It’s a Sunday night in a South Pasco Bar (and/or Grill). So there’s your tramp-stamped disclaimer. With that out of the way…
As far as the eye can see, it’s The Regulars. We all know ’em. They’re the Lifers. The young men with unfortunate tattoos and bad facial hair. The old men with predictable regrets and stories you’ve already heard. The table or two of high school kids laughing loudly around a big plate of boneless wings and little black ramekins of ranch dressing. The obvious and oblivious bumpkin bachelorette party making a scene at a booth in the back. The room is a choir of both revelry and resignation swimming in booze and greasy food.
It’s a confusing blend of pop-country and electro-dance music in the same venue and under the same roof here. A semi-apologetic bartender. Semi-uniformed wait-staff scurrying to beat the clean-up curve ahead of the impending close. It’s everything you’d likely expect, all bathed in the blue glow of barely-audible ESPN.
Watching all this, I flatter myself. I almost feel like an expat dropping anchor in Vietnam years after the war ended. Here for the drinks, the relative ease of living, and (dare I confess it) the scenery, be it lovely or otherwise. The proverbial stranger in a strange land. Trading flirty glances and first world tips for cheaper whiskey and a detached front row seat to Armageddon.
But somewhere between the 9/11 Truthers and the battle-scarred tractor jockeys all vying for a sympathetic ear, I threaded the needle and found a few things worth coming back here for. Things like whiskey and an unproven sense of hope. The confection of liquors and the delusion that “silent” somehow equals “strong” in the drunken minds of attractive women.
And believe it or not, some nights I come here simply to be left well enough alone. See, I’m just here for the sights. I’m just here for the sounds. The fly on the wall that showed up just to feel the thump of a cooler door closing. Or to see the steady stream of swaying and stumbling patrons exiting through the “lobby”. Or to witness the classic overchoreographed dance between young, poor, single women and old, wealthy, married men.
Nobody, myself included, likely learned anything worth learning tonight. We’re all just going through the motions out here on the frontier. All of them with their stereotypical jig and me trying to convince myself that even after my umpteenth night in attendance, I somehow don’t belong here. That I’m the aforementioned expat and not just an angsty native in his cups again. If I’m being honest, I probably do belong here. But I’ll probably never believe it, let alone admit it.
I don’t know where this is going, but I’m going home… for now.