Hanging out at the bar. It wasn't about the drink at all. It was about the people.
In a small town, that's where people congregate. There was the older, veteran crowd at The Idle Hour. The bartender acted like we girls had cooties, but he'd always be happy to show us some pool shots and let us trade out his Kingston Trio or Hank Williams for some Dixie Chicks or Garth Brooks after the Oly crowd left. The Oly crowd, full of cranky old men, grumbled when we girls walked in the door because they knew we were going to be chatty, but sometimes we'd catch them grinning in their beers because we also brought a little life to the place. The bartender's wife ran the restaurant, so on really hard nights we would treat ourselves to Aunt Patty's cooking--she made a great steak and crab legs!
There was a slightly younger crowd at the Sierra Station, but many of the Idle Hour people could be found there, too. The bar was a little brighter, a little newer, and the music was a little hipper--nothing older than the stuff from the 70's. The bartender didn't act like we had cooties, but instead he flirted with us a little and would kick our butts at pool when he wasn't too busy or too tired from his day job with the power company. His wife was the real boss, and she was like a big sister to us. Sometimes we'd go in just because we wanted to visit with her.
It wasn't just the owners of the Idle Hour and the Sierra Station we adored, although when the Sierra Station hired a part-time bartender for the weekend, we didn't like going there quite as much. There were so many great people we befriended over the years. It was sometimes awkward meeting parents of our students there, but it was nice to visit over a beer without talking about their children. (It was in the this same small town where trips to the grocery store could certainly yield 2-3 parent conferences in the bread aisle.) Richie's son was a total jerk in my class when I had him, but I was always happy to see Richie come down from his ranch on a Saturday night--especially when he had his guitar with him. Max's granddaughter was no saint, but she was a star athlete in everything she did. Max's was grandson simply no saint...and we couldn't say much more. But we didn't hold it against his grandpa. He was a good man who retired from the military.
There were many more parents and grandparents we'd exchange pleasantries with. Sometimes we'd all find ourselves all having a drink at the Idle Hour before going into the restaurant for a Friday night steak dinner. At those times we'd push tables together for a big communal meal. Talking and laughing, a big situational family, friends gathered for a meal. During those times, living in that lonely rural place, I couldn't ever imagine being happier. I couldn't think of a better place to be.
After dinner, most of the old-timers would wrap their wives in their coats and leave, while the rest of us stayed at the bar listening to music and shooting pool. One by one we'd trickle home, but usually my girlfriends and I were the last to leave with Aunt Patty after she closed up the kitchen. We were the youngest of the crowd, and even after a long week of teaching, we still had steam to blow off, but as the night quieted down, so would we. Until it was time to go depart to our quiet homes, alone, but content with a nice evening out in a small town.
Some people find their homes through spirituality, in a church congregation.
My friends and I found our home through spirits--rum & cokes, MGD, and vodka tonics.
I can joke about that, but in my heart I know it was much more than the drink.