#18 In Roads-86
Bellied up to the bar scarfing down lunch, I didn’t notice Rex until the bartender called out a greeting. He hobbles across the room supported by a cane and slides onto the barstool next to me. We exchange pleasantries and he notices my camera. “Wow, that’s nice. Who you taking pictures of?” he asks as he settles in.
“Well, how about you? May I take your picture?” I mention how nice he smells as the Old Spice hits my sinuses. “Ok, go ahead but I’ll have to charge you for the autograph,” Rex tells me. “I’m famous, you know. They call me “86” because I’ve been kicked out of every bar in these parts. Including this one. I had to come down here and talk the owner into letting me back in after his wife kicked me out a while back. I can get a little obnoxious.”
Known as a scrapper, I’m guessing the tall leprechaun to be in his late 70s and I find him charming. He’s ordered several cocktails and I tease that he must be a heavy drinker. “Only when you’re around, sweetheart,” is his reply as he nudges me with his shoulder. I realize he’s a smooth operator, too. He turns his attention to his neighbors and the bartender leans across the bar to offer up some gossip on the local legend. Turns out my new buddy can get a bit “cantankerous,” is famous for being a career drinker, known to help himself and others to drinks if the bar is left unattended and is notorious for trying to skate out on his bar bills. He lost his driver’s license years ago but continues to drive anyway. He says I’m in luck today since Rex appears to be in an exceptionally good mood and should be entertaining.
“Know what? My granddaughter just graduated from first grade in the very same school I graduated from 60 years ago,” he announces proudly. “And we just had a reunion. Our teacher is 97 years old. I still live in the very same house I grew up in, right across the street from the school. You know that old white house down the road on the left, with the blue house back behind it? That’s where I live.” I know the place and express due amazement.
“Know what else? This very bar has been part of our family, in a way, all my life, too. My dad bought it in 1949 then he sold it to my uncle, then to a cousin and then to a cousin’s husband so really, it was in my family until 1982 when it sold to the current owners.”
I ask what he did for a living and he shares that he worked in the surrounding hops fields until they tilled them under, then drove into town to work for a trucking company. “I made really great money, but I got hurt,” he pats the cane. “I’m only 66,” he declares. “Old enough to know better, but here I am anyway.” He tries to buy us a round but we’re ready for wind. “Well, too bad you have to run off but you better come back here and see me.” We promise to call ahead next time to be sure he’s around so we can hang out longer. We’ll bring a sleeping bag because I’m sure the stories will flow like wine late into the night. Or until he gets 86’d again.