Last week on Saturday I traveled to the town where I went to college forty-two years ago. I went there to watch a baseball game. After the game was over I took a walk through the old neighborhood where I lived when I was a student. It was a nice walk because good memories came flooding over me and I like it when shit like that happens. Before long I came to a bar where I had worked for a time. As I approached the front door I thought about how I hadn’t been inside the bar since I graduated all those years ago. I expected, after so much time, that some things would probably be different. A new paint color, perhaps, or updated amusements. Even though I haven’t changed I do realize that time doesn’t stop for everything else. I’m not an idiot.
In the old days the bar was a hang-out for fraternity boys, football players and anyone who didn’t technically meet the legal drinking age. It was a smoky, no frills establishment, serving only domestic beer and a meager selection of salty snacks that often went stale hanging on their displays. About every twenty minutes, or so it seemed to me, someone played Pure Prairie League’s Amie on the Wurlitzer. There was one small TV no one ever watched, neon beer signs for lighting and a bowling machine near the front door. Booths and barstools made up the rest of the furnishings. If you sprayed the place out with a fire hose you wouldn’t have hurt it much.
But oh what a difference a few decades can make. The lady who owned the bar long ago has passed on and there are new people with new ideas running things now. Today the bar has imported beer on tap, fine wines and premium liquors, shaded lamps hanging down over the copper-topped bar, paintings on the walls by local artists and, most disturbing of all, candelabras. I was shocked there were no ferns. Hell there’s even a beer menu. But no bowling machine to be found anywhere. Nor was there even the slightest hint of the soul of the old place. I was prepared for some changes, but this was too much. Completely deflated, I sat on a barstool and drank and stared at my reflection in the sparkling new mirrors, and I drank some more, and then I cursed Thomas Wolfe for preventing me from going home again, a lesson I keep relearning against my will. I also found myself wishing the new owners had changed the name of the bar when they exorcised all the other familiarities with their trendy make-over. Then, at least, there would have been a clean break with the past.
I sat there for a while in a melancholy state, remembering the good old days and wishing I could turn back the clock. Fortunately, there is no better medicine than cold beer for improving a gloomy mood, and even though I was in a place where I recognized almost nothing, it was still a place where I could get that prescription filled. So I perused the beer menu and ordered some kind of pilsner from Belgium, then I told myself to get over it. Life goes on.