Featured photo: Some people choose to spend their holidays at the bar, and that’s ok. (photo by James Douglas)
With a soft click the streetlights turn on at dusk, emitting that yellow-orange glare that the modern LEDs do so well. The chill has come and it’s well past the first sighting of heavy coats on the street. Couples meander down the lit thoroughfares on their way to a show, a bar, a restaurant.
The bar scene usually tapers off before the holidays, one of those gray areas of the year where people save up and stay home in preparation for the upcoming winter months. The lull between Halloween and Thanksgiving is noticeable in the available parking spots on a Friday night, the newfound cold keeping most customers from the patios, save a smoker or two. With the advent of the holidays comes the inevitable gatherings, the crowds and new faces traveling through.
The one thing that doesn’t change is the Solitary Regular. Randy is one of those.
At most bars, there are people who come in nearly every day. There are regulars who almost assuredly have a solitary bar ritual. Randy arrives alone, orders neat, stays awhile and leaves alone. I don’t know the first thing about his outside life, besides the usual bar chatter. I don’t ask, he doesn’t bring it up. But it’s not a depressing sight. He’s there because he’s comfortable. The bar ritual differs with each person, and Randy is content to come in, talk with other regulars he knows and leave when he’s ready, like so many others. That ritual is repeated in bars all over the world, and whether it provides a comfort or an escape is up to them. Perhaps both.
I’ve got a couple sitting at the bar and I hear a laugh or two coming from the back porch. The crew out back is made up of people who are all regulars who have met each other here. Garry and Kat have been meeting here for years. Gene comes in with his wife, Bonnie. Perry is retired and co-owns a bar down the street. A common staple most early evenings, they vary in age, race, sex, even politics, but the one constant is that they accept each other and enjoy each other’s company while they’re here.
Despite the naysayers who don’t care to be alone in public for a multitude of reasons, a good chunk of people thrive on being alone. Some have a place that is theirs, and if they don’t have a family, a church or a book club, a place like this can fit the bill. This is church to them, and they worship at the altar of drink and conversation with people who ask you for nothing but the same.
The hospitality industry has their own part to play over the holidays. Every family gathering has the standouts who say their goodbyes after dinner to meet up at a local watering hole with old friends (or the family they get along with). For some solitary regulars, the bar gathering on Thanksgiving night is the main gathering.
Public spots on the holidays provide a valuable service for those who don’t have anyone. This is family, the one they choose to have. The holidays come around and this is where their Thanksgiving will be. Granted, they might be lonely at times, and sometimes it shows, but who isn’t?
Randy saunters back in, he’s not ready to leave yet. It’s slow, most have left, and R.L. Burnside strums in the background. The chill has picked up and the well-lit street looks empty through the open window. He sits down and contemplates his whiskey before taking a sip and asking if there’s a game on. I leave him like that and start to clean up in the not-so-uncomfortable silence.