The bars sit empty here. They sit empty at three when only a few of the most hardened patrons would normally be sauntering in to their favorite spots in the City (for the purposes of this writing, or any writing, or any conversations anyone ever has with me, “the City” means New York City). Unless their favorite spot serves brunch and it’s a weekend in which case the most dedicated of patrons have been there since ten in the A.M. and by now are sitting propped up against walls, edges of tables, or the bar itself wishfully thinking about a time when they could have lit one of those cigarettes they have in their back pocket right where they stand/sit/lean instead of making the trek out to the street.
No, here the bars sit empty at three, the tender behind the counter more surprised than excited that you’d be wandering in at this time of day to claim a stool. The drinks are cheaper here, which helps you justify buying all of your beers by the bucket. One of the six bottles being finished and inverted back into the bucket at a rate of one every fifteen minutes. Four thirty when the first bucket is done and maybe one other soul has wandered into the establishment. Maybe. Probably not to drink though, probably a high school friend of the bartender who just stopped by to say hello(everyone here went to high school together, perhaps there is only one school that serves the entire St Louis metropolitan area).
The stools sit empty again at six when you’ve finished the second bucket. Six o’clock is usually a bustling time in the city when the business people get off work. They stop in for one drink if they’re the bridge and tunnel crowd and those from the outer boroughs settle into chairs and stools for the night. No one knows what people that live in Manhattan do, for no one has actually met a person that lives there.
Meanwhile in St Louis you are still the only person drinking at the bar, really drinking at least. A few others have come who sit at a table and order food and a pitcher of beer between them. “More cost effective,” you think, until you realize that will be their only pitcher for the night before getting back in their cars and driving home.
Everyone drives here, which might be a reason why there are so few people at the bar. Everyone drives and the public transportation is awful. This is a lesson you will learn later in the night when you finally stumble/saunter back out of the bar and try your best to figure out which bus goes where and where to transfer and eventually whether or not there even is a bus that stops here godddamnit because I’ve been waiting for thirty minutes and I haven’t seen a single one and the schedule says there should have been one ten minutes ago.
But for now you don’t think about how you’re going to get home. Your car is parked outside and it won’t be until you stand up at the end of the night and steady yourself on the bar that you realize getting behind the wheel of anything right now would be a very very bad idea.
A group filters in around eight. They sit together, close to you at the bar. You gather that it’s on of their birthdays so you throw a “Happy Birthday” that direction, not really sure who the intended target is. One member of the group turns to you, a conversation has been struck.
“What high school did you go to?” he asks. So it seems that there is more than one high school.
“Oh, I’ve never heard of it, what county is it in?”
“Ah, so you’re not from the city?” It isn’t clear whether this is a statement or a question, but one thing is for certain, when he says “the city” he isn’t referring to NYC like a reasonable person would. He is referring to St Louis a city whose most recent gift to the world was Nelly, a rapper who hasn’t even been relevant for going on five years now.
You want to explain to him that really I did live in the City for four years before I came here on a flimsy promise of a job that didn’t come through which is why I sit in empty bars all day drinking buckets of beer for twelve dollars and trying with all of my strength to avoid the ketchup and provolone topped crackers they seem to think are pizza.
“No, I’m not from St Louis.” The response unwittingly initiates a game with your potential new friend, the game is called “Let me demonstrate my complete and thorough knowledge of Missouri state geography” it is a game in which the person you are talking to begins bombarding you with local landmarks, highway numbers, and obscure city names in order to determine exactly where it is you are from.
“Is that down near X?”
“No it’s actually in Virginia”
“Oh, so you really aren’t from around here are you?”
“No, I’m not even really from Virginia, my dad was in the army so I moved around a lot growing up.” In the City this was a tried and true conversation starter.
“Oh, well it’s my friend here’s birthday so we’re going back to his house now to hang out, nice to meet you.” Damn, I thought that was going to be my first real connection in The Lou.