Archive for February, 2010

The People You Meet

The Large Man Chronicles


Louisville, KY

The People You Meet

So I’m sitting in a bar, the best stories usually start in a bar. For perspective, physically, it’s your ordinary, average bar…bar stools, tall tables, and glass candle votives; people… the memory of a day when you could smoke in a bar. Actually, you think you can smell smoke in this bar, but you really can’t. It’s a smellusion. There is a mirror behind the bar that’s barely visible with all the glasses, tap handles, and neon beer promoters. There is the white noise that is not so white at first, but you adjust. High def TV – tonight we’re watching basketball. The clinking of glasses, the sweet smell of spilled beer…and me.

I think every bar should have me, or at least a picture of me, because there is nobody that appreciates a bar as much as I do. I love the smell, the sound, and the soul of a bar; even the bad ones. When heaven calls me, it will sound like the bell they ring when someone has left a HUGE tip. When I get there, it will look like this place.  I really do not like the songs of Toby Keith, but… I LOVE THIS BAR. I think bars love me too. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

Tonight, I’m having a relationship with Rocky’s Italian Grill in Jeffersonville Indiana.  Jeffersonville is a suburb of Louisville, just across the Ohio River on the north shore. The enablers of this relationship are: OZ, the handsome barhop, and Lacy…a beautiful worker bee waitress (every establishment needs one of both)…Renae the restaurant manager, and Vashta…the bartender. There are several other players in this play, all critical to the story, but these four are Act I, Scene I with me.  Vashta is the star.  Tonight, Vashta is the sun that these other planets revolve around.  She is “the people you meet”, and remember when you travel this magical world. Tomorrow night at Rocky’s someone else will be the star. All these people are dependent on each other for the play to work.

The place is packed, unexpectedly so…I overheard Renae say that Oz was “thrown into the fire” tonight. The town was hit hard by winter weather, and I’m guessing that some of the staff couldn’t make it in…the customers however did.  The staff that showed up tonight had all been given extra hats to wear. From my perch, I heard Renae speak with amazement over and over about how proud she was of the group. I hope Renae understands that her leadership and management style is what allows these young people to blossom. You can tell before you even take your seat that this is a fun place to work. Rocky’s has a vibe, Renae nurtures that vibe. To a random traveler like me, you would not describe it as anything special until you take time to notice. Take a minute or two to look and listen, and special is the only way to describe this place.

I was here about 6 months ago, Vashta the bartender had recently become a mother. The place was mostly empty, so unlike tonight, she had the time to guide me through the 32 taps on the wall. Vashta was from PA, my current home state…she moved to Louisville for love, or education, or maybe a little of both. Vashta was pretty, short and thin, but she carried herself with confidence. She looked athletic, but also like she could be a good hugger. What a great combination…a pretty girl who could hug you, and kick your ass in the same motion…and she knew everything about beer. How could you not love this girl? Vashta introduced me to Dogfish Head Brewery’s 90 Minute India Pale Ale, this consummated our relationship. It’s the little things, pretty girls and good beer. My mug runneth over.

So here we are 6 months later, at the moment I’m remembering the place, but not the girl (hmmm, that’s not like me) I walk in…thinking about a table, but something draws me to the bar. (So maybe I am remembering the girl subconsciously)  I find the last seat at the end of the bar and I wait. 1 minute and 15.5 seconds later (roughly) the “soul” shows up. She tosses a coaster at me and asks, “What can I get you to drink?”

I immediately recognize her, I get a little dizzy, then, I see fireworks, raining confetti and rose petals, rocket’s red glare – bombs bursting in air…the Lynn Swan Super Bowl catch…Ali/Frazier 1, 2 & 3… the first Apollo launch…my wife walking down the aisle…every great moment in my life flashes, and all I can say is, “Dogfish Head 90”. She smiles, shudders a little, and replies with, “Do you need a menu?”

I nod.

I love this bar.

Sitting on one side of me is the sweetest, coolest couple you will ever see. They are clearly two people in love, and you don’t have to listen long to realize that they are newly in love, or in an old love that has been reborn. But they are working it. The dude is classically handsome – old and rugged…the chick is pretty in a very soft and maybe voluptuous way. The background noise prevents me from getting the full story, but they are working on a plan of some kind. What I enjoy the most about these two is their body language…you can’t really tell if this is their first date, or if they have been married for 30 years…but they’re having sex tonight. That much, you are sure of. As volcanic as they are, it’s likely going to happen in the parking lot. Good for them.

On the other side of me is a petite young woman, waiting on something…or someone. She’s georgeous, and has the voice of Mini Mouse. The voice is not a distraction though, it’s a lure. Whoever she’s waiting for is a lucky person. All the staff make small talk with her as they travel back and forth to my end of the bar picking up drinks for their tables.  It is clear to me that she works here and her shift is over. I can’t help but think what a life. I always wanted to do this, and I never did…bartender, waiter…it seems like such fun. Maybe I should call my friend Kevin, and Outback Steak House proprietor, and get a job.

I order my food, get my legs under me and listen to the banter all around. I’m over the crush on Vashta, and now just in a state of admiration. She is the only bartender taking care of the entire restaurant…and this place is huge. She is busy, she is in a hurry, but she has a minute or two for everyone, and she sells her product…the Rogue Dead Guy Ale is rather tame compared to an IPA…Abita Purple Haze is a Raspberry wheat…good if you want something sweet. The Dogfish Head (shudder) is very hoppy. There are 32 taps on the wall behind the bar; she knows the story of every beer. She works with pride. She is as busy as one could be in this hectic situation, but not a single hint of impatience. She is kind to everyone – customers and co-workers.

I ask her why she shudders when she mentions the Dogfish Head, and she replies, “Really? I didn’t notice. I’m not a fan of hoppy beers, I just don’t like them”.  She speaks with a smile that I bet you could hear over the phone. My wife is like that, I have a friend named Becky that’s like that.

Over my dinner, I learn:  

…that Vashta’s daughter is now 16 months old. Her young family is making a trip home to PA tomorrow. Her daughter, Arianna, is named after her cousin and childhood best friend – Aria. Sadly, Aria has now passed, but Arianna carries her spirit.  If Vashta could do any job, she would be a detective.

As the crowd thins out, more of the staff were hanging around the bar, taking a little more time to chat and laugh…and sing the Isley Brother’s Who’s That  Lady…none of them know why, but now the song is stuck in everyone’s head. The couple beside me will be going on a golf weekend – just for fun, because they both “suck at golf”. They pay their tab, wish Vashta a safe journey, and head for the door. I know what happens next in their world.

Oz is killing it for Vashta and Renae in the barroom, and his confidence seems to grow with every ticket cashed out – this might be his first night with all this responsibility. Oz is 21-ish, and he is going to be a good man.  Mini Mouse is a little freaked because she notices that I’m taking it all in…and taking notes (A Large Man first, but I wanted to credit the right people) so she moves to the other side of the bar. Good for her – she doesn’t know me or my intentions. Smart and aware girl – those instincts will serve her well. I look around at these kids, and I can’t help but marvel at all the potential. I remember when I was this young…I remember feeling this vibrant. I don’t yearn for it now, but it’s a nice memory.

Right now, I can’t remember where I left my keys. Shit!

As I take all this in, I’m a little less homesick, and I’m a lot more inspired to write about the folks I meet. For every jerk I meet in my travels, (like a crazy woman at breakfast this morning) I interact with 10 Vashtas, 10 Ozs and 10 Renaes. That’s a pretty good ratio. These people get it, like most of the people out there.

Give me a choice, and I would rather be at home; but until I can get there…I love this bar.  As I leave this energetic happy place, and I’m walking across the parking lot, I can’t help but notice there is a minivan about 3 spaces away from me rocking to a very gentle rhythm. The windows are completely fogged up, and you can just barely detect the sound of Barry White singing, I’m gonna love you love you love you, just a little more baby…NICE!! They may suck at golf, but they’re good with each other.

If you are ever in Louisville, cross the river into Jeffersonville and visit Rocky’s, and see if you feel the vibe. See if you like the people you meet. Tell them the Large Man sent you.

Until next time…

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