How can you tell it’s happy hour at a Keys bar? The bike rack is full.
My work life is filled with “givens.” It is a given that my two Nam vets and my part-time co-worker will be sitting outside on the deck when I arrive to open. It is a given that the first thing I do is make coffee for these three so that we can settle into our morning routine, which involves their drinking coffee, me watching Good Morning America while I set up, and my co-worker tapping away on his computer on behalf of a host of clients that constitutes his “real” job.
It is a given that only on a rare day, for reasons I wouldn’t ask, would I pour any alcohol during this morning routine.
It is a given that a half hour later, my fourth morning regular will arrive. He catches rides to and from my place as he can, but he mostly takes the local taxi. He is approaching his 75th birthday and recently told me he has a “date” on the big day.
“Hell, I haven’t had a date in 20 years,” he laughed. He even told me who he’s taking to dinner as his date on his birthday. I’ll never tell, which is why he told me. He likes to watch me tell the other regulars that I know who the date is and then add that a good bartender doesn’t name names.
Yesterday morning, my three opening regulars were absent, but my soon-to-be-birthday-boy customer was waiting for me when I drove up. I feel vaguely agitated when the “givens” switch it up on me–is someone sick, is someone broken down on the main road, I will wonder to myself.
“Can I get your ice for you?” my early arrival asked.
“Nope, you just sit tight ’till I get coffee made,” I said, because I know there is no way he could hoist a heavy bucket of ice. He also knows this, but offers his assistance anyway– because that’s what a retired officer and a perennial gentleman does.
“I’m getting wheels in a couple of hours,” he said, lighting the first of what would be several packs of smokes.
“Policeman Paul is coming to get me with his truck and we’re going to pick it up,” he smiled. He liked that he was confusing me.
“So…” I prompted him.
“It’ll be good for me. Do you know I spend $135 a month on cabs?” he said with a slight tinge of resignation.
$135 a month to go less than three miles one-way when he couldn’t find another means of transportation? I thought with a bitter edge of disgust. A local cab company was milking this undemanding, nicer-than-nice older man for that much money simply because he wanted to get out of the house and quietly absorb a day’s energy from my bar?
Later, after Policeman Paul was three hours late in picking him up, after they got lost finding the house where the wheels were garaged, after it took many minutes to adjust the seat and controls, he slowly made his way around from the back parking lot to the front door. And there it was: a sparkling, like-new three-wheeler standing out amongst the eclectic collection of bent and rusted beach cruisers that are parked in front of my bar at any given time.
I’ll be damned, I laughed to myself while I yanked my iPhone out of the dock through which I play music, because this was a moment that demanded to be captured at this very moment. He stood, smiling, a cigarette drooping out of the corner of his mouth, his hands proudly wrapped around the handlebars of his new set of wheels, while I snapped away, all the while telling him I was buying pink metallic streamers for the handlebars and a personalized tiny license plate to place on the back of the seat.
“I’m riding this here tomorrow,” he said. “I am.”
The next morning, he arrived at his usual time by his usual, expensive means.
“The bike okay?” I asked him.
“I was riding that thing at 5:30 this morning,” he said. “I got around the block, which is a pretty big block, by the way. My knees had enough after that.”
“You’ll be fine,” I said, relieved on the one hand that he hadn’t tried to ride all three miles from his home and sad on the other that he’d had to pay for yet another cab.
“Oh, I know,” he smiled. “It’ll be good for me. I’ll work up to it.”
It is a given that I give this regular customer, who is always at the top of a short list of my favorites, my two shift drinks. It is a given that he will tip me what he can and that I will thank him regardless of the amount.
God willing, it’ll soon be a given that he will arrive by his new set of wheels. It’ll be so great for him.