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I'm a Minnesota Girl, living in the south. I tell my friends I try not to talk and think like a Yankee, but sometimes I slip up!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tending Bar

Soon after I lost my job in 2001, I returned to writing after two decades of absence. The last real writing I'd done was my pregnancy journal in 1981, when Andrea was born. Born out of a need to find a new job, and, really, a new kind of job, I started reflecting on jobs I'd had in the past, and what I'd learned from them. This piece was "born" in 2002 and published on Pearlsoup in 2003. With the recent demise of Pearlsoup, thought I'd republish it here.

Tending Bar

I learned to strive to be in the best in public school. Academics took center stage, but music, sports, and civic responsibility followed closely. College was definitively different. I still wanted to be the best, but now I was really learning to think logically, to plan, to evaluate, and not just to complete assignments. Europe after college was grand, and found me thinking, for the first time, that I was a citizen of this world, and not just an American.

The real world reared its ugly head when I began working after college. All right, I had this degree, and an offer from a prestigious firm. So what if the work was unfulfilling and I kept thinking, “Is this all there is?”. I took jobs where I could travel for the company and see the country. The country looked pretty much the same when viewed from a drab room in a local Hilton or Ramada Inn. Marriage would change that, and so I married and moved far from home. Still, there was this feeling of emptiness, of “not enough happening” in my life. All of those thoughts, and all of the time spent running in place on my career, ceased when I had my first child.

Now, responsible for something so much bigger than just me, than just my job or my marriage, I embarked upon the great sea of parenthood; and with my growth as a mother, my career took hold, and finally, finally, I began to climb the ladder, get the promotions, be the brilliant colleague. The next 20 years have been spent as a caretaker, albeit an important one. Work, family, home – they all come first before my personal growth, my own Renaissance.

And from where would the skills to create my “Renaissance” be drawn? Well, strangely enough, I find myself crediting much of my understanding, my ability to listen, to mentor, to see the world from more than one point of view to a part-time job I had in college. That’s right, I tended bar.

Each time I arrived for work, I became a student of human behavior. I saw the worst, I saw the saddest aspects of life. I saw the humor, the indifference, the tragedy of living only in the moment from behind that bar, drawing drafts of beer, fending off would-be suitors, trying to help everyone get through the night. Before that experience, I think I saw other people only as they wanted me to see them. I heard stories of joy, of degradation, of hopelessness. I think I met a lot of needs listening to those tales.
Often, asked for advice, I’d preface mine with, “Well, I’m 21, and I’ve never been anywhere,
but I’d say…..”. I never really knew if my advice worked out, didn’t work out, or was ignored. I never really needed to. I was a familiar face, an anchor, for the lonely, who didn’t quite know why they were there. I saw people embark on a lifetime of drinking beyond their capacities and capabilities, and the way they began to shrink away when those habits took hold.

I smelled the smoke, heard the guitars, kept my own counsel, shed some tears. Odd that, that foundation worked to give me a lifetime of understanding, in order to be there for the people who needed me. Was it a frivolous occupation? Perhaps, but the tips paid my rent, and my five senses tracked and kept the memories of how to handle people, without their knowing they needed to be handled. I’ve always looked back on my humble barkeep’s job with a grin, never stopping to think about what threads it wove into the experience that is my life. It may be that I make too much of what I learned there, but often I find that the human experience can be best felt in the strangest surroundings.

Quidrock 2002

"If you have a job without any aggravations, you don't have a job." ~Malcolm S. Forbes


Bob said...

I love this! I missed it on PS so glad you put it here.

And the photo of that beer looks delectable . . . a pale ale no doubt?

You learn so much working with people and especially when the people represent such a cross section of humanity. And really, I bet a lot of these people were a lot more interesting than the white-collar types in your offices over the years.

Pam said...

I love it, too, Quid! How did I miss this on PS???

I don't think you give too much credit to what you learned of the human experience from bar tending.

As you indicated, I think we learn more about people when we see them as they really are, not as they wish to be seen.

I also agree that we learn more about the human condition when we venture outside our comfort zone or our smallest life circle and really see the unfiltered human experience

The beer photo, I'm afraid, is out of my "taste" zone. My 'buds' lean more toward the foo-foo drinks. I see tiny umbrellas! :)

quid said...

Hey, Bob...

The brew is Anchor Steam - a caramel ale that we get in Florida now. It used to be available only around San Francisco, and I first tasted in in Monterrey in 1976. My North Dakota bar, "Frenchy's (Home of the Fighting Sioux)" was pretty much tied into tap beer of the Bud and Miller varieties. My beer taste has changed, somewhat, since then. Favorite? Stella Artois.

Pam, you can get foo foo fruit beers at the Florida breweries. But I'm guessing a Margarita or Pina Colada might go down just a little better!


Bob said...

Yes I thought it looked like the Anchor Steam logo on the glass; I had it in San Franciso a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The ales are definitely my favorites -- especially Sierra Nevada and Flying Dog. Not too good for my waist line though.

Kelly said...

Ahhh.. my beer-drinking days are far behind me, but I will say that brew looks refreshing!

I filled in behind the bar at my cousin's beer joint a few times in my early twenties. Definitely an eye-opener!

I missed this on PS, too. Thanks for sharing it again here.

Serena said...

A very poignant piece of writing, my dear. Your imagery is so vivid that I can almost see, hear, and feel the ambience.

P.S. - What happened to PS? Did it go down permanently?

Algernon said...

PearlSoup considers itself to be "undergoing site maintenance" but then, aren't we all?

I vaguely recall reading this there, but it was like reading it for the first time for me as well. You've had a few lives!

Anonymous said...


A perceptive and excellent piece and thank you for sharing this with us here again.

And I agree with what Pam said about seeing the people how they are when they go outside of their comfort zones.

As well as that it was interesting to learn something about you.