I had already clocked out and was hanging outside the entrance of the venue talking with my coworker, who was closing by himself tonight. Almost all of the patrons were gone, and the bartenders were doing their closing cleaning duties. Two males exited the venue and wobbled off to wherever they were going. Now that we live in a time of cheap and convenient Uber and Lyft drivers, there is literally no reason to ever get a DUI. There never really was to begin with, but you get my point. Cabs regularly park outside our venue and wait for some easy fares. People stand on the sidewalk watching their Lyft or Uber driver’s progress on their smart phone’s map. Within minutes, they are safely picked up and transported home.
But tonight a female bartender came outside in a panic and yelled to us, “Those guys are hammered. We cut them off and they were talking about driving home. STOP THEM!” Immediately the adrenaline shot into my system and I kicked back into work mode. We ran around the corner and sure enough, saw the more-drunk of the two men opening up his car door.
We sprinted over to the car yelling at the men. I went to the driver’s side door where the man was already sitting, keys in hand looking for the ignition. All of his windows were down. My coworker was on the other side of the car talking to the other man. I started trying to talk the man out of it. “Sir, you are not going to drive home tonight. You have had too much to drink and you’ve gotta stay.” He mumbled some drunk-speak about being fine and he was going to drive. “Nope. You can pick up your car tomorrow. Let’s get some coffee in you and call you a cab.” He kept mumbling his protests. “My friend, this isn’t worth going to jail and losing your license. Or hurting somebody. I just want you to get home safely.” All of this sound logic would have worked on a sober person. But you just can’t reason with drunk people. My coworker and the man’s friend were on the sidewalk pleading with him to give me the keys. I finally said, “Hey look over there, your friend is talking to you.” The driver glanced over and I reached inside the car window and snatched the keys out of his hand.
The man looked like I had just stolen all of his retirement money. He nodded to himself bewilderedly and smiled. I walked away to the sidewalk with his keys. It turns out the less-drunk friend had a hotel room at the hotel directly behind us. He offered to let the driver stay in his room that night. I gave the keys to the more sober friend. We thanked him and watched them stagger over to the hotel room, open the door, and go inside.
My coworker said, “Damn man, you oughtta clock back in. You just saved somebody’s life tonight.”
* * * *
Some thoughts on alcohol. Without it I wouldn’t have a job. If you take a macro view of what I do, my job is essentially to confirm that you are old enough to drink alcohol, and then kick you out when you’ve had too much of it. That’s it. It’s a legal drug that kills more people than all other drugs combined. And yet, it is tolerated, promoted, pushed, advertised, and worshipped by our entire culture. At least here in the United States. It is potentially a part of every family celebration, rite of passage, and life event. It is the most popular social lubricant or anxiety crutch.
I work around alcohol and deal with intoxicated patrons all the time, yet I barely drink at all myself. I’ll occasionally accept a free shot after work, commonly called a ‘shift drink.’ When I do drink I choose hard cider that I’m drinking for the taste, not to get buzzed or drunk. The last time I was drunk was at Burning Man in 2005, and that probably qualified as alcohol poisoning. I just can’t tolerate the hangover and the headache the day after being drunk. And I’m not 21 anymore, either. In college I could drink a bunch and snap back pretty well the next day. Now that I’m substantially older I would need the entire next day to nap and recover and be miserable and in pain. Screw all that, it’s just not worth it. I suppose I would actually make a great bartender since I don’t crave the product at all. I could never work as a chocolatier though. I would eat my weight in chocolate and be fired after one shift. I’m reminded of something somebody probably said in some western film I can’t recall the title of. “Alcohol? Oh it’s the devil’s drink. I ain’t got much use for the stuff myself….but I sure do make a livin’ off of it.”
One behavior that I don’t particularly understand is this: Getting off work but staying at the bar you work at drinking with your coworkers. Some people hurry up so that they can clock out and run a block or two away to another bar. This is where their friends work, so they can get a drink or two in there before they stop serving. I suppose that if you really like alcohol, it must be a kind of torture to handle it, pour it, and serve it all shift when you can’t have any. Then when you’re done all you want is a shot and a beer back. Me? I just want to go home and chill out after work, where I could have a drink in peace and solitude. I’ve already been around people all night and I don’t have the bandwidth to put on the social mask and engage in small-talk with anybody. And drunken small-talk is even worse. I’m not single, so I’m not interested in flirting with anybody. And I’ve already been here for too many hours, so staying longer just doesn’t appeal to me. Blowing my cash tips that I was just given on overpriced drinks seems like a complete waste. I know I sound like a boring old miser, but I’ll save my money by not remaining in the bar giving my tip money right back to the business. I have a Tupperware container hidden away at home that I put all my tips in so I won’t spend them on impulse purchases. I even have a secondary envelope full of tips I get specifically from working private rental events or catering jobs. This envelope is beginning to look like something you would see in a crime movie when somebody is making a payout after robbing a bank. My Tupperware tips and thick cash envelope will hopefully allow me to take my family on a vacation somewhere without puddles of rainwater.
I’ve had a couple girlfriends who would definitely qualify as alcoholics. Functional alcoholics. Binge drinkers. But still alcoholics. That certainly contributed to the eventual demise of those relationships. I also used to throw epic parties out at my house in the country. Since the parties would go for three days, everybody would just stay and camp. That way nobody had to worry about driving home after drinking on dark curvy country roads. I’d put out a huge bowl and people would put their keys in there. But, accidents do happen and I always felt like I had to maintain sobriety in case I needed to drive anyone to the ER. So even though you’d see me walking about with a drink in my hand tending the bonfire, I was nursing the same drink for six hours. Reminds me of stories of Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin pounding back an entire fifth of Jack Daniels while performing onstage. He later admitted that the bottle was full of apple juice.
I can’t say that I didn’t experiment with alcohol. Friends of mine from high school and college might remember stories of me drinking too much in the dorms or a friend’s house. Luckily, that was decades ago and minimal evidence exists to prove our intoxicated excesses. In my thirties I did develop a taste for mango cognac, which I would deliver to guests at my parties in tall shot glasses. Nobody refused mango cognac. “You cannot possess mango.” I also liked drinking absinthe. I really liked the ritual of preparing this anise-flavored spirit. You pour absinthe into a special glass, then slowly drip iced water over a sugar cube on the slotted spoon set across the glass. When this drips down into the green absinthe and the cloud of sugar swirls around, it is called ‘the louche’ or releasing the green fairy. This was from the time where the psychoactive ingredients wormwood and thujone were still present in absinthe. Much rumor and confusion any mythology accompanies the story of absinthe. Absinthe was finally legalized in America in 2007, and it is commonly available in nightclubs and bars. Today’s absinthe is just an unusual tasty drink with much history, that appeals to those who like the taste of licorice.
My parents never had any problems with alcohol, but there were many alcoholics in their family. They did sit me down and talk about alcoholism at one point when I was a little kid, years before I would ever have even been thinking of trying alcohol. They said that, due to my heritage of being Irish and German, I should be very cautious when drinking alcohol. They said that many family members have struggled with alcoholism, and that I may be potentially more prone to react poorly to it, or to even become an alcoholic. The idea was that I may carry around a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. This warning lodged itself deep into my brain and I never forgot it.
I did indeed have an uncle who was an alcoholic. He almost died before I was born. He was drinking with his friend and they attempted to drive home. His friend was driving drunk without any insurance, and my uncle wasn’t even wearing a seat belt. They lost control and drove straight into a building storefront. My uncle went through the windshield of the car, and then crashed through the store window. He was in the hospital for three months recovering from that accident, and had to have his jaw wired shut. I never forgot this story of his completely preventable accident caused by drunk driving. When he would visit at family events I would secretly examine his face for any scars or evidence of his jaw being wired shut. As a little kid, I didn’t really comprehend what that entailed. But as an adult, I never got into a car with a driver who had been drinking, I always wear a seat belt, and I have never driven drunk.
I was also deeply affected by the loss of several of my musical heroes due to alcoholism. One of my favorite bands of all time, Led Zeppelin, broke up when drummer John Bonham died. He died from choking on his own vomit after drinking the equivalent of 40 vodka shots. Jimi Hendrix died the same way, but from a barbiturate overdose. Not only did I love Zeppelin beyond measure, but I was a budding young drummer myself, so I felt like this was a warning I shouldn’t ignore. When I started learning to play drums at age 16, I put on Led Zeppelin IV and attempted to play along with Bonzo. Keith Moon of The Who also died due to alcoholism, along with Bon Scott of AC/DC and Jim Morrison of The Doors. So many great talents self-destructed due to their abuse of alcohol. It seemed like the accursed trifecta of things to avoid as a musician were alcohol, heroin, and airplanes.
In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home
When I do spend a few minutes at the bar after a long shift, I’m usually decompressing over a non-alcoholic beverage just watching people. Most people there are talking loud and saying nothing, to quote James Brown. They clumsily flirt and ogle one another, trying to glean some confidence from their friends around the pool table. They are spending far more money than they should be on unhealthy bar food and alcohol in an effort to treat themselves, celebrate some accomplishment, or let off steam. On the good side, they are creating memories with friends. On the bad side, they are getting sloppy drunk in public. Now that I’m clocked out, they aren’t my problem anymore. The problem is, I’m still in uniform, and being a bouncer isn’t something I can turn off easily.
I think mainly of the missed potential when seeing people getting drunk in a bar. Instead of regressing to a cro-magnon level, these people could be home creating something or achieving their goals. I think of all the dreams and projects that people in the bar might have while watching them smoke cigarettes and drink beer. I bet these people have projects that they are procrastinating. I bet they would normally be writing music for their band, working on writing their book, or studying for their college coursework. They could be working out by lifting weights or running, building their own business plan, or finishing their screenplay. Or even just the more simple act of spending time with their partners, parents, or kids — creating those good memories. There’s nothing but squandered potential in here during the wee hours. Very rarely, there are people who can get amazing things done while drunk. I’m thinking of the famous painters and writers who reportedly would create masterpieces while drinking. But that is the exception, there can only be one Charles Bukowski. That cantankerous old bastard wrote more amazing lines while he was drunk than I’ll ever write in my sober lifetime.
I have theorized with my coworkers that a certain very popular television sit-com has affected all of our lives in this industry. Cheers was one of the most popular shows ever made and concerned the lives on and off shift of bartenders. This show won numerous awards, ran for 11 years, had spin-off series, and started the careers of many beloved actors. Most of my coworkers are around the same age group, so we watched this show as it aired, or later in syndication. The idea of your neighborhood bar being your safe haven and sanctuary started with us all watching this show. No matter how bad your day was, you can walk into the bar and everybody yells, “NORM!” The neighborhood bar is the great decompression center with your friends. I think we internalized the themes of having work mentors/coaches, friends/therapists, lovers, and people you see more than your family becoming your family. No, I never consciously thought I would grow up and work in a bar. But somewhere in my childhood those archetypes and characters and relationships making a home and a family in a bar embedded themselves deeply. And decades later, here we are.
We all just wanna go where everybody knows our name.
I don’t think most people like drunk people. Intoxicated people become rude, boisterous (loud), selfish, cocky, demanding, and really repetitive. They can’t control their bodily functions well and might vomit, or trip and hurt themselves. Property damage is also a concern. Or they want to fight people, or put their hands on people without consent. And I would guarantee that alcohol has involvement in a majority of rapes and sexual assaults. Then, to compound things, the usual verbal de-escalation techniques or verbal judo that I typically employ are rendered ineffective. It’s like they put up a +10 Shield of Unreasonable. Because you just can’t reason with drunk people. Honestly, I really hate drunks. The irony isn’t lost on me that I hate drunk people, yet I have chosen a career that literally manufactures drunk people. We are producing the very problem that we then have to handle. Job security at it’s finest.
So at the end of the night, I’ve clocked out and am sitting at the bar. I’m tired and drained and sweaty. I’m not drinking alcohol, obviously. I’m drinking soda water with about four squeezed lemon slices in it. I’m texting my wife goodnight and telling her what time I will probably get home and quietly crawl into bed with her. I hear the manic sirens of an approaching emergency vehicle. Instead of rubbernecking to see if it’s police, fire, or an ambulance, I just look up at the rows of glasses hanging upside down above the bar in front of me. The red and blue lights from the police car reflect and glitter inside all of the glasses, lighting them up like a string of Christmas lights. I stir my drink slowly, wondering if they are responding to another drunk driver wreck, and hoping that nobody went through the windshield.