With about an hour until my son’s band’s show, I decided to hit a local bar for one beer. Lancaster is not my home town, so going to an unknown bar can be sketchy. I had driven past this old building hundreds of times, but tonight would be my first time going into the Swan Motel. The outside of the building was all Strasburg, vintage brick and 1800s charm. The parking lot was an unpaved dustbowl with plenty of room. I figured I would be the only person there since it was only about five o’clock.
I was wrong.
The door opened into a room with a pool table. A couple of long haired dudes in jeans and t-shirts where talking trash and eye balling what seemed to be an impossible shot. I didn’t stick around for the result, but judging from the yelling, one of the guys was really happy with the outcome. Instead of waiting, I had turned left and headed into the darkened room where the bar was. The Swan was a typical L-shaped Pennsylvania bar. A seating area ran along the back wall and then the bar extended into the middle of the room. As I passed from the pool room into the bar, a group of similarly long haired men and women were well into drinks and dinner. After them, two women with voices strained by a lifetime of smoking sat waiting for what would be a white bread turkey sandwich and fries. I sat at the end of the bar next to them. Beside me on the corner of the “L” sat a mother and son. She was creaky with white hair and I guessed she was pushing 80. Her son was loud, balding, and probably in his mid fifties. Next to them was a millennial who never looked up from his phone. Straight across from me was a walking tattoo parlor who could have been a hipster and he was totally into the bar tender. She walked inside the bar with the purpose. She brought the drinks quickly, leaned in when she talked, and wore the tightest most gravity defying suspension possible. Sitting in the crotch of the L was a Bermuda shorts, white tank top wearing perpetually smiling dude. He seemed more surfer than motorcycle and I attributed his smile to the speed with which he gulped down the drafts. A guy with baggy jeans, a tank, and a backwards baseball cap sat in at the other section of the bar. Finally, two couples sat at the only table. The women could not stop talking and the guys did not say a word to each other. It was almost as if the women worked together and the guys were just along for the beer.
The air was light and heavy. If it was a beer, it would have been a black and tan. The heaviness came from the cigarettes. Other than the bartender, I was the only person not smoking. Normally, I would have avoided a bar like this, but given the short amount of time that I had it was no problem soaking in the second smokes from all around the room. The lightness of the air was in the conversation. Everyone sitting around the bar, except the baggy pants guy who was off on his own, took part in the conversation. The focal point of the of all the talking was a soccer game on television. The United States women’s team was playing France in the Olympics and every so often the old son to my left would let out a loud statement that would be judged by all of us sitting around the extended section of the bar. Jason was unfiltered and probably had been since his mom had brown hair.
“I used to coach soccer,” Jason said.
“We heard you earlier, dork,” said Ellen, one of the smoke strained vocal chord ladies.
“Oh, I didn’t know. How hot do you think it is in Rio?”
“We don’t know,” said Jenny, the other lady, “why don’t you look it up?”
“Siri, how hot is it in Rio?”
“The temperature in Rio is currently 88 degrees.”
“Just like here, hot,” he said.
At that moment, one of the soccer players got kicked and went down hard. It’s hard to tell the severity of a hit in soccer because they all flop and this was another one of those times. The old son had his an inconsiderate opinion of her discomfort. “Get up, you p_ _ _ _! She got kicked in her…”
“We know,” grunted his mother in between her whiskey sip and long drag on a short cigarette.
“I’m just saying, mom. She can’t be such a…”
“I know, pussy.” Everyone started laughing. There was something about an old lady using such graphic anatomical language that was bar funny. Nothing that Jason would say for the rest of the night would be a surprise, neither would his mother’s protests over his inappropriate-speak.
The smiling guy, Walter, walked for the ATM. The bar was old school, cash only.
Ellen had finished her half of the white bread sandwich. She and Jason had either know each other for life or had a barfly like friendship. They spoke to each other frankly in an attempt to expose every nerve and push every button the way friends do.
“Jason, why don’t you buy him a beer so he doesn’t have to tap MAC?”
“You don’t even know his name. Why don’t you show him your tits? You’ll know his name then.”
“My name is Walter,” said the smiling guy. “You don’t have to show me your tits.”
“Just for that, I’ll pay for the first fifty cents of his beer,” said Jason.
The bartender took two quarters off the table from Jason and the rest from Walter. Everyone got caught up the game and there were several minutes of bar quiet until one of the pool table guys started the juke box. Robert Plant started belting out “Angel Dance.” This wasn’t the type of music that I thought would be played in this bar, but I was appreciative of the choice. The game was nearing the end when Walter threw out a curious question.
“When do you think it will be over?”
“The game?” asked Jason.
“Yeah, what time do you think the game will be over?”
“Well, when I coached the games were ninety minutes. I’ll bet you a beer it ends at ninety minutes.”
Walter played it off well. He took his time making it look like he was confused and then said, “Well I guess I’ll have to take the over. I’m betting the game is longer than ninety minutes.”
“That only happens if they go to overtime. It won’t happen.”
With the United States leading 1-0 late in the game Jason was feeling pretty good about his bet. Time wound down and the referee added the obligatory three minutes of extended time. Jason went ballistic.
“WTF?!! Why are they still playing? The game is over.”
Walter was laughing. The millennial looked up from his phone and said, “They always add extra time to these games. That was a dumb bet.”
Jason looked at Walter. Walter looked at Jason and said, “Gotcha.”
There is something about being taken in such a way that removes the remorse and solidifies enjoyment of being stung. Jason stood up and bowed. The smoke stack sisters added to the smoke in the room with a post dinner butt. Walter drank his free beer and stretched his sudsy smile as far as his mouth would allow. I finished my Bud and stepped back into the heat and cleaner air. I survived one beer at the Swan. I couldn’t wait to tell my son.