... a place where no one knows your name.
I go to a place like that.
Every once in a while I just feel like going to a bar. A bar where I can sit atop a stole, drink a beer, eat some wings, and watch the news with subtitles. A place where I can just BE.
Most often, when I go to the bar myself, I go to The Hard Times Café on Route US1. An island in the middle of a parking lot sea, surrounded by strip mall and backed by a bank, the bar isn’t my typical type of haunt. It’s not charming, it’s not classy, it's not shiny, it’s not dark or old or even real. Hard Times is a tiny chain restaurant in an ageing part of Laurel and it isn’t a place I can get a martini. Hard Times has a western theme complete with bullhorns under the TV’s. It’s smoky, kind of dirty, and one of my favorite places.
I can walk into the Hard Times and order myself some wings, a Hop Devil and be happy sitting there alone. More often than not though, alone isn’t a permanent thing. Somehow, someone will say something, and that will usually starts a conversation.
Pubs and bars were created for people to get together and talk. The word Pub itself is short for “Public House.” This is where the Hard Times really shines for me. The patrons are all good, blue-collar working class people. Haven’t met a self important person there, yet they all have a story to tell. They all just want someone to listen.
I like sitting at that bar because I CAN just listen. No one to impress there and almost never am I asked, “what I do,” as if my job defines who I am. No one really cares whom they are talking to; we are all just people looking for a beer. If they want the attention, I’m willing to give it to them. A question here or a comment there is all it takes to encourage a tale or debate.
Edward P. Dowd, from the play Harvey says, people in bars "tell about the big terrible things they have done. The big wonderful things they will do. Their hopes, their regrets, their loves, their hates. All very large because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar.” I like to hear the large things. I like to discuss large ideas.
One of the attributes I love most about alcohol is the instant bond it creates, the brotherhood of booze. Drinkers have drinking in common, and real drinkers embrace that bond. Everyone I meet at the bar is an old friend, and we just need to get caught up. When the walls of sobriety come down, something a little more real happens.
So far, just at Hard Times I’ve met quite a few “old friends.” One man was an Indian born in Africa. His crappy city, which I have forgotten, second largest in his crappy country, which I have forgotten, only had three auto mechanics shops. This man had worked at one of those shops for three years. Required to put in 6 days a week, 10 hours a day for the very occasional tip and for the mere possibility of a future job. Through some miracle his uncle was able to bring him over to this country, and there he was sitting at Hard Times.
We started talking when he noticed me scowl at Michael Moore on the television. He didn’t like him either. What he told me that afternoon, I’ll never forget. He told me that he had just gotten a job at Mr. Good Wrench. After one week of work, they paid him. He said he loved America. They paid him for the work he had done, that was all. He was happy about that. I saw him once again, studying for some kind of mechanics certification. I hope he passed it.
I’ve met a man who is a partner in a demolition company, and heard him tell his tales knocking down buildings. It was amazing to see the pride in his face as he spoke of bull dozers and physics. I spoke with an ex-college professor who now coaches girls volleyball at UM. We agreed on the value of self responsability. I know the man who drives to the local hospitals and picks up all their linen, and his brushes with the law. I know a man who is a teacher’s assistant for problem children, who hasn't given up yet. I spoke with a stereo installer from Best Buy who wants to go back to school. I spoke with... others...
All these people have stories, opinions, and dreams. All of them just want someone to listen to them, take them seriously. I like being that someone.
I like going to a place, where no one knows my name.