would line up to take the
drinking tour. Please note in the pictures below,
these idiots were dancing on top of the bar. They
could have fallen and gotten badly hurt. I guess it
didn't matter. They were so drunk they wouldn't have felt a
What a bunch of morons! Hmm. Is that me standing up there?
Before I even met Daryl, I had been curious about
him for a long time. You see, I had been listening to press releases about him for ten
years before I met him. Plus I drove his car
for five years. Here is how it started.
One day in 1986 I saw the picture of a hot-looking
used car for sale on the bulletin board at my studio.
I called the number and found that Daryl's mother Betty was selling it.
I knew Betty because she had
been in several classes I had taught. I asked
her about the car during class. Betty invited me to
drive over to her house in Meyerland to check out
the car. I fell in love with the car at first
sight! So I asked why such a great car
Daryl had just moved to Hawaii and didn't need it any
more. Hmm. I figured she was dying to
get rid of it so I offered to buy the car on the spot if
she would just come down a few hundred dollars. Betty didn't budge an inch. I bought the car anyway.
I got over my defeat fast - I loved that car!
It is still my favorite car ever.
Even though Betty had handled me like putty, she and I
became good friends after that. I respected her so much!
Every time I saw her, we would have a chat. Over the next ten years, she would tell me about the
clever things her son was doing in Hawaii like
So when Daryl moved back to Houston ponytail,
earring and all
in the mid-90s (very avant garde for those days), I was already curious about him.
Little did I know what a madman he was!! Betty
had not warned me that her son was not normal.
That was definitely a good move on her part.
It was better that I didn't know.
One day Betty brought Daryl over to the studio for classes.
The moment Daryl found out I liked his car, I was
his amigo. He had loved that car too! It broke
his heart that he had to sell it when he moved to
Back in Hawaii, Daryl had been the
toast of the Islands.
Daryl quickly realized SSQQ was the perfect place to
import the same chaos that he had been creating in
Hawaii. Once I saw him in action, I speculated that he was thrown off the island
and told not to come back.
Other times I would worry he was simply released from prison
somewhere. Or more likely a mental institution.
I couldn't decide.
Immediately Daryl went to work at causing trouble.
He was so
charismatic that his ideas became almost instant
hits. Once a year Daryl
Joanne with help from the "Experience Gang" would throw a huge, wildly popular 'Tattoo,
Leather, and Lace' Party at Rocky's photography studio or
wherever they could find a good venue. This group far
out-sleazied my sleaziest Sleazy Bar Party.
so jealous! What did Daryl have that I didn't
have? He was turning the studio into a
First I couldn't outwit his
mother. Now her son threatened to steal my entire
studio and Pied Piper my students off to a bar
somewhere and drink them to death. The moment
I realized how much sharper he was than me, I made a quick
move to hire him. Good move!
Daryl swiftly proved
to be just creative at teaching
western classes. He introduced name tags, Altoids, and Hawaiian shirts to his classes.
He had theme nights with ties, crazy hats,
sunglasses, and red underwear. The red underwear
nights were my favorite. The size of
his classes grew and grew. I could not
help but notice his classes were bigger than mine due
to his marvelous sense of humor.
But Daryl saved his cruelest joke for me. I
would hear his classes roaring with laughter and go
see what the heck was going on. His classes
would bow to me and chant 'Om', the Hindu mantra of
reverence for the Master. It turned out the
reason the classes were laughing is he would tell
jokes about me. The laughter
would of course draw me to his room with curiosity.
Then he would have his class start that 'Om' crap to
get me to leave the room. Daryl knew I couldn't
stand listening to it.
So here was the picture. Daryl couldn't dance a lick, but his
classes were bigger than mine. He told
jokes about me behind my back. I could
see for a fact
that Daryl was more talented than I am.
It was a complete mystery to me why he
worked for me when it seemed to me he had
more ability than I did. I am only
half-teasing when I say I worried he would
open his own studio and take all my
students. All I could say was Thank
goodness he had a day job.
The fact was, Daryl was a genius at creating
energy. I have been in complete awe
of the man for fourteen years.
One day in 1998 Daryl
announced that he and Joanne had gotten engaged.
All the girls sighed - the Hawaiian Hunk was off the
market for good. But the girls were good
sports about it - they liked Joanne so much that they were
happy for her.
I asked Daryl for some details on the engagement.
He laughed. He said he was really worried that
Joanne would say no. He had been a Party Boy
for so long that she wondered if he could ever
Daryl was so worried about rejection he devised a
plan. On a trip to Colorado, Daryl took Joanne
on a hike deep into the woods. Then when he
figured she was more or less lost, he sat her on a
rock, got down on one knee, and proposed.
I smiled. "Gosh, Daryl, that was really romantic.
What helped you get your confidence up?"
"Well, as I expected, Joanne actually didn't say
'yes' right off the bat. She smiled and said
she was definitely interested, but had a few
concerns to cover. I felt like she needed
encouragement to make up her mind faster. So I
told her if she wouldn't say yes, I was going to
abandon her in the woods and let a bear eat her.
That's when he said she would love to marry me."
Daryl and Joanne were married in October 1998.
Fortunately marriage didn't slow him down a bit.
He went right back to his shenanigans.
Armstrong Experience saved
their best efforts for the SSQQ Halloween
Party. Daryl's friends loved Halloween! It was
the perfect forum for their inspired madness. Rocky
Kneten would win Best Costume practically every
year with some of the most creative outfits imaginable.
That 'Chupacabra' outfit was equal parts brilliant
and bizarre. The same year, Daryl and Joanne were hysterical as Austin Powers
and Friend. But for sheer audacity, nothing will ever top Gillian and
Joanne's 1998 send-off on Monica Lewinsky.
I loved Joanne's kneepads. Such a clever accessory.
SSQQ finally had a new Leader of the Pack
although 'Leader of the Asylum' might be more
accurate. Daryl's wild and crazy friends
were totally nuts.
Another name needs mentioning - Ruth Ann Manison.
She was one of the first people to take advantage of a
brand-new technology known as e-mail. Ruth Ann worked
endlessly collecting emails and used her list to promote
I smiled. I hadn't seen
The Daryl Armstrong Experience
since the Tom Easley Look-a-Like years. Ruth Ann's
email list reminded me of Jann Fonteno and her
SSQQ Hotline back in the Eighties. It looked
like a clear case of Reincarnation to me.
The technologies had
changed, but the inspiration was the same. One madman
plans the activities and finds a clever crony to publicize them.
History seemed to be repeating itself at SSQQ, but
in a very good way.
Thanks to Daryl and Friends, the place was hopping
DISCO INFERNO -
MORE HELP WITH THE COMEBACK
you describe it, it sounds
got the studio going again all by himself."
You would think
so, but Daryl didn't do it by himself. Although Daryl
was clearly the headliner, he was hardly alone in his
As we began to
approach the end of the Millennium, the studio was receiving help
from many sources. SSQQ was well on its way to a
Ben and Diana Liles
1. An SSQQ instructor named
Chris O'Rourke organized New Year's hot tub parties
that were very well attended by the newly-created In-Crowd
of the day. Plus he enjoyed prancing out on the floor practically naked at the Halloween parties.
Ben Liles contributed by organizing weekly Tuesday
visits to the Longhorn Saloon that became extremely popular.
For the first time in many years, a western event similar to the old Winchester Club became a
weekly happening. Western crowds flocked to the
Longhorn as Ben promoted the event in his class. This
was the start to a tradition that is still with us
today at the Wild West on Tuesdays.
Rachel Seff filled all sorts of roles. She was
best friends with Daryl and Joanne and constantly helped
promote their latest adventures. Rachel became Matchmaker-extraordinaire at the
Longhorn Saloon. Rachel also loved the Margarita
Trips. She spent the whole time matchmaking while everyone
was too drunk to know any better. The next morning two
people would wake up and discover they were married.
Meanwhile Rachel, who had the sense not to drink, would have
married off another couple. By the way, I am only
Story of Heartbeat, SSQQ's Performing Dance Team
Susie Allen Merrill
is pictured at right with husband Bill). Susie
made an enormous
contribution when she organized a western dance team known as
her team in 1997. She recruited the people on this team primarily
from the ranks of talented SSQQ Western dancers.
The whole adventure started off as fun. They
were going to do exhibitions.
The team was good from the start. For example,
whenever they performed at the studio (see picture
below), the SSQQ crowd absolutely adored watching
them. In turn, the dancers enjoyed the
applause and became determined to get even better.
Bill Merrill and Susie Allen Merrill
Diana Liles, Jill Banta and Marty
Shea, Tony and Karen
Catalano, plus Janet Meyer and Martin Anderson
of the team became a very close knit group.
together, their routines became
more sophisticated and well-executed. they
realized how good they were getting.
They entered a few dance competitions and performed
well. That's when they decided to train
hard and go for a World Championship.
I am to
report the team won a
World Dance Championship before disbanding in 2003.
Not only did this group form a powerful 'In-Crowd' of their
own, they provided leadership and energy to the studio that
was absolutely invaluable. The studio would follow them
everywhere to see them perform. Heartbeat gave a huge
shot in the arm to our Western program.
addition, the Heartbeat team was quite a marriage
factory. There were six marriages that
developed out of this group - Ben and
Diana Liles, Janet and Ray Meyer, Tony and Karen
Catalano, Ann and Brian White,
Andrew and Candi Gordon,
plus Victor and Christine
I am very certain Susie was just as proud of
creating an entire family of friends as she was of her
team's world championship!
Swinging Skirts and Mugz
Nineties were marked by a revival of interest in
Swing Dancing. Judy Archer organized a marvelous dance
team known as the 'Swingin' Skirts and Mugz'.
talented Swing dancers put on some fantastic dance
exhibitions at our
thrilled everyone. My goodness these people could
Their leadership gave the emerging
SSQQ Swing dancers a core group to bond around.
Several nights a week at the legendary Orchid Lounge,
Maureen and the Swing Team held court to hundreds of SSQQ
Swing students. These modern-day Swing Kids had the
best times of their lives dancing and breathing Swing 24/7.
So there you have it - there were
all kinds of dramatic things happening here at SSQQ in the latter
part of the Nineties - the Daryl Armstrong
Experience, Susie's Heartbeat, Judy's Swing Team,
plus the contributions from instructors like Ben Liles,
Chris O'Rourke, and Rachel Seff. This was a
very dynamic time for the studio."
1998 - The Swinging
Skirts and Mugz
2003 - The World
1999 - The Daryl Armstrong
The First SSQQ Cruise
Daryl Armstrong Experience, Swing Kids... I didn't see your
name up there. What did you do,
Rick? Did you contribute at all?"
it or not, I actually did help a little. Mostly I just took credit for everything,
but one contribution I made was to organize the very first studio cruise
I had learned back in the Eighties
that Group Trips were a marvelous way to build deeper bonds within
our community. The best example of this was Sharon Crawford's
terrific Bahamas trip in 1988.
For my part, I organized several ski trips back in the Eighties. But one year I lost a lot of money trying to
organize a ski trip. Back in those days, to make the
ski trip work, I had to purchase all the airplane tickets in
advance, then add in the names as people joined my trip. One
year (1987?) Rocky Mountains Airlines went bankrupt. Poof!
There went my air space and my money too.
The trip was ruined and I was
out $3,000. The stupid thing was I wasn't going to
make a dime anyway. I was just doing it as a favor to
my ski friends at the studio. I was so bitter I
decided to let someone else do the ski trips from that point on.
Just as well; he did them better.
like getting burned on that ski trip. It soured me on doing
trips. As a result, for the next ten years, I didn't lift
another finger to organize a trip.
1996, I met a guy at the studio named Steve Frolich who invited
me to join some guys for Saturday morning basketball.
I had not played basketball seriously in fifteen years, but
was thrilled to begin playing again. Saturday morning B-Ball quickly
became the highlight of the week for me.
One of the players was a guy man named Alan Fox. By
coincidence, Alan was the owner of Vacations to Go, a
agency. When we met, neither of us had any idea that
his travel business would expand dramatically just around the
believe Alan originally worked for Continental Airlines.
Then Alan left Continental to form his own travel agency
here in Houston.
Alan was a bright guy and a hard worker. He also saw an
opening before anyone else - the Internet - and took
complete advantage of it.
The Internet played a big role in helping SSQQ expand, but
Alan took things to a much greater level.
Alan got on board
with the Internet and Online E-Commerce just as it broke
open in 1998. Now people could book cruises by
going to Alan's travel web site.
Alan was way way way ahead of the curve.
He was offering cruise bookings on the Internet at least
three or four years ahead of everyone else. Mind you, by
investing so heavily in the software programming, Alan was
taking a big gamble. But the gamble paid off.
Internet transactions we take for granted today were
pioneered by Alan. He used
the Internet to get an edge on more established travel agencies that were
as quick to take advantage of the new technology.
Vacations to Go caught the
breaking E-Wave just right and
surfed its way to become a mega-travel agency. Today
has an enormous presence on the Internet. It has
become on the biggest travel agencies in the world. Alan is so
busy that he doesn't even do the day-to-day any more.
Instead he is constantly traveling the world to check out
new places to visit and new cruise lines. Tough job!
Fortunately back in 1998 Alan wasn't so busy that he ignored
simple opportunities like recommending that my dance studio try a
cruise trip. Alan suggested SSQQ
could benefit from taking a cruise. He would let one
of his agents organize it for me. I wouldn't have to do
much at all other than help publicize the event. I thought it over. Maybe
it was time to try something new. So I okayed the
As you will soon see, I
made a lot of discoveries on this trip.
The first thing I discovered was just
how popular dancing is on cruise trips. Nearly
everyone came out for the dancing.
Another thing I discovered is how
popular games are on the cruises.
We had some brutal
Trivial Pursuits matches.
One thing I really enjoyed about this
trip was how much fun it was
to make stuff up. Here Mr. Crocodile chases my daughter!
Did I tell you Marty saw mermaids on
It happened one day during Marty's all-day wino binge...
SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance followed
us on this trip.
Here engaged couple Renee and BJ take a river boat tour.
Tony and Susan made a decision to get
married on this trip.
They told me about it a few weeks after the trip was
Slow Dance and Romance was indeed
Virginia and Gareld McEathron met at the studio
one year earlier
and had recently gotten married.
I had a blast with the Lip Sync show
on the trip.
Joanne Spuck turned out
to be a fabulous actress.
I am serious about that!
Joanne stole the show.
Marty Shea was a big part of the
studio until he had to
to pursue his career in medicine in the DC
Another SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance
Dave and Allison. They got married in 2000.
"What did you learn from
the Cruise experience?"
back to Houston very depressed. I was absolutely appalled by
the level of poverty I had seen in Jamaica and the rampant begging.
I also had a bizarre experience with a Jamaican stowaway that left
me very shaken.
Personally, I didn't have that great a
time on the trip because a side of me ached for those days when I
was closer to my students. This trip made me realize just how
far I had
grown from my own dance students.
I barely even knew the names of the people on the trip.
I suppose this trip made me realize just how lonely I was. In
retrospect, I guess this trip was the moment when I realized just how shaky my marriage had become.
wasn't all bad. The 30 people on the trip became very close to
one another. They made close friends with people they
previously had not known. It was just like the good old days
when our crazy adventures led to all kinds of friendships.
saw the first inklings of how powerful the SSQQ Slow Dance and
Romance Magic was at sea.
One couple that had met at SSQQ and had married the year before,
Virginia and Gerald McEathron, came with us. Another couple
that had met at SSQQ and were engaged at the time, Renee Risinger
and BJ Downs, came aboard. Shortly after the trip was over,
another couple named Tony and Susan told me in class one night they
had secretly gotten engaged on the trip. Sorry to say, in
another case of flying under the radar, I never wrote down their
last names or went back and added their story to the original cruise
writeup. The only reason I remembered the incident at all is
because I briefly revisited the pictures of the trip to help write
this article. It crushes me to realize just how many Romance
stories I have missed out on!
During the trip a fourth couple, Dave Mammone and Alison Terzakis,
grew much closer. They decided to get married in
2000. Not long ago Alison sent me a picture of their
It seemed significant
that four different couples became distinctly closer thanks
to this trip. Was it coincidence or did it mean
something? Maybe there really was something to this
I learned several other things from the trip.
First, I learned how much I missed being closer to the
people of my
own dance studio. It was the first time I had actually
spent any time with anyone other than my wife and daughter
in many years.
Second, I learned how crazy people get on cruises. Marty
Shea and Marla Jennings were drunk from sun up to sun down
one day. They would have fit right in with some of our
modern cruise group. Where's the hot tub?"
"Were there any
should ask. I consider this trip to be the
start of my writing career.
I had not done any serious writing in years.
Mostly just publicity stuff for the studio.
Now that the
SSQQ web site had just come on line, it made perfect
sense to publish the pictures I had taken from the trip.
That was a good start, but it was obvious I should
write stories about what had happened to go with the
So I started writing. I quickly
discovered how much fun it was to write about the
The problem was, I didn't know much about web design.
led to an interesting problem - I had more pictures than I
had things to say. First I would insert a picture into a
table, then I would try to write stuff next to the picture.
I realized there was a lot of empty space next to those
pictures. That really bugged me.
a lot more pictures than I did stories. I was
literally at a loss for words. I stared at the
computer trying to figure out what to do about all
the empty space on the screen.
Since I was
new to this web stuff, I didn't know how to
redesign the tables so the text would fit the
space created by the pictures. As a result, there were huge
gaping holes between where one story ended and the
next story began.
One day I got so frustrated trying to match text
to pictures, I decided to make stuff up.
That's right... I just made stuff up! Now if I
didn't have a good real story to fit my pictures, I
would visit a fantasy world in order to fill up space.
how I discovered how much fun it was to make stuff
I realized it was a lot more fun to write cruise
stories when I didn't feel obligated to stick to the
Now that I was free to imagine, I wrote fantasy stories about
spotting mermaids, hurricanes, and pirate attacks.
A couple people from the trip commented they didn't
recall those mermaids or that hurricane or that
attack by the pirates quite as vividly as I did, but
they were very glad I had brought these curious events to their
attention in the cruise write-up. Otherwise they
would have had no idea what they had missed!!
Oh, by the way, did you know our cruise ship crashed into the
dock when we visited Cozumel? It was horrible! Gee whiz, we were
"So how would you sum up the Nineties, Rick?"
Nineties had not started well at SSQQ due to
some serious burn-out on my part.
Starting in 1990, the energy had slowly but
surely begun to fade. By the middle of
the decade, the studio had one year -1995 -
where we lost a lot of money and we were in danger of going out of
business. That was the year we
finished with $300 in the bank.
Thank goodness 1996 was a much better year.
That's when Daryl came along. Susie
and Judy started their respective dance
teams in 1997. Now the energy began to
pick up again. SSQQ
had Heartbeat, the Daryl Armstrong Experience,
and the Swing Kids operating parallel to one
another at the same time. These three groups got SSQQ rocking
and rolling just as hard as it ever did back in the Eighties.
What a gifted bunch of people.
And my positive experience with writing for
the 1998 Cruise helped me discover how much
I enjoyed writing. I finished up the
Nineties writing stories about the studio
that published the activities of the studio
and the three energy groups. Without
actually being conscious of what I was doing, I was learning
how to use the Internet to promote my
The Millennium Comeback was complete. SSQQ wasn't
SSQQ hit the Millennium on fire!!
SSQQ finished up the
Nineties with more energy and students than
ever before in its history."