At the Bar
I’ve been eavesdropping a lot lately. I don’t eat out much, but often enough, I’ll give myself a cooking break or to push myself to be out amongst people. If possible, I like to sit at the bar. I don’t mind a table by myself, but bars often offer such ornate surroundings. Colorful and well lit, they’ve always just felt more engaging. It’s a lot easier to lean in to a conversation with the bartender, and then other people bellied up to the bar will chime in. It’s a place where it’s generally not considered inappropriate to softly remark on someone else’s conversation with a supportive comment or a one-liner. Usually folks sitting at the bar seem to have a bit more of a celebratory vibe.
If I’m not in a talkative mood, it’s easy to be invisible. With my built-in mid-Western look and a book and a notepad in tow, I’m never in danger of hearing any sort of middle-aged pick up line unless it was something like, “What’s a librarian like you doing in a place like this?”
My dad used to take me into bars, when I was in my early teens. In the 70’s, accompanied by an adult, this was usually okay. We didn’t go in to drink. We went in to listen to music. On occasion we’d get tossed out, but aside from missing out on the music, that made the story all the better. I could tell my friends I’d been thrown out of a bar. I was pissed off at being mistaken for a kid. I was a serious music lover dammit.
Conversations between couples can be quite diverse depending on what part of the country you’re in, but far be it for me to risk being stereotypical in this space.
Still on Martha’s Vineyard, I’ve been trying to hit my favorite spots and eat out a little bit more than usual while I can. I’ve encountered a lot of couples at these bars. My study is not scientific because I don’t know their exact ages or how long they’ve been married or frankly if they are even married to each other. As I embark on my research though, I see trends. There’s the couple who just reviews their upcoming schedules, the couple who, between long breaks of silence talks about their to do list, the couple who over-ponders the menu then orders one thing to share. There are couples on their first few dates who are discovering all of the things they have in common or want to have in common. The couple where the woman hangs on her husband’s every word and agrees with everything he says–or the couple where she talks non-stop and the husband looks like he’s thinking about moving to the West Indies. There are even the couples who stare at their food and don’t speak much at all. I always feel sorry for them.
Once, many years ago, when my husband Pete and I were driving all day from a gig somewhere to the next gig somewhere else, we became so hungry that we stopped for a full sit-down meal. Usually we were more stealthy and just grabbed a salad to go, but this time we needed more. I think this trip was even before we were married. We sat at a table next to a couple in their 60’s. The woman read a book and the man his newspaper. We were likely there for only 30-45 minutes. In that entire time, the two of them never uttered a word to each other, and if they looked up from their reading, I missed it. Pete noticed this and declared, “We’ll never be like that.” I wholeheartedly agreed. We’ll never know, but I can tell you now that, in our time together, we never ran out of things to talk about. We enjoyed silence and never felt obligated to entertain each other or fill dead space. Conversation was always interesting and, frankly, an aphrodisiac.
The Woody Creek Tavern, in Woody Creek, Colorado, was a long favorite of ours. Cold beer and cash only. After a good day of fishing, or bad (which was still good), Pete and I loved to grab a seat at that bar, have a cold Coors and brag about everything we caught and laugh about everything that got away. We had many favorite bars from coast to coast and around the world. I’ve realized that it wasn’t so much the bar as it was the company. If I had only one day with Pete ever again it would start with listening to him practice guitar in the morning, and it would end with us sitting side by side at a bar, laughing, and always learning something new about the other.