When I turned eleven years old, my dad left a cozy job selling life insurance and bought a tavern. He ran it for fifteen years, but after his second heart attack decided to turn it over to my brother-in-law. The crowd soon transformed from old factory workers into young Harley motorcycle riders. Every one of them looked like they’d jumped out of a ZZ Top album cover. They were the quintessential beer drinkers and hell raisers.
A few years later, my brother took over duties as head barkeep. I moved back home from California shortly after that, nursing a nasty breakup, penniless and without a job. I don’t know if my brother just felt sorry for me or if my dad twisted his arm, but in no time we were sharing duties running the tavern. There was only one condition: he worked the morning shifts and I had to work nights.
I didn’t really mind though. After all, the real action happened after dark and I was going to be right there in the middle of it. Night after night, I babysat drunks, fed them pickled eggs and broke up fights. Most customers only knew me as the smartass kid from California. Over time, I’d like to think that I grew on them…at least I know they grew on me.
You might think that managing a bunch of drunken bikers would be the most dangerous job in the world, but I soon learned the secret to success: drinking on the job. Yes, when it comes to bikers, when one of them buys you a shot, you drink it. It’s the modern day version of the ‘pirate code’. All I can say about that is the nights definitely went by faster.
I remember one evening during the summer when the whole motorcycle gang came into town. A rainstorm was blowing the wind sideways and nobody wanted to ride in that kind of weather. They all piled into the crowded bar, wet and muddy. Some brought their bikes inside and parked them in the back in order to keep them dry.
One guy, let’s just call him Sasquatch, ordered a whiskey and coke. I mixed it up, handed it to him and said, “That’ll be a dollar.” He looked up, one eye staring me down while the other one searched for a rafter to hang my sorry ass from, pulled out a switchblade and stirred his drink. Then he laughed and walked away. My buddy saw the whole thing and could tell I was shaken up. Fortunately, he knew what to do.
“See that guy at the end of the bar,” he said, “that’s their leader. Go tell him what just happened.”
“I can’t do that, he’ll kick my ass.”
“They’ll all kick your ass if you don’t.”
I nodded, knowing he was right, drank another shot for courage and toddled down to the end of the bar expecting it to be my last. I told the man what had happened as politely as I could. He nodded and didn’t say a word. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, I returned to serving drinks.
A few minutes later, Sasquatch flopped a five spot on the bar, slammed down his glass and walked away. The next thing I know, burnt rubber filled the air as someone had fired up their bike, squeezed on the handbrake and gunned the throttle. After leaving a huge half-inch divot in the wooden floor, the guy slowly rode through the bar and out the front door.
I never had another problem with the gang after that.
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