The outside walls are warped metal and the sanghoki lot is pot-holed gravel. To park, one has to pull in on the right side of the building, drive around the dark backside of the bar, and then around to diagonal spaces the left side. If it wouldn’t seem so perfectly trite, the dark parking area would be the ideal place for a drunken fight with a switchblade and a pool cue.
It was raining hard when I pulled into the lot last night and turned off the ignition. If I’d had a collar, I would’ve pulled it up against the elements. Instead, I trudged through the gray mud and to the door. Like always, every eye in the place turned toward me and held for that extra second that makes me nervous. Everyone looked away and I made my way to the end of the bar and ordered a beer.
People need a place.
People need a place of absolution, therapy, and acceptance. Regular or irregular, if the place doesn’t exist on some level, people live entirely in their heads. It’s that soft place between the ears where depression and anxiety breed. Even if it’s a gym, a church, or a bar, it’s better than nothing. Without the place, it’s a short, slick road to unhappiness.
It’s probably clear by now, I don’t spend a lot of time in gyms and churches. I seek absolution and therapy in dark hideaway bars where Versace can be mistaken for an import beer and the women are not the least bit in danger of getting too much attention. It’s a place where the corner seat at the bar is almost always open and happy hour is actually cheap. This place has had different names and been in different cities over the years. It’s been Culley’s Pub, Johnny’s Beanery, the Corner Pocket, The Bait Shack, Zorba’s, Shaum’s, and most recently, Leeg’s.
We found Leeg’s by accident. It was the second closest dive bar to my house and the first one that was open on a night we needed a bar. If you look at me, my life, and my circle of friends, there is no good reason why I would end up as a patron there. However, once inside, I realized it was, in spirit, all of the above places. It was unpretentious, haphazard, and populated by the right kind of people. It’s not necessarily home, but when I need to run somewhere for a quick beer, it’s where I go.
I looked around and smiled to myself. Someone had scrawled a PBR special on the mirror behind the bar. A 50-something woman was playing a bowling video game. Two guys in trucker hats–and not as a fashion statement–shot pool. A small dry-erase board had been tacked to the wall on which the owner had written, “Saturday, Dec. 1, Christmas Party!, $25, Open Bar.” I considered the Sunday morning regret and shook my head. That would be one ugly way to celebrate a birthday weekend.
Blood walked in from the rain with a rueful smile and took a seat on the bar’s corner. I pointed to the dry erase board. He squinted at it and seemed to shudder a bit. We had a drink, talked poker, people, and family. As it usually does, the conversation drifted to next week’s trip.
“So,” he said, leaning back in his chair, “what are you plans for Vegas?”
The blogwash is thick with plans right now. Finely-tuned agendas, loose agendas, and agendas without agendas are all over the place. I have a loose plan in my head, but it’s largely alterable. My answer to Blood was pretty simple. “Play poker during the day. Have fun at night.”
My August jaunt to Vegas saw me execute the same plan and it was the best trip I’d had to Vegas since the first WPBT gather in 2004. I play cards until early evening and then hang out with the folks I came to see in the first place. If that means playing cards with those folks, cool. If it means hanging out at a bar, Pai Gow table, or sports book, cool. If it means raging solo for a while then re-joining everybody, cool.
I tried to figure out why my last trip went so well. Vegas, after all, is always Vegas. Apart from the skyline, little ever changes. How one trip can be better than another can seem a mystery. Of course, it’s not much of one.
See, Vegas is a place for me in that it is a place where I can can be absolved of my sins, given therapy for the life stressors, and be accepted for the semi-degenerate I really am. People, after all, need a place. However, for me, Vegas is not so much my place as the place where I find my people.
The great thing about this trip is that it usually coincides with me reallly needing it. The better thing about it is the situation as it stands now. I not only need it, I actually want it. For the first time in a while, I’m actually excited about going to Las Vegas. Now, the only thing that can let me down is me. And I’m not going to let that happen.
The tab for our drinks came to a whopping $11. It was my turn to pick up the check. I left a few bucks on the bar, grabbed my jacket, and walked for the door. As Blood and I made our way out, the bartendress called out, “See you, guys.”
I lifted my hand in a short wave.
Something that is becoming increasingly clear to me…if you really open your eyes, it’s pretty easy to spot your sense of place. It’s only up to you to make sure you do something about it.