As I sat within the walls of my least favorite hometown bar, The Downtown Tavern, the television aired a commercial for Yuengling, calling it “America’s Lager.”
A smile crept upon my face without my even noticing. Yes sir, Pottsville, Pa.: the home of America’s oldest brewery. The people on either side of me broke out in an excited buzz of conversation regarding the overwhelming popularity that our hometown had acquired since the birth of Yuengling television commercials.
My people-watching was then rudely interrupted by the suffocating smell of fried food, mainly onion rings.
“What do you want?” hissed the bartender; a middle-aged, overweight woman with a Harley Davidson tattoo on her flabby, right bicep. As much as her attitude pissed me off, I also found comfort in it. Like the way people say New Yorkers are so rude to one another but that’s what keeps them so close together as “New Yorkers.” Anyway, I told her in my own sarcastic attitude that I’d need to see a menu and I’d like to order a rum and coke, double.
I looked toward the window as I waited. Every time I’m home, I always seem to be waiting for one thing or another. Waiting for friends to return home from college, waiting for my dad to come home from work, waiting for school to resume. Either way, I was now waiting for only two things: my friend to rejoin me from within the damp, dreary walls of the putrid-smelling bar bathroom, and the b**** bartender to return with my rum and coke double, probably after she spits in it.
As I gazed toward the window, I watched the moon as it struggled to make its way inside that one foot by one foot space; the only illusion of the outside world any of us could see in here. I could see out only to one of the five banks in our small city, and I began daydreaming about the drives I used to take with my best friend, Megan, atop the highest point in Pottsville where West Market Street meets the avenues: the only place you could truly enjoy the skyline.
We called it “the descent” because we started there and made a serious of lefts and rights, never paying attention to which road we were on. Every single time we made our way down the mountain, we always ended up at Maroon’s Sports Bar and Grill, the proverbial North Star for our nightly adventures.
“Here! And knock off the g***** attitude next time!” the chubby bartender barked at me. My ongoing reputation as the little Irish scrapper who doesn’t take s*** from anybody suddenly surfaced as I felt my face turn red. I hadn’t let her out since high school, when all the boys I went to school with could count on me to start trouble. I guess that’s why they like me – nothing but honesty came out of my mouth, regardless of consequence, plus I was a bigger joke than most of them, judging from my inevitable run-ins with the local police.
I had already had $26 worth of drinks at another bar prior to this one, and I just wasn’t in the mood for any hometown bull****. I snapped back. My male friends and Blue Mountain High School comrades watched from the pool table in the corner, half-excited to see a brawl and half-ready to scoop me up and get out of that dirty dungeon the people of my hometown call a dive bar. My cousin Sabrina beat them to it. She lifted me off the barstool like an infant and carried me by the waist out of the decrepit brick building.
Instant refreshment, like a complimentary mint on a hotel pillow, enveloped me as she dropped me not-so-gently to the pavement outside. The air outside was crisp and clean. Well, as clean as it could be for the coal region. The smell in the air was nothing more than car fumes and the distant smell of fryers from the bar kitchens. It was homey, and at the same time depressing.
Not somewhere I want to be forever, but somewhere I want to return to often.
As I lit my next cigarette, I paused to take in my surroundings. My friends had all joined me on the street as a small company, all congregating around me spitting mindless chatter over the fight that almost took place. I blocked them out and looked upwards to where the towering buildings stand on their tip toes to kiss the stars. Then from within myself, I felt the overwhelming joy in finding these people in my life. The people that have since spread all across the country to find themselves, have all gathered around me now in allegiance as they vowed to never go back to that “s***hole.
Pottsville is not the city that never sleeps, nor is it a place free of drug trafficking or a thriving economy outside of the brewery, but it is a place that I have to call my own and a place that is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever seen. That mystery and danger alone is enough to keep me coming back for more.
Or at least every time I need to be kicked out of a rundown, local bar so my friends and I can go wreak havoc elsewhere.