“A barfly without a bar is a sad person, a lost soul.”
That’s my quote after nearly 25 years of tending bar in just about every kind of establishment that exists, from a posh restaurant with a piano player to a neighborhood Irish pub to a rough-and-tumble fisherman’s dive in Morro Bay.
Right now, there’s no place to go boozing, and I’m wondering and worrying about my boozing friends more than about myself. My days of boozing, which were once a kind of siege of the body and soul, have become less and less frequent as I transition well into my 70s. Still, the idea that I have the freedom to go out and booze it up when the gnawing misery of prolonged sobriety becomes intolerable, and knowing I have a place to go to and hopefully run into my friends to escape myself, is not a gift I take lightly.
We need our watering hole, and the Schooner’s Wharf is closed, and my greatest fear is it’ll be closed for so long they won’t be able to reopen and will go out of business. And I’ll have no place to booze and won’t be able to run into the Pirate and Jake Straw and Tag Morely and Racy Tracy — the fetching redhead, and my new very fun and entertaining drinking buddy, Hazel.
It’s no fun to drink alone, and not much better to sit 6 feet apart in somebody’s driveway. It just ain’t the same. In a bar, there is a saturation of atmosphere that immediately distracts you from boredom or whatever ails you. You feel the crowd. It is alive. Happy hour is on the prowl, the usual characters are trickling in among the tourists.
Soon, a beer, glass of wine or drink is before you, and after a few swigs, the golden glow pervades your body and brain, loosening your tongue as well as your inhibitions. And you are thinking with a new crystal clear alacrity that softens the jagged edges and tells you, “Things aren’t too bad, things are actually pretty rosy.”
There are folks in town who do not go to bars, possibly don’t drink much except to sip wine in their front rooms or on their decks, and fail to understand the need and mentality of social drinkers. We barflies can run into each other in public and it is different, almost awkward, because we are used to being fairly lit and now we are cold sober.
When I run into Jake Straw mornings by the seawall, where, before going to work as a builder, he has coffee while his two dogs run around, he is usually glum and barely communicative; no longer the laughing, raucous, voluble gadfly who wants to buy you a drink while in the Wharf.
If I come across the Pirate, who sits on the same stool at the same hours in the Wharf, and was always buzzed and jolly as he held court, and with whom I’ve spent nearly an hour discussing the feral cat he domesticated and has pictures of on his phone, his early morning greetings are now swift and raspy and he’s in a hurry to move on after feeding my dog Wilbur a couple biscuits.
* * *
Securing one of the eight stools in Schooner’s Wharf during Friday happy hour among the who’s who that count, is like discovering gold. You are within talking range of perhaps the best bartender in the county, a man known as “T,” a middle-aged surfer in colorful baggy shirts who glides behind the bar like a maestro, covering all the bases with an economy of ease during mad rushes from the restaurant; always there when needed, yet unobtrusive, treating everybody as if they count, seemingly indispensable to a die-hard crew that has been haunting this joint for over a decade—same faces, men and women, old and middle-aged and youngish, from professors to farmers, professional people to grunts, all on the same page, and all on excellent terms with T, a graduate of Cal State Santa Cruz and a loyal Banana Slug.
Sometimes Hazel, a woman of glamour and presence, who has a boyfriend of 10 years, and lives down the street from me, will leave me an email at 3 in the afternoon: “Hey, wanna go see T at the Wharf at 5?”
Sometimes it takes us a vigilant half hour to grab a stool as we hover near those preparing to leave. Once settled, she orders a top shelf vodka Martini up, and I have my usual bucket of good vodka straight on rocks. And before we can get into ten minutes of our usual stories and experiences and opinions, the person on the other side of Hazel has put down his smart phone and wants to talk to a good looking woman.
Fine with me. A booze buddy is to be shared. It’s like buying somebody a drink, visiting, and moving on, and somebody buying you a drink. The happy hour of the who’s who that count involves a whole lot of milling around a crew of those eight seated on bar stools who will not give up their positions under any conditions.
It’s a box seat at a baseball game, a front row seat at a music festival. Best view in town.
At the height of happy hour, the little intimate bar area (devoid of any distractions like darts, pool, video games) is shoulder-to-shoulder, rocking, loud, and boisterous. And as one peers around, the faces and bodies are animated and engrossed as they visit.
In one corner, seated, a group of middle-aged women have carved out the same position that has served them for years, drinks on the table before them.
In a corner by the service area, young people stand, craft ales in pint glasses in hand, and they might be talking to a man around 80 who has ranched in this area since he was born.
Sometimes, as I sit beside Hazel, and she is turned away and talking to a psych tech from the hospital in Atascadero, I find myself discussing literature with a young man in his 20s, a blessing in closing the age gap, a couple generation gaps, and forging an understanding, a coming together, a learning on both sides, achieving a little slice of temporary humanity, the good feeling of which takes a couple days to wear off, until you meet again.
And you end up staying longer than you intended, and you’re fairly buzzed, maybe a little unsteady as you realize the bar has slowed down halfway through the dinner rush; and you start the walk home, knowing you’re not going to sleep very well and will probably be in a fog half the next day, but that it was all worth it.
You don’t go to the Wharf necessarily because you need a drink, but that you need the Wharf. And, when the day comes that the Wharf reopens, it will need us.