You Can’t Go Home Again

On Nov 30, 2001 I finished my first NaNoWriMo effort sitting at Callahan’s, a brew pub in my neighborhood, with minutes to spare. Callahan’s occupied a spot in a little mall that had previously housed Reno’s Cafe d’Italia, a little family restaurant I worked at for two weeks. Callahan’s was better. I was already fairly regular there (they were close to my workplace) when, soon after they opened, brewing equipment started showing up. At the time, there were no other brew pubs in San Diego.

They got the brewery up and running, and after a shaky start while they refined the recipes and got the quality under control, things started to go well. Bernardo Bitter was my favorite, but in the early days it was awful as often as it was awesome. Apparently that brew used a special yeast that was, in brewing terminology, “a little bitch”. But finally they got the yeast under control, and people found the place buried deep in the mall, and all was well.

By 2001, Callahan’s had annexed the next business over and expanded their dining area. The move frightened me, because many restaurants fail when they try to grow and end up ruining what they have.

By the time I was laying the keel of The Monster Within during a later NaNoWriMo, Callahan’s had moved across the street to a larger, more accessible space that had come into this world as a Tony Roma’s rib joint. There was a large mirror on one wall, emblazoned with the logo of Bass ale. I was looking for a name, and in Monster you will find Master Bass.

But people don’t go to bars for alcohol. Alcohol is much cheaper at the liquor store. (Bad Bobby, a friend from another bar and a teacher at Bartending Academy pointed out this obvious truth to me.) People go to bars to take alcohol with friends. Lacking friends, patrons turn to the staff. I had a lot of friends on the Callahan’s staff.

I won’t try to list them all, but there are two I have to mention.

Travis. A really smart guy, well-read, articulate. We weren’t tight, not at all, but in a lot of ways I wanted to be Travis. He felt things strongly, and could explain why.

Rose. My favorite bartender. I have laughingly told many other bartenders that they are my second-favorite, but there is only one at the top. “Rose, you rock,” I would say each night as I left. If she was busy I would point to her and raise my fist. “Am I in your story?” she would ask. Spiritually, she was in many of my stories, but it wasn’t until Worst Enemy, a later NaNoWriMo effort, that I put her quite directly into a story. I’ve never done that for anyone else.

I also never told her about that one. By then I was a nomad.

Occasionally I would pass back through San Diego, and I would visit my friends at Callahan’s. Fewer and fewer of the staff would recognize me, but the faces I missed the most were still there.

Although it has been a long time, and I knew that it was not realistic, I thought that if I walked into Callahan’s today there would still be connections for me.

But Callahan’s, apparently, is gone. No longer can I entertain the thought that I will meet any of my friends, both the staff and the regulars I used to sit next to, ever again.

Bill, Linda, Darlene, Joe, Debbie, Malcom, and all of you, it was a good time. Travis, I know you’re all right.

Rose, you rock.

5

The History Lens

For me, World War Two has always been something that happened a long time ago. But consider this: when I was born, the war had ended less than twenty years before. Now it’s been over for more than seventy years. But to me, it doesn’t feel three times as distant. It was always far in the past.

The Wild West was still a credible idea in 1900, sixty-four years before my birth. Now those days are 116 years in humanity’s rear-view, essentially twice as distant, but to me that era is no farther than it always has been.

For all the future shock and whatnot we’re supposed to be reeling from, from where I sit the last fifty years are “now”. Everything that came before is ancient history. We have phones that surpass Star Trek technology, but I’ve been alive since the first airing of the show and the technology has all been part of a logical continuum. As a kid I rode in Jetliners and looked at pictures of B-17’s. Since I didn’t live through the transitional times, giant propeller-driven planes seem absolutely disconnected from my world. Ancient history.

There are still plenty of people out there for whom B-17’s are “now”. First-person memory. They experienced the intervening decades and it all ties together. But here’s a funny thought: I don’t think there’s much in my “now” that’s not also in kids-these-days’ “now”. The Old West, a couple of world wars, those are things that are truly over. But during my lifetime, what with its prosperity and unprecedented period of world peace, there hasn’t been that thing that historians hang their hat on. There have been major events, sure, but nothing like a world war, or the annexation of a continent and the glorified subjugation of its indigenous peoples.

Jet airplanes, the electric guitar. My parents remember a time before those. Between my birth and now, nothing’s really changed. We’ve just gotten better at doing the same stuff. Yeah, Internet blah blah. But Facebook is just a phone with everyone talking at once.

I was going to stop there, but then I had another splash of blended scotch whiskey (to avoid the oxymoron I call it “gluggin’ scotch” in my head) and projected forward. What might make the life I live now ancient history?

Sure, kids born in the near future will never know what it was like before the human genome was sequenced, and will never appreciate the Las-Vegas methodology we use to create medicine right now (which is itself a huge improvement on what came before). But will they feel it? Will they look back on Amoxycillin the way I look at a B-17? I doubt it, but it would be cool if they did. “Back in those days someone who had cancer would drink poison and hope it killed the disease first.” They’d say that like they were looking at a black-and-white photo of General Custer.

That is the happy science-fiction ending. I have a feeling, however, that tomorrow’s B-17’s are the outline of Florida as we know it and the existence of New Orleans. Corpus Christi, Seattle. There will be people who remember Venice and those who for whom it is a legend. Ancient history.

America’s Oldest City

There’s a town in New England called Jamestown or Jonestown or something like that. It has signs proclaiming it to be America’s first town. But it’s not even close to that. Not even remotely close.

Let’s start with America’s actual oldest town, and work back from there. It’s hard to say for sure, but the Acoma Pueblo is probably the oldest burg in the US where people still live. It launched around the year 1000, give or take. That’s a bunch of years before any European mofo visited our shores. These days, Acoma is a kind-of-crappy little town on I-40, but that crappy little town is the oldest still-occuipied settlement in North America. Truly, America’s oldest city. A little reverence is due when you drive through.

The Taos pueblo has been continuously occupied since long before Europeans tripped over the continent on the way to India. This isn’t a matter of who was here first; there is a condo complex in North America dating to the time of William the Conqueror. It’s still occupied, largely unchanged. It’s still condo, but the covenants are a bitch.

So, OK, the claim by Jamestown that they’re the oldest burgh on the continent is clearly delusional. But what do we care about those crazy aboriginals? What really matters is when Europeans built themselves a town.

Only, the Spanish were building towns in North America for a full century before the English set timid toe to shore in North America. Santa Fe was a going concern by the time the Pilgrims staggered ashore.

That leaves Jamestown as the oldest settlement in North America founded by people who speak English. Which, you know, is really the seminal moment in world exploration. I’d be proud if I lived there. Really.