Smiley's lunch rush had been over for an hour, almost long enough for Bartender to catch up. Only two customers were in the bar-Pool Player, an out-of-work, jack-of-all-trades who'd been sipping the same Miller Genuine Draft for half an hour, and Squatter, a Coors drinker who had homesteaded his barstool when the doors were unlocked at 9:00 a.m. Mellow music played in the background. Squatter peeled the label off his beer and added it to a growing stack. Pool Player punctuated the quiet with missed shots and soft curses. Bartender busied herself stocking the beer cooler. Just your typical mid-afternoon lull.
You who are on the road must have a code...
Attracted by the pedal steel guitar, Tourist hesitated at the front door, deciding it was safe to come in when he saw a woman bartender. Taking a paper from the free rack, he walked to the end of the bar and stood near the cooler. Bartender felt his presence and turned, smiling.
"What can I get you?"
Tourist scanned the shelves and asked for a Bass Ale.
Bartender reached inside the cooler. "I just stocked those, so they're still warm. Is that ok?"
"Sure. They're better warm. Could I have a glass?"
Squatter snorted. "Why do big city people always want glasses?"
Tourist smiled, glad that there were five stools between himself and Squatter. "I guess it's because bottles get grimy in cities, so it's not safe to drink from them."
Pool Player snickered. "Here we worry about glasses."
"Hey," Bartender pouted, "nothing survives the soap at Smiley's-look at my hands."
A large man who'd been working hard all day strode into the bar and straddled a stool halfway between Tourist and Squatter.
"Please," he said, clasping his meaty hands together in mock prayer, "grab me a cold Bud. I been dreaming of a cold Bud for hours."
Pool Player finished re-racking. "Bud, the big city workingman's beer," he mumbled, and shot the cue ball into his tight rack. Nothing found a pocket.
...and feed them on your dreams...
Workingman downed the Bud like a cup of lemonade and ordered his second. Bartender brought it, and Workingman settled on the barstool to sip. Tourist rested a Birkenstock casually on the brass footrail and skimmed March's Coastal Post while Squatter listened intently to the tape, eyes closed, head nodding. Pool Player missed a shot and ordered another MGD.
"Miller Genuine Draft," said Workingman, "choice of the unemployed."
Bartender intervened: "Ok, guys," she announced, "it's quiz time at Smiley's. Think of three typical big cities."
"Three," reprised Tourist.
"Good," congratulated Squatter, "three...big...cities."
"Typical big cities, Bartender reminded them.
"Ok," smiled Tourist, hoping to pass local muster. "New York, Los Angeles, and uh...Chicago."
"Don't forget Dallas," added Workingman. "Zap a cheeseburger for me, will ya, and some fries?"
Bartender nodded, speaking over her shoulder as she reached for a pre-fab cheeseburger. "So everyone agrees-Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York are typical big cities, right?"
Pool Player looked for the chalk.
Tourist said, "Sure."
Squatter said, "Duh..."
Bartender slid the cheeseburger into the sturdy Trak Air II convection oven.
"You could flush 'em all, far as I'm concerned, 'specially Dallas," said Workingman. Pool Player missed a shot.
"Shit. So What's your point?"
"What about small towns," she asked. "Can you name three typical small towns?"
"Depends on what you mean by typical," said Pool Player. "Towns like Bolinas and Stinson?"
Squatter snorted. "Stinson's a resort town."
Workingman finished his Bud. Depends on what you call small, too. When does a small town become a big town or a little city?"
"Or a big city," reminded Bartender as she gave Workingman ketchup and mustard. "Would you like another Bud?"
The Trak Air beeped.
"Bolinas won't," proclaimed Squatter. "I'll have another Coors."
Pool Player walked up to the bar. "Stinson wants to."
"Pt. Reyes already did," observed Workingman.
Bartender handed Workingman his lunch and asked Tourist what he thought.
"Well...uhm," ventured Tourist. "Don't ask me why, but when I think of three small towns like Bolinas, I think of Uniontown, Washington; Organ, New Mexico; and Silverton, Colorado."
Pool Player blew excess chalk off his cue.
"I been to Silverton, and it's a lot like Bolinas," he agreed. "They got a great bar there, the...uhh...Avon. The pool table was a hundred years old and perfectly level."
"That's right," remembered Tourist, "the Avon. It was a burned-out old hotel until about 20 years ago when a bunch of local carpenters got together and bought it and renovated the place."
"Yeah," Pool Player said. "I worked for them a couple of weeks. They didn't have no money left after the down payment. Paid me in beer and food, and I slept in one of the old rooms. It got intense when they got to competing with each other."
Tourist nodded. "I think they ended up taking different rooms and naming the rooms after the carpenters who designed them....full of mosaics made outta different kinds of wood and stuff."
Workingman took a huge bite of his cheeseburger, stuffed in some fries and downed the lot with a swig of his Bud. Squatter peeled the label off his beer and added it to the stack.
...and so become yourself because the past is just a good-bye...
Bartender shrugged, "So what do all those small towns have in common?"
Squatter sloshed some Coors on his sleeve. "Tourists," he mumbled, as he blotted himself with a bar napkin.
Pool Player pointed his stick at Squatter, "Drunks," he said.
"Fuck you," said Squatter
"Fights," observed Workingman. He looked at Tourist. "So what do you think Bolinas and all those towns you named have?"
Tourist thought a moment.
"Well, for one thing, they all have a place like Smiley's and people like us."
Squatter had an insight: "How 'bout a Free Box? It ain't like Bolinas unless it's got a Free Box."
"Yup," Workingman said, as he finished his cheeseburger," and people like us, like those carpenters you worked with."
Pool Player nodded and banked the three ball into a corner pocket. Tourist saw Squatter counting his change and ordered a round for the house.
"You're right," Tourist said, "Organ, Silverton, and Uniontown all had Free Boxes when I was there."
Workingman washed down his fries with the last of his Bud and handed the empty bottle to Bartender as she handed him a full one. He raised the longneck to Tourist.
Tourist raised his glass. "No problem."
"You know," Workingman speculated, "Maybe that's when a small town becomes a big town, when they get rid of the Free Box."
Everyone agreed, Squatter and Workingman had it right. Squatter took a twenty out of a stuffed wallet and ordered a round.
"And one other thing I notice about those small towns," said Tourist, raising his glass to toast Squatter, "the bars all have good stereos and they play Jerry Garcia in the afternoon."
"This is Crosby, Stills and Nash, man," said Pool Player, Don't they play music in big cities?"
"And Young," corrected Squatter.
"And Garcia," insisted Tourist, "this is Deja Vu."
Workingman sided with Pool Player. "The Dead and CSNY are way different, man."
Squatter settled the argument. "He's right, this is Deja Vu, so that's Garcia playing pedal steel."
Bartender turned up the music.
"Rewind it to Teach Your Children," said Pool Player.
They listened from the beginning and there was no need for conversation. Everyone heard Garcia in his solo.
As Jerry led them back to the vocal, two young tourists came in and sat down next to Squatter. Bartender checked their IDs and asked what they wanted.
"Two Coronas and two shots of Cuervo Gold," said one, as he flipped a credit card on the bar.
...and you of tender years...
"Jeez," said the other, "this place's a tomb. Put on the Dead or something...it's party time!"
Workingman ordered a Bud and an MGD and challenged Pool Player to a game. Squatter slid his change and his beer and his stack of labels down the bar and homesteaded the stool next to Tourist.
"You said you been to Organ, you ever been to Old Messila?"
"Sure," said Tourist, "there's a great bar there called the El Patio."
"The El Patio? Outside Las Cruces? I've been there."
"Lotsa touristas," Squatter said.
"Deja Vu," realized Bartender.
Pool Player broke and sank two stripes. "I bet they got a Free Box."
Tourist pick up his Bass Ale and took a sip from the bottle. "They do," he said, "unless they got rid of it."
"Bolinas won't," said Squatter.