Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Welcome to the Microcosm

As the long evenings of summer disappear along with an increasingly elusive sun, as the greens transform to reds and oranges, and as the crisp air of autumn hints at the promise of winter just months away, Patty and I often give in to wanderlust (I prefer garden-variety lust, but that's another story). For Patty, our truck becomes our vessel for adventure, for meandering treks along unpaved roads with no set timetable and, often, no set destination. For me, these outings chew up hours that might otherwise be filled with home repair assignments I work so hard to avoid.

Most times, we happen upon tiny but quaint communities untouched by the hustle and bustle of urban sprawl, places that have instead adopted a more laid-back charm as their definition of progress. These villages boast wine shops, antique stores and gift boutiques, nestled among mom-and-pop office supply and shoe shops that have miraculously survived the megamall age. I'm a small-town boy, so visits to such places often inspire moments of nostalgia, and serve as a refreshing change from charmless suburbia.

Some stores offer handmade jewelry and knick-knacks by local artisans. With Patty on board, these villages cost us a small fortune, because Patty is stronger than most at finding something unique we just can’t pass up lest it be lost to us forever.

This past Saturday, we stopped at a small town where being literal was apparently the order of the day. Railroad Street ran directly parallel to the Amtrak tracks. Center Street and Main Street, running in opposite directions, divided the town. I looked on a local map, and felt no surprise to find Church Street as one of the main routes. I did feel some surprise to find no street named “Liquor Lane”, because the number of pubs in town was surpassed only by the selection of places of faith. For just a moment, as I did a tally of the saloons, I thought, "I could live here forever."

After Patty satisfied her shopping urge by picking up a pair of earrings ("We have to buy something, don't you think?"), I suggested that we stop into one of the town’s bars for a drink. She agreed. We selected one and walked through the door. We didn’t immediately realize we’d also walked through a portal into the past.

As we received our drinks, in plastic cups (which immediately made me think this was one of those places where glass is frowned upon, “just in case”), I scanned the patrons. The man beside me, who kept regaling the bartender with stories about his son—to whom he referred not by name but as “M’boy”—sported a bushy mustache that obscured both his upper and lower lips. I whispered in Patty's ear.

“Check it out. Does anyone have just a mustache anymore?”

Before she could reply, a cursory scan down the bar provided an answer. Yes. In this town, mustaches were not only acceptable but, it would seem, required. All of the men had them. I felt out of place. I felt even more conspicuous when I reached into my backpack (which caused everyone in the bar to cast a disapproving look, as though I was fishing through a Louis Vuitton purse for my lost lipstick) and pulled out my cell phone (the appearance of which inspired looks that suggested all present considered me “high-falutin’”).

At the end of the bar, two men—one with hair to his waist (and a mustache) and the other with no hair at all (other than a mustache)—entertained their female companion, who had no mustache but whose hairstyle harkened back to the rock videos of the early 80s. The less hirsute of the two kept the woman giggling with a loud demonstration of how many pot-smoking terms he knew, which he presented as an uncategorized list:

“Blunt. Mary Jane. Reefer. Bong. Spliff. Doobie. Munchies.”

He paused only long enough for her to look up and admire the expanse of arm clearly visible below his wife-beater shirt. Said shirt bore the name of yet another local bar. Another scan of the room revealed that everyone was content being a walking billboard for a vice of choice--a bar, brand of cigarettes or variety of beer.

I turned to the man next to me.

“There’s a lot of bars in town, huh?”

“Well, they come and go." He reeled off an impressive list. "Oh, and there used to be a place over on Center Street, but it wasn’t very busy, and then it burned down.” He said the latter without even a hint of suspicion. “M’boy likes the Silver Saddle.” He then turned back to his beer in a way that suggested that since I insisted on carrying a purse, future conversations were not encouraged.

I suggested to Patty that, if she was amenable, I'd be content to chug my drink immediately and hit the road. She agreed. Before we left, I stopped into the bathroom. It was designed for one person, and provided the choice of a urinal or a toilet. I chose the urinal, but looked over at the toilet just long enough to notice that another patron had opted against the urinal because doing so would mean he’d be unable to pee all over the seat. I decided we really needed to get going.

Moments later, we were back in the truck, on a freeway, with a new set of earrings and my backpack-purse, heading back to what we, in the suburbs, define as civilization.



  1. I wonder if the pot-smoking "expert" could tell the difference between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica.

    I wouldn't stay in a bar that served drink in plastic cups either, regardless of the other clientele.

  2. Call me a redneck, but I just love a good hirsute man in a wife-beater!

    Also, who cares about the plastic cup? I've been known to drink wine straight out of the box!


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