A Good Bartender

A Real Moment:

It’s nearly 8pm. My room is dark. And the keyboard in front of me is glowing orange. I can hear the clinking of dishes in the kitchen. I’ve just returned home from a cherry blossom themed photoshoot at the University of Washington with a pair of software engineers that found me through Facebook.

I stopped by Whole Foods on the way home, thinking I would get groceries, but the butchers were just closing up. So, I settled for a slice of doughy pizza silently basking under the hot lamps. As I was eating by the food court, I noticed a familiar cashier on a break sitting nearby. She had trendy loose fitting clothes, long purple hair, stylized makeup, and a large black tattoo of a snake on her forearm, all of which was executed beautifully. I pondered going up to her, offering her a free shoot. I stood standing, haphazardly blocking a door for just a little too long before deciding against it because it looked a little too much like flirting. But, for a second, I saw art.

It couldn’t have been past six o’clock. It was one of those long dry Pacific Northwest Summer evenings. The sun was still fairly high in the sky, and the light was coming through a narrow window in a dive bar way north of Seattle on Highway 99. It was a little late for happy hour but too early for the evening crowd.

The bar is notorious for fights and a recent shooting, but nothing that interesting happens before dark, not this early at least. I just wanted a cheap beer and a quiet place to read a book on portraiture. I didn’t quite fit in. I had on flip flops, well-fitting, slightly paint-stained, slim-legged, duck-canvas Carhartt pants, a fresh black shirt, and a pair of Ray Ban wayfarers. Whatever my aura is, it has kept me out of a surprising number of fights.

I walked to the bar to order a Coors Lite and a Reuben sandwich. The bartender was rather typical of the place: forty something, black tank top cut way low, dirty blonde dyed hair pulled back into a ponytail, her white skin tanned just a bit too dark and beginning to show early signs of cracks on her sternum just above her cleavage. “What can I get you, Hun?” she asks.

I sat down to read. I had spent my day working overtime, four stories underground in a hockey arena, doing manual labor, pulling lengths of cable through pipes and trays. I was exhausted. But a crisp light beer after a day like that is magic. (Read: dark magic).

There were less than a dozen people. Two women among them. The rest were laborers. But one would pass for a car salesman. I watched the bartender scan the bar in one attentive glance, assessing the needs and emotional state of everyone in the room. I heard her ask a person at the bar if they wanted a refill.

It dawned on me in that moment, that that woman really cared. This bar wasn’t just a slimy place. Granted, yes, it was the type of place where boozers would go and waste their lives and money drinking and talking about nothing of consequence; that is vice and tragedy but not evil. No. There was a virtue at work in that bar.

It was a tiny village. A place with spirit (and spirits). The bartender sincerely cared for her patrons. She really, truly gave a damn about those people. She might have as well been a gardener, watering plants–thirsty souls–not letting them go dry nor letting them drown. She has seen people at their worst and their most merry.

Look into the eyes of a good bartender who has been around a while and you will see care.