Shorebilly’s Swill: Taking the High Road

ShoreBilly's Swill on ShoreBread

Awhile back I had an experience in the bar which reminded me that either I’ve been doing this way too long, or that I’ve gotten kind of good at it. I’m not sure which is the more underlying theme to this story. I do know that my problem solving skills and situation handling have definitely improved over my many years behind the bar. The way I now deal with things is far different then it once was. I think it’s simply a matter of me carefully picking my battles as I get older, and not that I’ve developed wisdom.

I was working a relatively busy Saturday night. I guess it was about 11:00 and it was winding down a bit. At this point, my bar was about two-thirds full. There were mostly couples enjoying after dinner drinks, and small groups of people enjoying conversation. There was no band playing that night, so it was relatively quiet and the guests engaged in conversations had no difficulty hearing one another. Everyone was happy and seemed to be having a good time. Myself, as always, included.

About this time, a relatively attractive young lady of about thirty walked through the front door. The place was just slow enough that all of my guests took notice of her as she approached the bar. It was immediately glaringly apparent that this was not her first stop of the evening. All parties involved quickly noticed that she was very intoxicated, and very unhappy. She was alone and had difficulty walking. It didn’t take but a moment to determine that something had happened this evening to render her “out of sorts”.

Though she was familiar to no one else at the bar, I knew this lady, having waited on her several times before. She usually came in with her husband. They are both very nice people and I usually really enjoy serving them. As she approached the bar, I could instinctively tell that she was very upset about something. I greeted her with a smile and called her by name as I always do. Much to my relief, she asked me to call her a cab. I think the other patrons took a breath of comfort when they heard her request as well. I asked her if she was all right, and her response was an, eyes closed, head down, convulsive shaking of her head.

I immediately went to the phone to call the cab company that I normally used. Fortunately, I knew where she lived having called her and her husband cabs before, and even driving them home myself in the past. The knowledge of this bit of information came in handy because she was presently unable to provide me, or the cab driver with it. Thankfully, the dispatcher on the phone said it would be less than ten minutes. I returned to her to tell her how long the wait was. By now, all eyes in the bar were upon her.

I now engaged her in conversation and tried to determine where she had been, and what had happened to upset her. After my many years of working in bars, I’ve become fluent in “Drunkenese”. My ability to understand this language is how I kind of pieced together her evening. She had been out with a group of people, her husband included, and something happened to piss her off so she stormed out of the bar they were in, and left. Fortunately, that bar was within walking distance of the one I was standing behind.

The other patrons were now glued to this ongoing exchange and seemed impressed with my patience and how I was dealing with her. She then asked me for a glass of chardonnay while she waited, in a less than polite tone. As I said, I’ve waited on this woman several times before. I happen to know that she’s a very sweet young lady, but at any given time she’s only a couple of sips away from transforming from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. When she changes, it’s usually very fast, and very drastic. She’s definitely capable of startling anyone waiting on her for the first time when the metamorphosis takes place. I’m too old to deal with confrontations and altercations at this point, so I went to the other end of the bar where my pouring station was, to retrieve her beverage.

I returned a few moments later with a white wine glass filled to the level of a proper pour and placed it in front of her. I could immediately sense the crowd who were once impressed by me, turning on me. As I turned from her, every eye in the bar was now on me, and they each had a look of sheer contempt. They were all looking at me as if they were watching me approach a litter of harp seal pups with a baseball bat in my hand. It’s that same appalled and disappointed look I used to get from my parents on report card day. Yeah, that’s right, young Syd was not exactly a model student. Real shocker, huh? In fact, I routinely failed English, making this little side job of mine even more humorously ironic. But that’s a story for another day.

All of these nice folks around the bar found it completely incredulous that I had just given this woman a drink. They made no effort at all to mask their disdain for me. I had that feeling of being dressed in a figure skater costume and inadvertently entering the wrong locker room and finding myself surrounded by the rugby team. And who amongst us hasn’t had that feeling, right?

For the next few minutes Bobblehead Girl slurped from her wine glass as I played the starring role in this silent movie of hatred. My eyes never left the front window desperately awaiting the arrival of her cab. I was more anxious to get rid of this chick then my first wife was to part with me. Just then, her Scotch Guard coated chariot arrived. It only took seven minutes, but it seemed like hours. I immediately informed her that her ride was here, at which time she tilted her head back and slammed the remaining three quarters of her drink. She turned abruptly and stormed out without so much as a “thank you” or offer of payment. It’s ok though. As a bartender in a resort town, I stopped expecting manners many years ago. I was just relieved that she was gone.

The remaining lynch mob wasted no time expressing their opinions of me. No sooner was this girl out the door, and it started. One woman at the bar looked at me with fury and said,

“I cannot believe what you just did!”

To which I responded, ”What?”

And with a captive audience she said,“That girl couldn’t even stand up and you gave her a glass of wine! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

To which I said, “No I didn’t.”

Both her voice and her hostility now escalated as she said, “We all just watched you serve her a glass of wine!”

I then said, “No, you watched me give a girl a wine glass full of yellowish colored liquid. Did any of you actually see me pour it?”

The eyes of about fifteen people were all on me now as they sat in stunned silence and not one of them could answer my question.

At this time, with a captive audience, I walked over to my pouring station where I keep all of the white wine bottles and retrieved an empty apple juice can from their midst. I triumphantly held it up for all to see and said,

“THIS is what she was drinking”.

I went on to explain to this panel of judges that the woman who just left has a tendency to be a mean drunk. If I had told her that she was cut off, she would have made a scene and caused an uncomfortable environment for all of these people. If she had even noticed that she was drinking apple juice instead of wine, she may have had a valid argument that she wasn’t too intoxicated, but she didn’t. I took the simple path of least resistance and all ended well. The only casualty was mine, for the brief seven or eight minutes that my clientele hated me. Now I had won them back. As it turned out, the act of deception must have impressed all of these people because they were all singing my praise and tipping very well after that.

About twenty minutes later, the group that this girl had fled from in anger, including her husband, arrived searching for her. I gave him a brief, sugar coated synopsis of what had transpired. He thanked me profusely and went on his way. I had him call me when he got home to let me know that she was all right. And there’s your happy ending.

Mine may not be the most noble of professions, but if you do it long enough, you learn a couple of tricks of the trade. They may help you side step a mine or two. Thanks for playing along, everyone.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

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