It was a Thursday night, territory I once cheerfully lumped into the greater weekend, and just like the old days I was driving around in search of one last drink.
But it wasn’t quite the same, because though it was technically evening, the time had just passed 7 p.m. and I wasn’t chasing down a couple quick whiskies before last call but a strong cup of coffee — preferably an Americano — so that I could stay awake for the next few hours and finish my work day.
We all jam several different lives into our years on this planet; most of the ones I’ve crafted so far involved absurdly late hours and very little sleep.
I started tending bar in college, and there were times that, after I’d restocked my bottles and wiped down my bar, I’d run through a quick shower and head for my 8 a.m. class while the rest of the staff went out for morning beers.
I attended grad school at Igor’s Lounge & Gameroom on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans between the years of 1995 and 2000, and between the hours of 2 and 10 a.m. I watched the sun rise most mornings, because even when I wasn’t working I’d usually usher in the dawn with friends at bars in my French Quarter neighborhood.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I would often say, taking a page from the Book of Warren Zevon, an ethos I carried with me even after I moved to the Triad, where the bars close at the ridiculous hour of 2 a.m. and sometimes, believe it or not, even earlier.
I never found my coffee on Thursday night, so by the end of the performance I attended my eyes were watering with exhaustion. It had reached nearly 11 p.m. by the time I got out of there, way past my bedtime in this life, and yet for some reason my wheels rolled into downtown Winston-Salem, where I slipped into Test Pattern and let the raucous electricity of the band, the smell of beer and booze and wisps of cigarette smoke wafting in from the sidewalk wash over me, like running into an old friend.
I think I lasted 20 minutes before checking out and doing what all reasonable middle-aged men do at this hour on a school night: I went home and went to bed, grateful I hadn’t had that last drink.