Thursday, September 15, 2011

Friends in Rough Places

I spent the day in a leadership training program. We had taken the Meyer-Briggs assessment, and some other tools for discovering our strengths. It was a great day that got me to thinking about a lot of things. One special exercise we did was write about an event or special strength we have that people wouldn't know about us. The class of trainees blew me away with their stories, accomplishments and experiences. I shared this story:

When I was a graduate student, I held a number of jobs to help pay for rent, food and other expenses. I played in a number of regional and professional orchestras, taught private lessons, and had a ridiculously demanding graduate assistantship. On top of that, I tended bar at a local hotel.

I actually started tending bar when I was in college. Back then, Wisconsin's legal drinking age was 18. I started when I was 19; serving beer at a bar not far from the Conservatory of Music. I learned then that I preferred being behind the bar, rather than jostling with drunken students - especially college students from Illinois who hadn't learned their limit like I did in high school.

Bartending offered me so many opportunities to develop skills I never expected. A good bartender knows how to mix cocktails, or recommend craft beer. A great bartender knows when a patron is about to get out of hand and needs a cab, or how to see a fight before it breaks out. When I'd see a customer about to get rough (it's in the body language and facial expressions), I'd signal to the bouncer or I'd find a way to intervene with a distraction. These skills served me well in Appleton and in Bowling Green.

The bar in Ohio was part of a restaurant/hotel not 400 feet off Interstate 75 South. Most of my regular customers were truck drivers, or vehicle delivery drivers heading south from Detroit. One night, the restaurant was having a crab leg special; all you can eat. There was one table who kept eating 3/4 of their plate and sending the rest back for one complaint after another. After four returns to the kitchen - and about 5 pounds of crab consumed, they demanded that they not pay their bill, which included a $100 bar tab. I said, "(nicely).....No."

As the argument was heating up, a gang of bikers walked in the bar. They looked just like you could imagine - leather chaps, scuffed boots, black leather jackets, scraggly hair, and missing teeth. I wouldn't say they were pretty. The last thing I needed was a hard time from these guys. I invited them all to sit at the bar, and I poured each one of them a free shot of Jack Daniels.

I said to them, "Don't worry about a thing, gentlemen. I'll take care of you." The name of the club (according to their jackets) was "The Penetrators of Detroit." I didn't ask.

They appreciated the gesture and ordered a round of beers for themselves. Then they watched me try to deal with the irrational diners. As their voices continued to gain in strength, I matched theirs with polite firmness to the liquor laws of the state of Ohio. They must pay for their bar tab; I would waive the costs of the food. They got more belligerent. I stuck to my offer. They took my name and threatened to get me fired. I said, "Go ahead. Give it a try. But I won't bend the law to make you happy."

They threw money on the table and walked about. We closed the restaurant, but the bar remained open. The bikers stayed until I closed the bar. After I cashed in the till, I got on my bicycle to head home. The bikers were staying at the hotel. They were lingering in the parking lot as I rode off.

Two blocks into my ride home, a car was speeding down the street and hit another car, which swerved off the road, 10 feet in front of me. The bikers heard the crash and got to the scene within seconds to see if I was alright.

I was a little shaky, but just fine. I got a good look at the driver of car who caused the accident and drove off. Some of them waited with me while the police arrived. What I didn't know is that one of the bikers chased the hit and run driver until the police caught up with her. She was brought to the police station, and I was asked to identify her. (You bet, I did.)

The biker who waited with me was named Mike. "Mike of the Detroit Penetrators." His gang was in town for a gathering of bike clubs in a nearby quarry park. He invited me to join their party the next day.

Curious to see what it was like - and I can't believe my mom is reading this - I went. I dragged a friend with me; who was pretty intimidated by the scene. When I spotted Mike, he had a gift for me.

A hollowed point bullet. He said, "Little lady, the next time someone gives you trouble like last night, you just show them this, and tell them you know how to use it."

He let me sit on his bike. We stuck around for the turkey shoot. Which was kind of sad because they were actually shooting at a dead turkey hanging in a tree.

My friend was getting pretty nervous after about 20 minutes, so I thanked them all for being there for me. As I gave him one last hug good-bye Mike said, "You took care of us - so we took care of you."

#90 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

I've had some fun with this blog challenge. I don't think I'll stop. I may not be as consistent with the writing - because I want to put some of my energy into writing more on the ArtsLehigh blog; and maybe a little more on a third blog that is more about my developing theories of arts engagement in higher education. I also guest blog for the Americans for the Arts, and I've got some more research projects on the shelf.

Today's inspiration led me to locate my memory jar to find the bullet. When I was digging around the jar, I re-discovered a bunch of mementos and tidbits of things that all have a story. Blogging has become somewhat therapeutic. Unless I need to write about my boring, busy life, or vent about parenting, or some other banal topic, I'll dig out something in the jar and write the story about it. If nothing else, I'm sure it'll give my mom something to talk about at her next book club meeting.

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

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