Once a week I treat myself to breakfast at a diner. It used to be breakfast with my wife, but she died, damn it, so now it's just breakfast alone at the diner. Same diner every Sunday morning, same waitress, same omelet and pancakes and coffee.
A semi-friend says to me, "That diner you always go to is OK, but if you want a really good breakfast, you have to go to my favorite bar."
"Breakfast at a bar?"
"Yeah," he says. "Some bars serve breakfast, and this particular bar serves a dynamite breakfast. Give 'em a try."
Thing is, I'm not a bar guy. When I was growing up my family allowed no alcohol in the house, and I never developed much taste for such stuff. I've been inside a few taverns, perhaps five times in my life, but always as an obligation, not really as a choice. I purchased a six-pack of fancy beer in the spring to help me past my grief hump, but I only drank two cans, and the rest will stay in the fridge until it goes skunky.
I'm also not a terribly sociable guy. Given a choice, I generally prefer to be alone. No close friends really, but to me that's a plus, not a problem. Humans are only technically my species. On a day-to-day basis, people almost never make for good times; people are what prevent good times.
But I read some on-line reviews, and people seemed to agree with my semi-friend, that this bar serves a mighty fine breakfast. So I thought about it. Told myself it had been too long since I stepped out of my comfort zone. Dared myself do it, and decided I was up for the dare. When I pulled into the bar's parking lot at 7:15 on a Wednesday morning, there were already 30 cars parked outside, and I thought to myself, That must mean the food is really good.
An introvert walks into a bar. The place has only a few tiny windows, so it was dark inside. It's a big bar, and crowded. I wanted to sit at the counter — that's my strategy at any diner; you get quicker coffee refills at the counter than at a table. Eleven guys were already seated at the counter, all side-by-side, but there were plenty of empty stools. I left a looong line of empty seats between me and those people, who were obviously friends, all chatting enthusiastically. I was there for the food, not for conversation.
First thing the bartender said, "What kind of beer do you want?"
"Uh, no beer for me. Can I have coffee please?"
I flipped through the menu and ordered breakfast. And then I started looking around the place. There were about 50 customers — the buddies at the bar, and the rest scattered at tables, and another thirty or more customers came in, one or two at a time, while I was eating. I might have been the only person there who wasn't a "regular," as the staff seemed to greet every customer by name.
Almost all the customers were men, and almost all of them ordered a beer. Most of those had a second or third beer while I was eating. Bud Light in cans seemed to be the best-seller. Other than myself, I noticed only two customers who didn't have beers — a father having breakfast with his kindergarten-age son.
Two questions: 1.) Is it legal to bring children to a bar? And 2.) Is beer with breakfast ordinary in American culture?
Even at a bar, my expectation was that at 7:30 in the morning, most people would be quaffing coffee or orange juice, not beer after beer. Maybe it's my teetotaler upbringing, but my mom always said, "If you're drinking an alcoholic beverage before lunch you have a problem." By that rule, everyone in the building had a problem, except for me and the dad and the kindergartener.
A big-screen TV on the wall played Good Morning America, a show I haven't glanced at since the 1980s. Celebrity gossip, with constant commercials and shallow news on the side, and everyone's required to be glib and toothy. GMA was vapid 30 years ago, but it's gotten worse, lots worse (as has much of American media, in my cranky-old-man opinion). The sound was muted but closed-captions were on, and my IQ wasn't very high when I sat down but it lowered every time I glanced at the screen.
I looked around the bar again. At a corner table, a man and a woman ate breakfast and drank beer and never said a word to each other. At a different table, an old man wouldn't stop talking, full volume, about how he'd righteously banged Sandra Bullock before she was famous; I'll wager all my 2019 wages he's never even met Ms Bullock. Several customers spoke fluent Republican Dumbass — "Build the wall," "Keep the Mexicans out," and that's when I noticed that everyone in the place was white.
Conversation was coming from every direction, and I'd stupidly sat at the geographic center of the room, so everyone's words bounced off the walls and back to my ears. Too many words. Too many people. And every ten or fifteen seconds, from somewhere in the bar, pffft — the sound of another can of beer being opened.
Bud Light. Busch. Bud Light. Pabst Blue Ribbon. Coors. Bud Light. Me? Yeah, I'd like more coffee, please.
Soon, almost all the empty stools between me and the buddies at the counter had been taken, as more and more buddies came in, clapping each other on the back and sitting nearer and nearer to my stool. When still more of the breakfast beer-buddies came in, several of them left the counter together, taking their food and beer and resettling at tables. Probably I'm the one who should've offered to relocate, but bite me, I was in the middle of my meal.
And I must admit, breakfast was pretty dang good. Might've been the best French toast I've ever had. The coffee was hot, the service was OK, the prices were reasonable, and there's no way in hell that I'm ever coming back to that bar.
It was loud, like any boisterous tavern in a movie, and it made me uncomfortable. Not fearing for my safety — it wasn't that kind of rowdy — but I prefer to quietly eat my eggs in a place that's, well, quiet. In a word, this place was nuts. Too many extroverts and alcoholics, too much beer at the crack of dawn, and like more and more of America these days, too many idiots. Damned good French toast, though.