I’m Back in the Saloon (Again)

That's a mix of Blue Steel and the no-look pour.

I’m doing everything I can to hang on to the job title “bartender.”

I’m something less than part-time right now — most accurately, an on-call bartender — but even after a particularly taxing week at work, I can’t wait to shoot down to Mankato tonight to spend a couple nights slinging drinks to college kids.

I’ve written about my affinity for working at South Street before. I’ve since put in a few shifts only to find I’m getting older and college kids are staying the same age. More depressingly, the only people I know in Mankato anymore are those I get to work with at South Street. It’s good to see them, but it’d be nice to serve an old friend now and then. Apparently, they’ve all graduated and moved away.

My most recent shift at South Street was about a month ago on a Sunday night. Business was slow and I didn’t see a single familiar face, save for my girlfriend’s. I had to work at 9 a.m. the next morning and didn’t make it back to Minneapolis until about 5 a.m. All told, I drove 160 miles to work a five-hour shift for just $43 in tips. On the way home, I started thinking maybe I should hang it up. Maybe the thrill is gone. Maybe it’s time to put the bartender shtick behind me.

But I can’t quit it.

It’s graduation weekend in Mankato, and hundreds of mid-year grads will pretend this is their last night in town before they set off for an adult life with full-time expectations. Sure, they’ll visit for homecoming, but they’re putting college in the rearview, thinking about bigger and better things. Who can blame them?

I did that. I did that twice. I graduated, then stuck around Mankato to dabble in graduate school, then moved to Portland and came back again. Now, I get to Mankato whenever I can, usually to work the same job that carried me through college. Maybe I’m the loser. Maybe I’m the one who should grow up. Maybe I should put bartending in the rearview.

But why?

I love the sense of community I feel at South Street or any bar, for that matter. My parents owned a sports bar during my formative years, and though the crowd was drastically different than South Street’s, I admired the way my mom and dad would float throughout the bar, saying hello to regulars and always meeting new people, organizing events like the Bogey’s Golf Tournament or the Bogey’s Super Bowl Party. I started working at a bar when I was 12 years old, filing dried-up cheese and ketchup off dinner plates for $3.25 an hour. Forget college — maybe working at a bar reminds me of my childhood.

Maybe I have nothing to apologize for, because I’m now closer to 30 than 20 and I don’t want to end up a bitter middle-aged man who too hastily let go of the things that made him happy. If anything, I’m lucky. It’s not like I’m trying to sneak my way into the Minnesota State University intramural basketball league or the Gage dormitory, for that matter.

I’m trying to play some loud music while pouring a few drinks with my friends, maybe while having a few of my own. There are worse ways one can make a buck.

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