On being a regular at the “Best Neighborhood Bar”

woman_at_barA few weeks ago Zach Geballe wrote a short piece in the Seattle Weekly about the Best Neighborhood Bar, featuring my very own neighborhood bar, Solo.  As one of Solo’s regulars, I was excited to see the review and it was quickly passed around all the usual social media channels. I believe the author meant to praise the bar as a place that welcomes people in and will, in time, “make you one of their own.” He even goes out of his way in the comments section to clarify why you can’t compare a neighborhood bar to other establishments, but he kicked off with a couple of statements that are still niggling at me and I had to address:

  • Regulars will get served first
  • Regulars may get charged less

Actually, to set the record straight, the regulars routinely get served last when the bar is full of theater-goers or other outside groups. In fact, I’m as likely to waive the bartender off to take care of the other guests before attending to me or my husband. And I know I’m not the only regular to do this. We’re not rushing in or out from a show so we can and do happily wait for a moment’s lull in the activity to get our drinks.

As far as getting charged less, that may happen occasionally, and the bartender may even buy us a drink once in a while, but that is hardly the norm. Besides, we are bringing the bar a lot more of our business over the long haul than is the random person stopping in one time ever. It’s not so different than the “frequent shopper” cards you get for any business you frequently visit. But more importantly, I think, is the true regular is a supporter of the business. We don’t want all our drinks to be cheap or free – we want the business to succeed so we can keep coming there.

However, neither of these points has anything to do with how the bartenders treat newcomers. I haven’t been a newcomer at Solo in awhile, so it’s hard for me to comment on that other than to say that I was new there once myself and felt welcome enough to keep coming back. My husband and I visited quite a few local Queen Anne places and while we enjoyed the service we received at those places (except for Pesos – never go there unless you are 21.0 years old, attractive, and looking for a hook-up), none of them became “home” like Solo.

Solo-Logo1

There is something special and different about being a regular. So, yes, it’s true, there are some perks to being a regular at Solo that the casual visitor doesn’t receive from the bartender or the other regulars:

  • You will be greeted by name when you come in and usually with a hug, or hugs, depending on how many other regulars are there. You’ll get and give another round of hugs when you leave.
  • You know the bartenders by name. All of them. (Val-Michael-Elizabeth-Meredith-Allen-Dustin). If the bartender happens to be new, they will get introduced to you. You also probably know their dog’s names, and you’re friends with most of them on Facebook. And you’ll have exchanged cell numbers with a few as well.
  • You get invited to birthday parties at their home.
  • You’ve had them over to your home.
  • You may have gone bowling with some of them.
  • They will come and cheer you on when you run a half-marathon.
  • They will invite you to their wedding.
  • They will help you celebrate your own birthdays, anniversaries, first days, last days, hard times, happy hours, and even a few New Years. They will be a safe place for you to meet and repair fences with your ex-husband whom you hadn’t seen in over 10 years. They will let you sit quietly in the corner using the wireless because yours crapped out at home.
  • You will have brought every visiting blood family member to meet them because they are part of your “other” family.

Before Solo I had never been a regular at a bar, or any other business for that matter. In fact, I probably has some preconceived notions about what being a regular at a bar meant and it wasn’t necessarily positive. What I have come to learn is just like everything else in life, it’s all about relationships. I suppose the alcohol amplifies and intensifies that in some ways, but we regulars are not a bunch of drunks elbowing first-time visitors out of the way. We are just people – people who enjoy each others company and care about each others lives, and we’ll care about yours, too, if you hang around a bit and get to know us.

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A Memory of Curt for Memorial Day

I met Curt Mason through my first husband, Steve, in college.  Curt was his best friend and even though he was not in school with us, we spent considerable time hanging out and getting up to no good with Curt. Curt was the master of no good, but nonetheless he was ‘quality people’ in all the ways that really mattered. He was probably the most loyal person I have ever met and once he decided you were in his circle, he never, ever, judged you. It’s a testament to his character that during the days that Steve and I were ending our marriage and breaking each others hearts, Curt maintained his relationships with both of us. (Fortunately, with time, Steve and I have been able to put the past in the past – maybe Curt knew us better than we knew ourselves.)   It’s been just two years since he died and I think of him often and fondly.

Curt was a master storyteller and most of my memories involve Curt holding court and spinning the craziest of stories. And, generally speaking, the craziest parts were all true and the rest embellished beyond all recognition. Curt never let facts get in the way of a good story (for some reason he always referred to himself as “Curtis E” Mason and I did not learn until years later than his middle name did not actually start with the letter E…), but he also knew ultimately that the truth made the best story of all. His greatest love was rock music, and that love was felt most passionately for Thin Lizzy, but fundamentally he had a deep respect for the craft of making music itself and he would give props to any musician who laid it all on the line and had the musical chops to back it up. I happened to be reading Billy Bob Thornton’s “The Billy Bob Tapes” and encountered this passage that just screamed Curt to me:

I think…country music actually came from old men who’d sit on coke crates out in front of the store or on the screened-in porches or in the yard under the hickory nut tree, spinning yarns and just talking about people who lived there. Country music, real country music, is just different from other types of music. The songs are usually driven by stories.

When I replace ‘country’ with ‘rock’ and change the location to out by the pool at his apartment after dark with beer in hand, I am transported back in time. I’d like to think Curt would agree with me and if he were still here, would have a story or ten to tell about his experience with some country music artist or other.

Curt lived hard and it is almost certain that the years of smoking, drugs, and alcohol caught up to him when he died unexpectedly at the age of 46. At the time we met I was a wide-eyed innocent college co-ed and there was literally nothing we had in common except for our connection via Steve. He was rough around the edges and his hard life showed. I was clean cut to the core and my easy life showed. From outward appearances, he was hardly anyone I would have picked as a friend. But yet he was a friend, and a dear one to me. I think Curt’s biggest gift was that since he did not actually pick his friends based on their appearance, he was open to what anyone had to say. Whatever goofy naive observation I had to share around the poolside was accepted without question and he always had his own observations to add.

In his later years, when he was a late-night DJ (The Rocker for KKFI 90.1 FM in Kansas City), he would occasionally send me Instant-Message notes if I happened to be online when he was on the air. I don’t recall that we discussed anything deep or profound (although he did tell me he quit smoking by waking up one morning, deciding to stop and then simply never smoking again – another of the unbelievably true stories of Curt’s life). We mostly just chatted about the day-to-day stuff, and now that he’s gone I cherish those chats. I can only imagine how many other people were the recipients of these late night reach outs, and I am certain I was not the only one.

He was not in the military and did not fight for our country, but he did tell her stories. Here on Memorial Day he is the one who has come first to my own memory, so in honor of a great storyteller, I chose to share just a small piece of his story.


It All Started with Sunscreen

Gaby is my crazy Brazilian friend. (If you do not have one of these in your life, it is second only to having a gay best friend.) We met in Fiji and it is somewhat of a miracle that we are such good friends as our encounter started with her lecturing me about not wearing sunscreen. Because of my extremely pale complexion I am often asked if I am from Canada, Alaska, Seattle, or any other convenient place where there is little sunshine. Anytime we go somewhere that even has a hint of sunshine, people become extremely concerned about my super-whiteness and over the years countless well-meaning people have advised me about the importance of sunscreen. I know all you melanin-enhanced folks out there are just trying to help, but please trust me that I wear copious amounts of the stuff. How do you think I stay this pale? Truthfully, I only come in two skin tones – burnt and pale. I have suffered the consequence of going out without sunscreen enough times to now be deeply committed to my sunscreen regimen. I use obscene amounts of sunscreen, and can go through an entire can in a single poolside outing. Given my own obsessiveness in this matter, it gets to be tiresome when the umpteenth person in a row says something like, “Oh my God, I hope you are wearing sunscreen.” And adding a charming Brazilian accent does not actually make it any more charming.

So, poolside in Fiji, Gaby says to me in a charming Brazilian accent, “Oh my God, I hope you are wearing sunscreen.” I sigh and reply that indeed I am wearing sunscreen. Fast forward to the next day and I remain my pasty self and Gaby has suffered such severe sunburn that they have to call the resort medicine man in to treat her. She was not actually wearing sunscreen. I did not realize it then, but this was the start of a beautiful friendship. Aside from that encounter we did not interact much in Fiji, but our two traveling groups somehow merged into one and we left the trip exchanging everyone’s email addresses.

Gaby sent out a few messages and I believe even sent me a Christmas card that first year. She sent out a broadcast invite for people to come to her home in Carmel for a gourmet dinner she was preparing. I knew she was a chef, but little did she know that I needed little to no excuse to jump on a plane and fly to CA for a weekend full of fine dining. We replied with an enthusiastic yes to the invite and we were even welcomed to stay with her and her husband, Carlos, although somehow we did not have any more contact until we showed up at their doorstep the day of the dinner. I would come to learn that this is often how things work with Gaby. The details sort themselves out and it’s often best just to plunge ahead into whatever is in front of you.

From there, we became the kind of friends who spend long hours in deep and meaningful conversation when we are together, and often otherwise go months without talking. When we see each other, the conversation picks right back up where it left off, and here we are still talking and laughing together 10 years later.

We flew down for a visit this weekend with no agenda other than to see a little sunshine and enjoy their company. Most of the weekend was very relaxing with a bike ride along Monterey Bay, watching movies, and generally catching up. We did decide to go to a local restaurant, 1833, for drinks and appetizers.

On the way home, we drove past an Asian massage parlor that was advertised as open until 11pm. This was not in a shady section of town, in fact it was just a few blocks from where we stopped to get some frozen yogurt… Gaby thought this was fascinating and decided that we needed to determine whether this was one of those establishments that offers more ‘gentleman’s services’ than it does massage. So, we drive around the block and pulled up in front of the place in their black Mercedes. (If you are going to go to a massage parlor of dubious reputation, you might as well arrive in style.) Gaby orders Brian to go inside, check it out, and report back. He hesitates and decides he is not so sure of this mission, so Carlos agrees to go with him and off they go. A few minutes later they re-appear, hop back in the car and we make a speedy exit. “So..?” Gaby asks. Brian and Carlos confirm that indeed they could have gotten far more than the standard issue massage and in fact the lady behind the door (no reception desk in the waiting area, just a door with a little window that the ‘receptionist’ looks out through) told them to come back in an hour, well after closing, and they would be ‘taken care of.’ Gaby wants to know how much it costs for these extra services, but in their haste the boys forgot to ask. Gaby is indignant that they went all they way into this place and failed to find out the most important piece of information that people were sure to ask when she shared this news – the price.

I would love to say this is an unusual event for a trip to see Gaby, but really, it is pretty much par for the course. Things go along quietly and suddenly at 11pm on a Saturday night, it is imperative that we learn whether and how much the nefarious local massage parlor charges. (Once, I made the mistake of telling Gaby that it’s bad luck to give a knife as a gift without getting a penny in exchange so we had to venture out to a friend’s house at midnight to get said penny before they were on a flight early the next day.)

Sunscreen comments aside, how can you not love a person who drags you to massage parlors in the middle of the night just to find out if they are actually the other kind of parlor?  The answer is you can’t, and really, why would you want to..?


Meet Gil, and then make a donation

Last year when I did the full-on marathon with Team in Training, I did the event in honor of my friend, Nick.  Thinking about Nick’s journey to recovery helped keep my feet pounding the pavement far beyond when my brain had gotten tired of running and the rest of me wanted to go home. His story was an inspiration to me and I think knowing that he was alive and well was an element of that inspiration. As most of you know, this year I’m taking on a different challenge and trying to be a little more patient with myself as I walk a half marathon.

I considered not dedicating the training to anyone in particular, but my thoughts kept drifting back to my friend Gil. Unfortunately, Gil’s story does not have a happy ending – he died in 2008 from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of 41, leaving behind a wife and 6 year old son. I have often commented on the brutality of the way Leukemia afflicts such young people, and I guess this situation isn’t really any different. Is it not just as brutal for a young son to lose his father? Sadly, when Gil passed away, I had not been in touch with him in almost 8 years and I had no idea he was living just across the state in Spokane, let alone battling Leukemia.

I met Gil when we were both in college at the University of Kansas. He was a graduate student in the Department of Geography and I was an undergrad working in the department office, also studying Geography. In some random way, I don’t really remember now, he also wound up living in the same apartment building as me and my then boyfriend (soon to be first husband), Steve. I guess because our daily lives intersected so much at both school and home, we spent countless hours together with Gil and his girlfriend, Lisa, who was also a friend.  Gil was a night owl and would often call or show up at 10 or 11pm to see if we wanted to play Spades or Hearts, and I have many memories of long nights of playing cards and laughing until our faces ached.

You see, Gil was the oddest human being I have ever met. He enjoyed being outrageous to the point of being absurd. He told me once that he yelled out at some women in a car next to him, “I bet you don’t even sleep with the sheets on!”  No one knew what that was supposed to mean, not even Gil. He loved to make crazy movies that also did not make any sense. I happen to have a few on VHS (that sadly I can’t watch any more since I no longer have a VCR) and in one he runs around the campus sneaking up on people with a large piece sheepskin on his head and filming their reactions.  He was very hot headed and if he got mad during one of our card games, he would scream and yell and get red in the face, but a few nights later he would be knocking at our door again to play cards and as near as I can recall, we always played. He often accused me of having a ‘difficult’ sense of humor and would do things he thought were funny that I would often only find amusing. This would frustrate him to no end and he would get weirder and weirder trying to see if he could get me to actually laugh out loud.

After we all left college, we stayed in touch off and on over the years. I got married, then divorced, and spent many years of my career as a road warrior. There were countless times that I called Gil from some random hotel room and we would spend hours talking on the phone about nothing in particular. He would give me quizzes with questions like whether I thought it was funnier for someone to die by having their guts fall out or whether it was funnier for someone else to die by having guts fall on them. (Again, no one ever knew where he came up with this stuff or what it meant.) It was sometime during these years that I developed quite a crush on him. He was crazy, and handsome, as well as a very loyal friend. I saw him a few times when he lived in California and had high hopes for something more, but his feelings were always strictly platonic. I now admire his ability to maintain our friendship and still make it clear that he was never going to be interested in me in any other way, even if it frustrated me at the time.

We drifted apart and I met and married Brian. He lived in Japan and eventually married a Japanese woman, Keiko. He invited us to his wedding in Florida, which we attended (and I am now of the opinion that one should never pass up wedding invitations – it’s not the first time I have rekindled a friendship over a wedding invitation). In May of 2000 Brian and I planned a trip to China to visit my father and stepmother and decided to stop in Tokyo and visit Gil and Keiko. We did a few touristy type things, but my fondest memory of that trip was playing Hearts and laughing way into the night. That was the last time I saw Gil. We may have traded an email or two after that, but Gil wasn’t much of one for email and Japan was simply too far away for hours-long phone calls. Life moved on and we went our separate ways, although I always expected we would reconnect again as we had so many other times over the years. I had no idea he had started a family, no idea he had moved back to the US, and I certainly had no idea that he battled Leukemia for years, including some rather intense treatment sessions. Instead I learned of his death from his old girlfriend Lisa, who when we spoke simply said the world just didn’t seem quite right without Gil in it and she could not have said truer words.

So, my friends, cherish your friendships – reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile (because you don’t always get second chances) and please make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on my behalf, so that 6 year olds don’t  have to lose their dad, wives don’t have to lose their husband, and friends don’t have to lose each other.

Walk on, Lyda