Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A City of Gracious Living

Upland is a strange city. It’s composed of many different worlds, and diverse, but that diversity is greatly segregated into it’s nice, well defined little sections of middle class houses, very nice rich houses, below train tracks section, freeways bordered by homeless people holding up signs for a handout, just below the sign that says “Welcome to Upland, The City of Gracious Living”. Just a small suburban town to the outsider, towered by majestic, comforting mountains, scattered parks, small shopping centers, a historic and sleepy downtown. The other side of Upland is the bars. Upland seems to have a lot of them. There is the old Hi Brow, a dive bar that seems to be a right of passage for those who were born here, attended elementary school, highschool, and find themselves on the cusp of adulthood, either attending one of the neighboring cities community colleges, or in the in between, “I’m just gonna take a break before I start college” stage.

They walk in, pull up a stool, order a beer, and it begins. They belong here, they feel. They have waited all their sleepy small town lives for this, they just didn’t know it until they walk into that open door next to the pet grooming place and the thrift store, and day seems to turn into night. It’s the same old bar tenders with the bad customer service, most of them. And sure, they’re nice to you at first, cause your fresh meat, and maybe you won’t cause any problems. But if you have the insanity to do what most people tend to do in Dive Bars, you become the out cast, and the Hi Brow becomes the Taj Mahal to the bartenders, and you are dirtying their sanctuary. How dare you get drunk in their place, amongst the old guys who have been there since their right of passage years ago, and never seemed to leave.

First they come in at night, like any respectable drinker, bar goer. After a few years, then maybe after work, when most of the old timers are there. Then, the worst is when you go back in the morning or day sometimes, and there are the few unemployed, playing Keno games, getting free shots from the day bar tender. You walk out drunk, forgetting it is still daylight out, with no where to go but home, or to another of Upland’s many bars. You feel bad. The city feels depressing, cause it is. There is really not much to do there but this, unless you were one of the fortunate ones to have a family to tend to, soccer game to coach, a business to run.

And it’s the same old people in these places. And they are hypocritical and judgmental, while they are doing the same thing you are.

One bar opens, one closes due to fights, or some other problem, or lack of “insurance” paid to some politician. And the hungry group migrates around, to each new bar, until they tire of it. Then go back to where they started, until they get tired of that and the cycle of the bars in Upland is endless, and everybody know everybody.

I grew up in this town, after my family moved here from Ohio when I was seven. California was to that little girl, wilderness, mountains, palm trees, beaches, Disneyland. But where this town is noisy, it is very noisy. And where this town is quiet, it is too quiet.

I was a brownie in the Upland Christmas parade once that went through the historic downtown, with it’s old buildings and antique shops, and a big white gazebo sitting in the middle of the main street. My mom used to take us shopping in that downtown occasionally. A brownie so happy to be walking in the innocence of the parade. Later in life, I spent my time in that same downtown at the Old Baldy Brewery. Especially on $2.00 Tuesdays, where their brewed beer, Raspberry, or Peach, or Blonde was only $2.00 a pint (with an much more expensive hangover), and they had Karaoke. Amongst the younger, fresh batch of right of passage crowd, there were the oldies. Like Curly, a big fat middle aged curly haired drunk, who always wore a white T-shirt and sang karaoke songs like “Cat In The Cradle”, and he was good too, very entertaining, very exciting, sitting there in your fancy going out to the brewery drinking outfit, sipping or gulping on your pint, depending on what stage you were in and what your intention was for the evening, feeling free, feeling a part of it all. Reveling in discovering this part of Upland you never knew existed until now.

And there was “the Watcher”, the old guy who always wore the same windbreaker, glasses, with greasy hair, with his thick working class hand on his beer glass on the table and his elbow propping his hand up over his mouth that barely concealed the same amused smile at the new kids shenanigans and drama. Sometimes he would stay till closing if it got really good, just sitting there quiet like that, smiling, not saying a word, watching.

And then there was the in-between age Benny, who walked around singing Benny & The Jets, in his sunglasses, except he changed the words to “Vegas is the best.” That guy taught me how to “levitate”, a very important bar skill, that sealed a bond between us from that point on, even though we never really had talked before that.

I am convinced that to the middle class kids, when they are young, these bars are invisible and do not appear until you hit 21. And when you walk in all young, naive and innocent, you are the most beautiful creature in the whole world. Except at that time you don’t realize that you are the most beautiful creature in the whole world to a bunch of old drinking class men who do not want to adore you, they want something from you. And in return for their admiration of your youth and free spiritedness, and jokes they want you to make them feel better about their lives. In whatever way that means. But mostly, at first that just means, they look at you, flirt with you, and you flirt back cause your glad someone is paying attention to you and thinks your great. And you can loose yourself in the beer, you’re a grown up now, a real live grown up, with an apartment, perky breasts, free will.

It’s kind of like those kids that go off to college and have the time of their lives, finally get their independence while getting an education. They have their freedom, but it is a more respectable freedom that way. Our party, the ones who didn’t go away to colleges, is in the Upland bars, that’s where we got alcohol poisoning, found out about love and sex. But some of them never leave it, like the kids graduating college and leaving all that silliness behind. Some of them stayed, and didn’t’ know there was a time to move on. Hell, some of them are old men and women now, but mostly old men, still sitting there on their stools after work waiting for the newbies to walk in with that wonderment in their eyes, and maybe if you look good enough, if you are pretty, fun, and a little bad, they stay on their stool to talk to you and order more beers just a little while longer, before they go home to their wives, and then do it all again the next day.

Jennifer Miller

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