Location: Canyon Bar and Grill, Los Alamos, NM
There was a place I liked more, but right now it’s Saturday afternoon. The other bar is closed. I suppose that makes sense; I mean, who would go to a bar on a Saturday when there’s no work tomorrow and the cable channels are filled with college football?
Granted, I don’t give a rat’s ass about a semi-pro league masquerading as “student athletics”, but I know a lot of other people enjoy that stuff, and the only reason football exists is so you can go to bars and watch it with your buddies. My only concern was whether anyone would mind if I watched the Czech Republic play Canada. I pulled up to the Aspen Lounge and it looked dark. I went to the door and saw that it opened at four, about half an hour hence. Then I saw the lettering beneath the hours. Closed Saturday and Sunday. I blinked a couple of times to make sure it didn’t say Open late Saturday or something like that, but alas, no.
There is a fairly new restaurant on the edge of town, and I had noticed that it’s sign said “Restaurant and Bar”. No problem, I thought, I’ll head on out there and have some vittles while I type. Nope. There were two sets of hours, summer and winter. I didn’t know which applied but it didn’t matter. They were both Monday through Friday. Not only do people not go to bars on the weekend, they don’t even go out for a bite to eat.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. People do go out, they just drive an hour to the nightlife in Santa Fe. A Get-Poor-Quick scheme that has been tried many times is to bring night life to Los Alamos. Forget about it.
Now I’m back at the Canyon, where for all its warts it has one key advantage: It’s open. They gave me a beer, I paid for it, and I sat down. There are a few people here, including one rabid Macintosh fan who responded to the antediluvian glow from the lid of my machine by making sure I knew he had been using the infernal machines since before they were invented. At the bar they’re having a good ol’ time; the only female in here is attached (by the lips) to the Mac fan, and collectively they’ve hit that perfect part of the afternoon where the buzz is just right and every joke is funny. It is a communal perfect buzz. A group like that makes any bar better. You know this place is home for some of these people. And in the end, isn’t that what makes a good bar? If there was a pretty bartender I’d probably hang out and fall in love.
Time has passed since I wrote the above, and things have moved apace. I have a nickname, at least from a couple of the regulars: Mac. I like it. It’s the quintessential bar nickname. Mac. I’m going to write myself into a story with that name someday. No one has to know it’s a reference to the computer I was using in the bar. In all the years and years of going to Callahan’s, I never had a nickname, probably because they already knew my real name and my impact was gradual and constant. Now I’m the welcome stranger, and lacking my real name they just went and gave me one. Mac. I’ve never been anything remotely close to a Mac before.
One of the flys left and came back with a guitar. He’s much better at playing than singing, but he’s been taking requests from the others at the bar. Right now he’s covering “All along the Watchtower” with far more passion than skill, but it’s passion that counts, baby. Earlier he was doing Eagles tunes at the request of other patrons and, well, he doesn’t know the words very well but that doesn’t stop him.
Another guitar has arrived. A jam session will shortly ensue. There are two guitars. There are five patrons. Three are guitarists. There is one geek pounding away on his laptop. There is one female taking it all in. Finally, there is one bartender, far more attractive than the dude she replaced a few minutes ago.
I miswrote before. There is one guitar and one mandolin. The mandolinier is just getting his confidence up, and it’s starting to work. So for the record there is one guitar for two guitarists. The guy that brought in the guitar just lamented, “I have to get drunk to play in front of people, but then I suck.” He’s right, but that never stopped most of his peers. They’re finding a rhythm now, drunk guitarist doing the vocals while the other two play the blues. Vocals are becoming increasingly rare.
Man I wish I could just pick up someone else’s guitar and make it sing and cry. Hats off, then, one and all, for those who can. It takes a lot of work to make it seem easy. Writing is different. It still takes a lot of work, but in music all the work you put in comes down to a moment when you are in front of the public and it’s all on the line right then. With writing, you hone and tweak until the rewrites make it worse instead of better and then you put it out there as a pile of paper glued on one edge and you hide in the dark while people judge it.
I think I’ll stick to stacking rocks.
The jam session has lost the drunken guitarist, and while the quality is much higher, the soul has gone out of the endeavor. It’s still OK to be in a dive and hear good musings, but there was a fire before. Oh, well. Dive bar geeks can’t be too picky.