Serve the People

shot glass

Ray worked every night at a grungy dive bar that clung desperately to its place at the edge of town.  The bar straddled the past and the present, unable to fully commit to one or the other.  It was a depressingly dark establishment with an ancient cigarette machine outside of the single bathroom, brown water stains on the ceiling tiles and a glowing touch screen juke box was mounted on the wall.  A flat screen tv played a college basketball game over shelves of dusty liquor bottles and entertained the few customers seated around the bar. 

Ray inspected a glass for lipstick and nicks around the edges before wiping it down and stacking it on shelf under the counter.  A man with an American flag bandana wrapped around his grey hair sat at the far end and stared into a glass that he considered very much half empty.  Next to him, a skinny man with large, dark square glasses watched the basketball game and made comments between plays and during commercial breaks.  He sucked down the rest of a bottle of Bud Light; he rattled it on the counter and cleared his throat to get Ray’s attention.

The customer was foiled in his attempt when another man with a wrinkled t-shirt, messy hair and bleary eyes walked in a side door and swaggered towards the bar.  

“Hey pal, you need another fire ball?” Ray chose his words carefully and reached for another glass to wipe down.  There was a definite difference between want and need in his business. 

The man gave Ray a sloppy smile, “You are good, man.  How do you remember every time what I want?” He swayed to the left and then slowly to the right like a tree in the wind, somehow, his trunk stayed planted.  

There was no rush to take the man’s money or to refill his glass with the liquid that would continue to destabilize him.  Ray could take his time with this man, he had him right where he wanted him without concern that he would quickly leave or cause trouble with the other patrons.  He had a sense about his customers, like who would leave a tip and who would tip over.  He prided himself on his professionalism, his ability to be present without prying, to engage without judgement. 

He was there to serve the people and he had no qualms about over-serving those who asked for it.  

Bikers without bikes

bucket
Bikers without bikes gathered around a table next to us in a dark bar. It was too cold for motorbiking or for pretenses. Based on their snarls in our direction, it was clear that we were not going to be friends.

Each of the men had an arm around a bleach bottle blonde as they pulled out chairs and settled in for the night. The women wore black t-shirts and rough faces with dark eyeliner. No one in the group was easy on the eyes,

“Couple of buckets of Bud,” one of the men shouted at a woman whom he presumed to be a server.

The woman rolled her eyes and walked away.

He must have guessed right as three buckets of beer arrived shortly afterwards. The appearance of the beers produced a childlike delight in the group. They cheered joyously.

Our small table grew very quiet as we watched the group, uncomfortable and curious. We waited and watched with a certainty that something exciting would happen.

Before going on, I should note that we had no business in a strip mall bar without a proper name in a small country town. In truth, we were the outsiders as we watched like a cluster of flies on the wall but we were also well-behaved, paying customers. So we were tolerated for the night.

The gang delivered on our expectations.

“Shots,” another man shouted as a different female presumed to be a server passed by the table.

They no-name bar excelled in customer service because not much time passed before a tray full of cheap liquor in tiny glasses was delivered. This was good as the group had moved onto a new focus while waiting for the server to return.

A handful of pills were pulled from the pocket of one of the bigger guys and passed around to everyone at the table. It was surprising that everyone had the same medical condition and treatment, but this was a small town. I suspect it was something in the water and was glad they were treating it aggressively.

Naturally, the shots were used to wash down the medication. It was just enough liquid to push the little tablet down their gullets. One by one, the shot glasses were slammed down to the table with a celebratory yell. Although, it was in an unintelligible language, I believe they were cheering to one another’s health.
Then one of the bleach bottle blondes made a request. She grabbed the sleeve of the first waitress to make their acquaintance and drew her down within whispering range and made a quiet little request. A basket of celery, plain and pale, was delivered to the woman. She began to greedily eat as quickly as she could mash down the stringy sticks with her soft teeth.

All of this was par for the course. I felt a heightened sense of awareness but didn’t feel afraid until one of the guys took off his leather jacket. His arms and fingers were covered with tattoos, the homemade kind, like a person might get in prison.
He loudly complained, “This gun is really diggin’ into my side.”

Against my will, I had to look at the speaker to assess the threat. I didn’t want to look or draw any more attention to our table, but I had to see his face. I looked just in time, too. The man’s shirt was pulled up to show his friends how the gun that was shoved into the waist band of his jeans was indeed digging into his fleshy stomach.

Poor guy, I almost said, and then realized that was a real gun shoved into this guy’s pants. I think most people use some kind of a holster or holder but then again I’m naïve to gun carrying protocol. Perhaps the best way to transport a gun into a dark bar is shoved into one’s waist band. I’ll look into it and provide an update if I learn anymore on the topic.

In any case, the bouncer was just as interested in the gang as us. As soon as he noticed the man showing off his gun, he strolled over and grabbed the man’s shoulder for a one-on-one in the corner. I prepared to take cover under the table, fully expecting bullets to start flying in 3, 2, 1….

And then nothing. The biker without a bike who had just been mixing shots with pills and washing it all down with cheap beer totally understood the bouncer’s concerns. He shook the bouncer’s hand and put his arm around his massive shoulders.

I think he said something to the effect of, “I love you, man. You saved my life tonight.” Without another word to his group, he left for the parking lot where I assume he stashed his weapon in the glove box with the rest of his guns and drugs.

We watched him walk out and come back un-phased. Our friends who had been to this bar before promised, “Just wait until the band takes the stage, then we can really start people watching.”

In this, the bar did not disappoint.

Respect

The group had just wandered into the bar, lured by the promise of cheap beer and a certain golf video game.  There were two couples and two single people, all in their twenties and actively engaged in an animated conversation as they walked towards the back of the bar.  The men already decided that they wanted to have a clear path to the Golden Swing machine.  They filed in around a high wooden table, gingerly touching the top to find it was still sticky from the last patrons.

No sooner had they taken off their coats and started to look around for a server, a man swaggered over and made himself a place of his own at the corner of their sticky table.  He wedged himself between the only single woman and her older camouflage wearing brother.

“So how did you like the wedding?” he asked.  The man wore a crisp white collared shirt with a loosened tie.  He didn’t stumble or slur his words, but his bright red cheeks and watery eyes gave away his state of sobriety.  Additionally, his conviction that the street clothes wearing group had just been at the same wedding where he was clearly over-served did not help his case for being a clear headed and rational type of person.

A female server approached as the original group laughed among themselves at the man’s mistake.  He continued to hold his place on the corner and talk about the wedding that only he attended.

“What are we drinking tonight?” the server asked, holding a tiny notepad.

“A round of beers for my new friends,” the stranger declared.

The server nodded her head in acknowledgement and slipped the notepad back into her apron without writing anything.

“Coming right up,” she said as she walked away.

Only a few minutes passed before the server reemerged from the crowd with a bucket of bottles.  In the meantime, the intruder wrapped his arm around the young woman’s shoulders and insulted her older brother’s beard.  He fought with the women about attending the wedding and tried to prove that his sister was an undeserving-of-love whore.  The stranger was quickly revealed to be a creepy drunk and effectively turned the atmosphere sour by the time that the drinks arrived.

Then the stream of conversation divided into two; the men focused on a discussion of alcohol and the women began to plan where they would go next to escape the creep as he continued to lean on the young woman.  She, in turn, was leaning away from the man and flashing help me/warning looks to her older brother.

Sensing the young woman’s waning interest, the intruder jokingly tried to regain her attention by collectively addressing the women, “Don’t you girls ever shut up?  It’s time to shut your traps and listen to the men talk.”

Simultaneously, the women turned to look at him in shock.

“Don’t you think you should have a little more respect for women?  Especially, the ones who are right in front of you?” one of the older, married women asked, glaring at the stranger.

“Nope,” he replied.  “Why bother?”

The glares of dislike turned into repulsion for the rude man.

“It’s time for you to move on, buddy,” the husband across from the stranger stated, putting his beer down with force.  His wife saw the muscles in his face twitching with sudden anger towards the stranger.

“Just because your wife is a bitch?” the stranger asked and threw his hands up in surprise.

“Nope, it’s just time for you to go,” the other husband said.  The stranger crossed the line of no return for the normally most congenial and friendly men.

The stranger pretended not to hear the request and hunkered down, ready to weather the storm and finish drinking his beer.

The server happened to passed by and was flagged by one of the incensed women.

“Excuse me, could you help us to convince this creep to leave our table?” one of the wives asked.

Raising her eyebrows in question, the server inquired, “I thought he was your friend?”

“No, this is just a lonely, drunk who wandered up here and now he’s being nasty to us,” the other wife explained the situation.

It took getting the bouncer involved, a large, black man, before the stranger finally left his post with a sneer and a few evil comments.

After the stranger sauntered off under the gentle arm of the bouncer, the young woman asked, “When does it not make sense to respect someone?  I just don’t get that guy,” she said, searching for guidance from her older brother and married folks.

Her brother laughed, “Let’s just say, you should always assume the other person has something worth respecting.  You had nothing to fear from that guy, trust me.”  Discreetly, he pulled up his shirt to reveal the handle of a gun tucked into the waist of his jeans.  The gun glinted in the dingy bar light: cold, hard, and black.