The piano player keyed a few bars of ‘Piano Man’ as I found a corner spot at the bar. The Shiloh Inn – always with a restaurant and always with a flashback to 1956 – offered a haven from the rain and traffic near the Portland International Airport.
As a transitory hub, I sat at the bar with other single travelers. Our eyes cast downward as we checked email, and Facebook, and email again. I momentarily laid my phone face down on the bar to glance at the Navy football team on TV, but soon picked up the phone again. Just to see if I had received another email in the past 30 seconds.
Then I noticed the bar tender fumble somebody’s bill and I made some funny comment about Tom Cruise and Cocktail to break the tension. The woman next to me replied to the comment, and we started talking.
I soon found myself sharing admissions to her good humor, such as expressing my once indecision about having children (side note: a friend – who held a similar viewpoint – and I once partook in an “ambivalent baby” party in her front lawn, which was pretty awesome). The woman at the bar confided to me that she had felt the same way, but once she had a child it was like “putting on an old sweater. I knew that I was meant to do it.” As she said that, it suddenly became clear that when our destinies (or the things that are meant to be) are realized, you know because they wrap you up in warmth and love and comfort and relief and safety, just like the fit of an old sweater.
Then on the other side of my corner seat, a man pulled out a bar stool and ordered a Crown. He quickly fell into conversation with us and I soon felt the tension building between the man and woman next to me, both about a decade older than myself, and I happily played a lubricating role in the flirtation.
“What do you do?” she eventually asked him.
“I’m in nuclear engineering,” he replied. “What do you do?”
“Oh, I’m in wind energy.”
“HA!!” I emitted with a clear lack of control. “What do you guys call each other behind your backs?”
“We call them propeller-heads,” he said with good nature.
“Well, he is part of ‘the other green energy'” she shot back with a smile.
Another howl of laughter erupted from me, enough to garner the attention of the rest of the bar.
Soon we conscripted the other patrons into conversation. The white-haired man drinking vodka tonics, with one hand gesturing and the other hand dancing, taught me some Italian to use in Firenze: “Be-a-cherry” (or nice to meet you).
My initial bar friend and I agreed to never sleep with any firefighters (although wild land ones are ok) since learning that one of the patron’s recently estranged wife had posted on her fb page (that night in fact) that she was now dating a firefighter. We deleted it off our mental Bucket Lists, and it was definitely worth the sacrifice.
The young Navy man down the bar also had us promise not to sleep with any battleship men (although I’m not really sure what that even means) but we gamefully agreed.
In that bar, we organically formed a transitory community while listening to the piano man play into a previous generation. Instead of sitting on the stools with eyes tuned to a moving screen to escape our silences, close ourselves to humanity, hoard our energy we think we need to conserve, and combat our fear of the present, we put our phones down and opened. And bonded. And laughed. And shared energy that actually made ourselves feel worthy with generosity.
And we fell a little bit back into 1956.