Thankfulness has its limits. Sure, it’s great to come back to town for a few days. On Thanksgiving Day though, when the spread is getting cold on the table, and the family factions are retreating to their comfort zones while screeches of young relatives are echoing from the backyard, an irresistible urge starts to form. It’s instinctual, primitive, impossible to ignore. I call it “The Exit Strategy.”
When you’re through lying to Brayden about not having games on your phone and Linda is walking that tightrope she made opening that third bottle of red, it’s time to go.
Old friends are texted, plans are formed, excuses made. Your cousin down from DC is the only one without kids now, and he’s got the itch as well. Nana is taking a nap on the couch, and Linda decides to start in on politics. That convinces a couple others to join you on your quest. Arrangements are made — the sooner, the better. So as dusk turns to dark a caravan is formed, like covered wagons headed to the promised land. The bar that everyone finally agrees on will be tonight’s Zion.
Thanksgiving Day has a unique place in the annals of drinking.
Black-Out Wednesday is the night before Thanksgiving, notably the most popular bar and restaurant night of the year. It’s the night where families come together to go out, because, “Tomorrow we cook, tonight we drink.” Long absent relations are reunited; familial bonds are strengthened. The bar is full of long hugs, laughter, the spiced smell of toddies. Every restaurant has large groups and wait times. Frantic servers hustle to each table, refilling glasses, yelling at expos and avoiding levitating children in the throes of sugar highs.
There’s money to be made, and while busy, it’s not that different from any other holiday. However, the day after has an edge to it. There’s something about having to work on Thanksgiving night that feels… off. It’s not bad, — I look forward to it, mostly. There’s an “in the trenches” mentality. To make up for the slow weeks of fall, most who don’t leave town for the holidays jump at the opportunity to pick up shifts, work doubles, jumpstart that inevitable boom that arrives between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We count on it. We thrive on it.
Restaurants, understandably, are slow on Thanksgiving Day. But the bar scene is a powder keg of unknowable drinking limits, awkward encounters with people you left behind in grade school and the occasional emotional breakdown. That goes for the Industry folks too. Blackout Wednesday has a place in notable bar nights, so does Amateur Night. Where the night before is full of good cheer and brotherhood, Thanksgiving night is an odd assortment of people eager to get away from the reunion. Industry folks take advantage of this while taking the opportunity to escape as well. Family time loosens up and some need to come out. Our holiday begins when everybody else goes back the grind.
So, by choosing to work on these days for the payoff, there’s a social contract to accept the shitshow that comes with it. .
There’s something about seeing new faces at the bar you work at. You finally get to meet the random relative you’ve heard so much about from established regulars. You see glimpses of who that regular was before they started darkening your door after work. It’s eye-opening to see how people act around family versus people you only know from here. Some are alone, and know nothing about the city, but just have that need to be around strangers. There’s some that don’t have anyone else, and their bar crowd is the closest thing they have to family.
We do a potluck at the bar on Thanksgiving, open to anyone. We’re all orphans at work. These examples are what makes it hard to gauge the outcome of the night.
Sarah doesn’t come out much, but she wants to keep up despite her low tolerance. Nick is going through a divorce and this is the first Thanksgiving without the kids. You haven’t seen your best friend in a year. The nasty break-up Justin had in high school is sitting a booth away. Unknown factors like these can influence the evening.
All of these scenarios have happened and will continue to. Our job is making it as enjoyable as possible without judgement and with a healthy dose of compassion if the night turns sour. We don’t know their stories or what they’re going through. There’s a need present, and we accommodate.
Your crew arrives on schedule. Time to wallow down in gossip, exaggerate about what you do for a living, maybe see a welcome face you didn’t expect. Everyone will go their separate ways in a day or two, but tonight you’re together, even if you don’t know the guy sitting next to you. Even Linda shows up, she took a nap and it’s time for Round 3. “What kind of Reds do you have?”
There’s happiness in company, even if it’s not yours.