“Just a bartender.” I have heard it my entire bartending career. As if you are “just” anything. Does anyone say “just” a firefighter, or “just” a mechanic, or “just” a real estate agent? Perhaps they do. But I have never heard it.
In my long time behind the bar, I have met many extraordinary people: rock stars, politicians, billionaires, movie stars, and yes, a fair share of extraordinary firefighters, mechanics, and real estate agents too.
On any given night you just don’t know who you will meet or how that will affect the rest of your life. I remember just one such meeting about 16 years ago.
It was a Wednesday, or a Thursday, or maybe even a Tuesday. I just know that it wasn’t particularly busy. Not that those nights can’t be busy, but they are typically not quite as busy as the weekend nights.
The reason I know it wasn’t that busy, is because I had time to chat. And that is what I was doing. One of the great things about being behind the bar is that you get to meet lots of people. And as Will Rogers once said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.”
But she wasn’t a man. She was tall and lithe with long brown hair. And she liked to chat too. We talked about this and that: the weather, the business, the wine. Some might call it flirtatious, but others would recognize it as just being pleasant. Taking an interest in people is what makes mixologists into bartenders. Even I get bored talking about whiskey, and if you know anything about me, I can really talk about whiskey.
Eventually she got more to the point. She was a journalist with the local paper, and she was working on a story about cocktails. Part of her research was to search out what new cocktails were being offered around town. She was interviewing bartenders for their recipes and putting together a piece for the Lifestyles section.
“I just wrote a cocktail guide card deck,” I said. Because, in fact, I just had.
“Are you a writer?” she asked.
“I am now.”
She laughed. And I laughed.
“But seriously, I have a degree in Journalism.”
There is a saying that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. And if you know anything about writing, that is especially true. Nobody is interested in the story about a burning building after the building has burned, and ten other stories have been written about it. The news cycle moves on. It is similar with writing a book. Many people will tell you they are writing a book, and you’d be surprised at how many of them haven’t even written one word. “It’s all in my head,” they will say. And there it will probably stay.
“Is it published?” she asked. Like minds apparently.
“It is,” I replied with a laugh.
The lucky part was her walking in. The preparedness part happened next.
“I have an idea for a column about bartending, written by a bartender,” I said.
“Really?” she asked. “That sounds like something I would read.”
“I have a couple samples that I can show you,” I replied.
What came next was the opportunity.
“We are starting a new weekend section in the newspaper. You should contact the editor of that section; I think he is looking for content.”
I think I bought her a drink, or I offered to buy her a drink, or she bought herself a drink, or someone else did. Funny how the details can become jumbled after some time has passed by. But suffice it to say, on that Tuesday, or Wednesday or Thursday, my life changed. Certainly not immediately, but as time went on it did.
The funny thing is my recipe for a cocktail never made it into that story she was writing. Not everything is linear. But the column she and I talked about made it into the new weekend section of the local newspaper, named by that new editor. And as fate would have it, eventually she became my editor too. Over the years she has still swung by the bar and we have shared a chat. But none have been so life altering as that first one.
Leaving me with these thoughts.
-I have never met a man, or a woman, that I didn’t like, is my new adaption of Will Rogers famous saying.
-Being “just” a bartender can also result in two books (soon to be three) and a 15 year career as an award winning columnist.
-Goodbye and good luck Vicki Larson, you will be missed, especially by this bartender with a Journalism degree. However, if you ever want to chat, you do know where you can find me.