Tony Vagneur: A day in the life of the Tavern
“I like you too — you don’t yell at me, you don’t sexually harass me, but you tease me and give me hell sometimes and I like that. You dish it out, and I like to give it back. Besides that, you don’t complain about the bill, not even when you’ve had nine shots.” A sweet smile behind ruby red lips, a tossed-up hair-do and a bare midriff above a short skirt — whaddya complain’ about, buddy? Back in the day, that conversation would have been a challenge or an invitation. Or both.
One of the regulars sidles in, poking my shoulder on his way to the back waitress station, where he puts together a cup of coffee. There’s apparently more to making that cup than some people spend on their taxes and then finally he glides back by, taking up a seat at the other end of the bar. He’s his own barista, for better or worse.
It’s quiet that time of the day, just after opening, the kind of misleading quiet that soaks up a socked-in, gray sky afternoon just before a loud crack of thunder pulls you back to reality and lightning drills the next ridge over about a second later.
The kid at the end of the bar, the one with the cup of coffee, and I call him a kid because he’s younger than me, looks the bartender square in the eye and politely asks that she cut him off after three cups, before “I shake to death.” And he hasn’t even put together the second cup, not yet.
Ducking outside to get a paper, I see that the outside patio is starting to fill in sporadically in anticipation of lunch, early arrivals hoping to get it done before the forecast for more rain comes true. A lady dressed head to toe like a walking billboard for road bike clothing, including the shoes, yells at her two preschool kids and beseeches the outside waitress to find them an indoor table — she’s changed her mind and doesn’t want to chance getting wet or cold.
Coming back with a couple of papers, I follow a woman smartly dressed in camping gear. Hiking boots, a pair of khaki shorts, a Patagonia six-button white shirt topped off with a pale, blue silk scarf. She grabs a stool two down from my coffee-drinking buddy who is working on his second cup.
She orders some coffee, declaring to the bartender that she hasn’t had a drink in 16 years.
“I’ve been going to AA ever since and it’s been a lifesaver. I’m here camping for four or five days, just getting out of the Arizona heat and visiting a couple of friends. In all honesty, I came in for a decent lunch.”
From somewhere along the bar, a person just standing there hollers out, “Jesus Christ, lady, if you’re an alcoholic maybe you shouldn’t sit at the bar.
” The lady turns and glares him down, happy to stir a spoon into her cup before taking a sip and then picks up the menu. She turns to my partner Margaret and starts a conversation.
“Come ‘ere, Vagneur, you’re not going to believe this,” says one of the regulars, through a touch of laughter. “The Democrats called before the last election, wanted to talk to Lucy. I said, Lucy’s out in the pasture, can I help you?”
“Yes,” said the voice over the phone, “we just want to make sure she gets out and votes.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ll make sure she votes.” More laughter. “I don’t think they know that Lucy is my horse,” he says with a guffaw.
Now everybody within earshot is laughing.
“Hell, she can’t even read,” says the next guy over.
With that, one of the neighbors, a tall, good-looking brunette with a tinge of red walks through the door and says with a southern-soft voice, like it’s a true confession or something, not sure she wants to share anything that personal, “I turned off my air conditioner this morning.” Heads with quizzical grins whip around in disbelief, because, well, because most people sitting or standing around the bar didn’t think anyone in the neighborhood had air conditioning.
The woman talking to Margaret, the one with the pale blue scarf, the teetotaler, says, “If you guys are ever in Arizona, you’re welcome to stay with me. I love company.”
And suddenly, I’m aware of the high-level buzz, the warmth of a crowded restaurant and the laughter coming from my saloon mates. The thunder is beginning to roll.
The tall redhead behind the bar hisses at a guy encroaching on her domain, “You’re gonna make me a little snarly if you don’t get back where you belong.” I grab my hat and head for the door before it all breaks loose.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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