Last week I found myself sitting in a local watering hole far far away from my normal haunts here in Columbus, Ohio. The place wasn’t what you’d call fancy. It was just another kinda upscalish dive bar that at first seemed to have convenience as its one redeeming quality. It was stone’s throw from the hotel and the snow was coming down pretty hard.
I could tell from the minute I walked in that this was the kinda place where people just “knew” other. There were no pool tables or dartboards or noisy ass video games to keep the clientele occupied. Instead, there was a lone television set tucked away in one corner tuned to ESPN with the sound turned way down. There was a huge popcorn machine sitting somewhere in the middle that was free to all and a relic of a jukebox that hadn’t yet been corrupted by CDs or rap music.
This being Maine in December, most of the men gathered at the bar were clad in layers of different shades of flannel. For the most part, the women were decked out in baggy turtleneck sweaters and wore a minimum of make-up. They were not what you might consider fancy people.
I watched as the bartender poured beer after beer from a huge selection of microbrews without even consulting the other patrons. He knew which ones to place menus in front of and which ones were there for other reasons. For each one, he seemed to add a personal touch. He inquired about their families, their jobs, and their girlfriends or boyfriends. They complained about some, made jokes about the others and bitched about the weather.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do and not wanting to intrude on any of the regulars, I decided to carve out some space of my own at the other end of the bar and engage in some people watching. After my third or fourth pint of something called “Shipyard Prelude” I began to notice that I was sorta starting to feel like home. That this was the exact kinda place I’d found back in Cowtown. A sort of comfort zone where a bunch of us could escape the rigors of the outside world for a few hours and put a dent in our sorrows.
As the crowd started to thin out the bartender asked where I was from and what I was doing in town. After providing the details he poured me another and then went off to take care of something in what qualified as their kitchen. He returned with a small plate of three or four lobster rolls, breaded and fried and told me I wouldn’t find these on the menu.
“Welcome to Portland.”
As I sat there munching away I thought about all of those people that had passed through the doors that evening and how even though they were strangers, that they all seemed familiar. I’d liken it to slipping into an old pair of slippers that were broken in just right. I settled my tab and walked the block or two back to the confines of the hotel.
My flight home was scheduled for the next day. Needless to say, it didn’t go smoothly. Something about air traffic delays in Philly caused me to finally land about five hours late at some ungodly time in the morning.
I’ll probably have to go back to Portland a bunch of times over the ensuing months. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Business travel lost its allure for me a long time ago.
But at least now I know that there’s a little slice of home waiting for me on the other end.