Glasses washed, bartop wiped, everything else could wait. I draped tomorrow’s clothes over the passenger seat and coughed the yellow VW bug into gear down the forest road.
I almost blew the turnoff. Lost in the coastal fog, drifting through memories. Why am I even going?
It was at the tavern, The Spot, that I met James back in the ’70s. He poured beer. I waited tables.
And we entertained the regulars with our raunchy repartee.
“You women’s libbers are all alike,” he’d snipe. “Yeah, dickhead,” I’d laugh. “You tell’em.”
The few tourists who wandered in would eye us warily. James, the beefy Don’t-F-With-Me ex-sergeant sparring with the skinny 20-something with a nose ring and half-shaved head.
Locals cheered our jestful jousting. With raised beers — and generous tips.
And our post-midnight exchange became the tavern’s traditional last call. As I grabbed my jacket or sweater, James would shout:
“Where you think you’re goin’ girl?”
“Home, James … back at ya.”
Eventually, we became the ‘70s version of frenemies. And our backroads dive bar became this mountain town’s favorite.
Then came the summer James’s niece Lauren died. It had been a secret abortion gone wrong. I was with her.
James blamed me. He quit The Spot and left town.
The tavern’s longtime congenial vibe began to sour. Wannabe James replacements found me unwilling to spar, my enthusiasm gone. And after an actual scuffle between pro-choice and anti-abortion drinkers, The Spot’s owner banned politics altogether. “Got an opinion? Take it outside.”
The regulars began going elsewhere. The Spot’s owner talked of closing. I lost the nose ring and started growing back my hair.
And now I was headed to L.A. for the funeral of a man whose last words to me were “I’ll never stop hating you.”
But he had, I would learn. James had spent his final years running a last-chance rescue, taking in dogs doomed as unadoptable. Jimmy’s Place. And he’d spoken kindly of me as his niece’s best friend.
It seems he’d found serenity and purpose in this world. Wished I could.
I came back with some of James’s photos, and an odd, warm glow within.
The Spot’s owner and I spent three boozy nights discussing the tavern’s future. Same name, updated dive bar furnishings, but the neon Coors sign was replaced with one that said Jimmy’s.
Behind the bar we hung photographs of James with his rescue dogs. There were earlier photos, too, with tavern customers — and Lauren. We started a tips jar specifically for Jimmy’s Place and its volunteers. We also put up humorous Jimmy’s Rules signs about keeping the barroom banter civil.
We had a grand reopening, for which I shaved half my head.
As locals wandered in to check us out, I just nodded, smiled and thought,
Home, James … back at ya.