Have you ever had the course of your life change in the span of a traffic light?
I have. It was a subtle, but rapid change. A change I thought belonged only in scripted novels or films.
In order to begin this story, I will have to start at the intersection of Washington and Rogers. I was driving home from work, waiting for the stoplight to turn green. At my left was a nondescript Toyota Camry. Inside- with the window fully down- was a red-haired woman singing happily to Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It.
I didn’t know what love had to do with it. It didn’t have to do with the corporate job I was returning home from. It didn’t have to do with my residential neighborhood, where the houses were built with uniform consistency and everyone was concerned with status, money, yards, and cars. It didn’t have to do with my wife, who found me repulsive now that we were deep into middle age and my adventurous personality and thick wavy hair were two decades gone. It didn’t have to do with my teenaged twins, who stuck twin Keep Out signs on their doors and only approached me when they desired money, electronics, or rides to and from their friend’s houses.
So what did love have to do with it?
That’s what I wanted to yell out to the person in the car. But instead of yelling, I lowered the passenger side window and turned the circular knob on the stereo system to the right so that Otis Redding’s Dock Of The Bay could compete with the happy horror to my left. The woman didn’t recognize my passive protest. I considered honking the horn, but as my hand hovered above the steering wheel the traffic light turned green. I pressed my foot on the peddle and sped through the intersection, leaving Tina Turner and her existential questions behind.
But existential questions are existential for a reason. They can’t be answered, and thus can’t be left behind. And neither, it seems, can a song. For when I opened the door to my two-story, wood-frame house, entering the kitchen, my ears were assaulted by Tina Turner singing those exact words. I instructed my wife to turn off the music. She pointed at her phone with the large knife she was using to cut red onion. Making my steps heard, I approached the countertop, pressed the parallel-lined pause button, glared angrily at the wet streaks running down her left cheek, and walked into the living room, a burning sensation lingering in my eyes.
My son looked up from his phone, reluctantly answered my greeting, and climbed up the stairs with slumped shoulders. I lowered myself into the leather recliner, which was still warm from my son’s body, and grabbed The Outliers: The Story of Success from the coffee table. But my attempt at reading was interrupted by my daughter. Announcing herself by smacking her gum, she made a noise complaint about her brother.
Miguel is listening to loud music again.
What’s he interrupting? Your work?
Don’t smack your gum like that.
What are you working on?
I didn’t believe my daughter, but I granted her the benefit of doubt and yelled up at my son to turn the music down. Seconds later, the faint bass rhythm from above dissipated. As my daughter turned towards the staircase, I gave her an angry glare.
You aren’t going to thank me?
With a loud smack of gum at each step, she ascended the stairs. I yelled your welcome at her and turned back to my book, searching for the sentence I had yet to read. But I wasn’t even two words in when my wife called from the kitchen.
Tell the kids it’s time for dinner.
Yes. Are you busy?
I am, in fact. I’m reading on how to become an outlier.
Yes. An outlier.
And what skill would you be an outlier in?
She gave a laugh that demonstrated her lack of confidence in my capabilities.
Weren’t you just cutting onions?
It was for the salad.
You have a problem with that?
I did have a problem with raw onion, but I dutifully called the children to dinner and sat in my usual spot at the kitchen table. My wife sat across from me and poured herself a glass of red wine. I rose from my seat and grabbed a Guinness Extra Stout from the fridge before yelling up at my children once again. My daughter responded by stomping down the stairs. My son followed silently behind.
Take your gum out. And please stop smacking your lips.
My daughter rolled her eyes at me as she placed her gum on a folded napkin and proceeded to spoon chickpea stew into her bowl. Feeling disrespected, I leaned into my seat, folded my arms, and watched my family eat. It took my wife a few minutes to recognize my silent protest.
You’re not going to eat?
I told you yesterday that I wasn’t going to eat another vegetarian dish.
Why don’t you cook instead?
I don’t like cooking.
I don’t particularly enjoy it either.
You don’t hate it though.
So you really aren’t going to eat?
A hunger strike?
My daughter smiled at this and dropped her spoon into her bowl.
I’m with Dad here.
I thought you liked the stew?
But I like meat. So I’ll join Dad in solidarity.
You already ate half of it anyways.
My daughter slapped her brother’s hand so that his spoon clattered onto the floor, spilling red drops onto the blue tablecloth. My wife was about to give orders, but I put my hand up and spoke above her.
Get your brother another spoon, clean up the mess you created, and let’s go out for a burger.
I waited at the kitchen door for my daughter to wipe down the table and floor and slip on her sneakers. As we turned to exit, my wife glanced up at us, an exhausted expression on her face.
Enjoy your burger.
My daughter answered by slamming the door.
I reprimanded my daughter for the door slam, which she responded to with an eye-roll as she opened the car door and entered the front passenger seat.
You okay with Jazz?
As long as it has words in it.
Anyone in mind?
Feel free to hook your phone up to the Bluetooth. You know how to do that, right?
As I backed out of the driveway, my daughter linked her phone to my car and turned up the volume. To my horror, she lowered the window and began singing.
Please don’t sing out loud like that.
Why do you care so much about what other people think?
I don’t. I’m just sensitive to noise.
Her curt response was the last we spoke to each other during the drive to the local Five Guys. As I pulled in, my daughter unbuckled her seat belt and rushed out of the car before I could put it in park. Inside, we asked for two burgers and a large order of fries, which we brought to the corner table at the left. As I ate my dinner in silence, I noticed two teenage boys watching us. They were smoking cigarettes, leaning their lanky bodies against an old Subaru in a stance of proud ennui.
Do you know those boys?
No. Why would I?
They don’t go to your school?
My daughter was holding her burger in front of her open mouth, her expression evasive.
Can you take me to Bargain Books?
I want to get some comics.
Let’s go tomorrow.
She gave me an angry glare.
I can’t wait to be 16.
Just nine more months.
Can’t be soon enough.
Just enjoy life.
Like you enjoy life?
I laughed, as she had a point. I finished the last bite of my burger and left the table to throw away the trash.
Take the fries and let’s go back home.
When we left the restaurant, my daughter’s eyes met those of the teenaged boy slouching on the driver’s seat door. He gave my daughter a nod, which she returned as she slipped a fry into her mouth and entered the car. Annoyed, I quickly started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. We drove down the main road in silence, with only the sound of my daughter’s lip smacking and the hum of the car’s engine. When I pulled into the driveway, I put the car in idle and waited for my daughter to exit the vehicle. As she turned to shut the door, she gave me a perplexed stare.
You’re not coming in?
I have some errands to do.
Mom won’t like that.
She doesn’t like when I’m around much anyways.
My daughter slammed the door and walked towards the back entrance of the house. I put on Miles Davis and recklessly backed out of the driveway. A car honked at me. I waved my hand in apology, and sped down the road.
I drove to the corner of Ridge and Havemeyer, where I parallel parked my car. Two and a half blocks away was Peter’s Pub, which I entered and sat down at the leftmost stool. Melissa, my favorite bartender, smiled at me above a cocktail shaker. I returned the smile and waited for her to come take my order.
I didn’t expect to see you.
You usually come on weekends.
You can say that.
Anything you like in particular?
Surprise me with anything. Just not beer. I want to try something different.
I watched as Melissa poured liquor into a metal mixer, her eyes leveled downwards in concentration. I then averted my attention to the TV until my drink was brought to me.
How do you like it?
It’s interesting. Both sweet and bitter.
You know what it is?
It’s a Manhattan.
The shaken not stirred drink?
That’s a martini.
I take it you aren’t a Bond fan.
Or a cocktail drinker.
She nodded in acknowledgment and walked over to a lone man raising his hand for a refill. I took a second sip of my drink and glanced around the room. The majority of customers were young couples or those well into middle age using alcohol to drown out decades of accumulated dissatisfaction. Tonight, I had joined the ranks of the latter.
I was studying what could be my potential future when a red-haired woman leaned against the bar stool to my left and ordered a beer. She noticed me staring at her, so she politely turned towards me and smiled.
How was your day?
Mine was fine as well.
I didn’t ask.
She furrowed her eyebrows at me.
Can I ask why?
I didn’t want to.
Can I ask another question?
Why are you being so rude?
You know that song by Tina Turner ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’?
I do. I love that song.
That’s why I’m being rude.
I don’t understand.
Were you listening to that song in the car earlier today?
She pushed her shoulders back and stood tall, the stance of a primate defending their space.
That’s a weird thing to ask.
It just is.
So, were you?
What do you have against someone singing in their car?
I don’t like when people are loud in public spaces.
My car is a private space.
Anyways, answer the question. Were you or were you not singing along to Tina Turner this afternoon at the intersection of Washington and Rogers?
Am I on trial?
Just answer the question.
Yes. I was singing in the car a few hours ago.
To ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’?
That was one of the songs I was listening to.
And did you drive by the intersection of Washington and Rogers?
I knew it.
They had short red hair like you.
The woman received her beer, thanked Melissa, and sat down next to me with a sigh.
Why are you sitting next to me if I’ve annoyed you?
Who said I was annoyed?
It was just a sigh.
So you find our conversation interesting?
More interesting than drinking alone.
With a bored countenance, the woman picked up her phone, unlocked it, and began dragging her finger down and up the screen.
I thought our conversation was interesting.
Is or was?
Was and will be.
You’re savvy with words.
I work with words for a living.
Speech writer and public speaker.
I can see that. You are confident. Especially in the way you were singing loudly with the windows down.
She placed her beer bottle on the bar and gave me a fierce glare.
Really, what do you have against people singing in cars?
It’s more a case of the song choice.
What do you have against Tina Turner?
I have nothing against Tina Turner. She’s a great singer. It’s the song.
The woman opened her eyes in understanding as she leaned back.
It’s love you have an issue with.
It’s love. That’s the cause of your problem with me earlier.
Are you some kind of psychiatrist?
No. It’s just a hunch.
A hunch huh.
I’m assuming that a person singing along to a song about love is what triggered you.
Or you just have an issue with Tina Turner.
As I said, I have nothing against Tina Turner. I quite like her voice. And her music.
Like what songs?
‘The Best.’ ‘Nutbush City Limits.’ Her ‘Proud Mary’ cover.
But not ‘Addicted to Love’, ‘Am I a Fool in Love,’ or ‘It’s only Love’?
With a victorious smile, the woman leaned forward and placed her elbows on the bar’s wooden countertop.
By the way, the song you hate is her most famous song. And for a reason.
That may be. But I still don’t have to like it.
She turned her upper torso towards me and jutted her hand out.
I’m Alice by the way.
I took her hand and gave it a firm shake.
Nice to meet you, Luis.
It’s been interesting for sure.
Alice took a sip of her drink and cocked her head pensively.
So, are you into music or writing?
No. I work as an accountant.
You seem to have too much of a creative spirit for that.
I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t often that my creative potential was recognized.
You are a natural psychologist.
I have been told that.
I drank the last of my cocktail and rose out of my seat.
Well, that’s enough of a therapy session for now.
Yeah. I should get back to my family.
You have a family?
Thought I was a single man?
I guess you are not that adept at psychoanalyzing.
I pushed my stool in, walked over to Melissa to pay my bill, and waved goodbye to Alice as I exited the pub.
On my way home, I listened to Lionel Richie’s Easy on repeat. I arrived at my driveway at the second verse. As I pushed the gear selector to park, I leaned into the seat, closed my eyes, and let the music sink into me. Once the song ended, I turned off the engine and entered my house through the kitchen door.
As I walked into the living room, I gave my daughter- who was on the couch with her iPhone- a passing hello. The greeting wasn’t returned, so I continued up the stairs wordlessly. When I entered the bedroom, I found my wife sitting in bed reading. Before I could greet her, she turned to me with a terrifying emptiness in her eyes and held her hand up for me to stop my approach.
I want a divorce.
I want a divorce.
The fact that you can’t understand why is a reason why.
I found that response satisfying, so I lowered myself onto the upholstered rocking chair by the foot of our bed.
Look, you don’t have to worry. I won’t fight this. Our relationship isn’t worth a fight at the moment.
As my wife had not changed her apathetic expression, I was unable to reflect on the possible double meaning in that response.
How should we proceed?
Let’s talk tomorrow evening.
She got up and walked to the door.
What about Maria and Miguel?
We’ll speak about that later.
She turned slowly and gave me a weak smile.
I’ll sleep in the guest bedroom tonight.
I lowered my gaze and listened as my wife walked down the stairs and ordered our daughter to get ready for bed. It was a common nighttime routine in our household, but it provoked an explosive response inside me. I fell to the floor, keeled over elbow to knee, and let silent tears seep into the wooden floorboards below me.
I woke up in fetal position with my head resting on the bedroom carpet. Straightening my back, I grabbed my phone out of my jeans pocket and pressed the side button. I squinted, shielding my eyes from the light, and glanced at the bold 5:42 on my screen. I pushed myself up with my left hand and walked out of the bedroom. With the help of my phone’s flashlight, I crept downstairs to the kitchen. I grabbed two beers from the fridge, opened one on the kitchen counter, and sat down in my usual spot at the table. From the window above the sink, I watched the night sky transition into gradients of blue.
Shortly after morning arrived, I heard my wife’s steps on the floorboards above me. I quickly disposed of the empty beer bottles and prepared myself for work. As I was driving down Route 1, listening to Roxette’s Listen to Your Heart on 102.9, I made a U-Turn by the local hardware store and drove in the opposite direction from the office. My heart didn’t want to analyze corporate transactions. It wanted to sit at a bar and drink beer.
But it was early morning. And the bars were closed. So I pulled into my favorite roadside diner, where I entered and took a spot at one of the red stools at the countertop. It wasn’t long before a stocky gray-haired woman with a black apron at her waist asked what I wanted, with a sweetie added on for cinematic effect. I ordered two scrambled eggs with bacon, home fries, and whole wheat toast.
I spent the next few hours alone at the diner countertop, drinking successive cups of coffee until the waitress- while refilling my cup- leaned over and spoke to me in a soft voice.
I don’t mean to be nosy, but is everything okay?
Yes, everything is fine. I’m fine.
Sure sweetie. It’s just you’ve been here for a few hours and the place is starting to get busy.
I glanced around and noticed that the diner was full of customers.
You sure you’re okay.
Yes. I’ll take a side of bacon. And then the check.
Sure sweetie. Anything else?
No. Just that.
The waitress left and reappeared with a plate of crispy bacon and a slice of pie on the house. I ate a few bites of the bacon and pie and paid the check in cash.
After I left, I found myself sitting in the car, keys dangling in the ignition, contemplating where I could spend the next hours before the bars opened. I decided to start the car and drive into the downtown area. I found a metered parking spot by Peter’s Pub and walked aimlessly down the streets.
Passing by a corner shop, I entered, went to the back of the storefront, and took a Guinness bottle out of a six pack. After paying, I walked to a nearby park, sat down on an empty bench, lowered the paper bag below the bottleneck, and began drinking.
Across from me was a young man playing music, dressed like the youth of the seventies, with a shaggy light-brown bob and circular rose-tinted sunglasses. He eyed me as he plucked tangy notes on the banjo. I raised my beer bottle in acknowledgement, which prompted him to stop mid-strum and walk towards me.
Hey, you got a beer to share?
I’ll tell you what. If you play me a song, I’ll buy you a beer.
You have my word.
He sat down on the bench and gave me an unsettling stare.
Know any Dylan?
‘Mr. Tambourine Man’?
He nodded his head and began plucking the banjo strings as he sang with a raspy drawl. Once the song was finished, he cleared his throat with a horse cough.
So, where to?
I’m ready to go anywhere.
The man gave a satisfied chuckle.
Your bootheels are a-wandering my man.
My feet are branded though.
He gave another chuckle before giving me a serious stare.
You really don’t know where to go right now, do you?
Well, I have a place in mind.
Take me there then.
With a wide smile the young man slipped his banjo into a tattered black case and motioned for me to follow. He brought me to the left corner of the park, where I dropped my empty beer bottle and paper bag into a trash bin. We then walked up a hill, away from the main street, where we stopped at a two-story brick building located between a pawn shop and a laundry mat.
I followed the young man through a heavy door into a dark and musty room. A woman with matching keloid scars on both cheeks gave the young man a heavy pat on the back.
Where’ve you been?
I was in the mountains for a bit.
Right on. I’m still setting up. But I’ll grab you two beers.
I’ll take a Budweiser.
A Guinness please.
I watched the woman rush behind the bar, grab two beers, and bring them to the table. I silently sipped on my beer as I searched for words to make conversation. But it was the young man who broke the silence.
So, what’s your name?
Luis. The Spanish way.
River. How’d you get that name?
I was born by the Mississippi River.
And you’ve been running ever since?
River tipped his head backwards and gave a gleeful laugh.
You know your lyrics.
You don’t have much of a southern accent.
I guess you could say I’ve been running upstream ever since.
You know your lyrics as well.
River took a toothpick out of his pocket and began chewing on it. He noticed me scrutinizing his action.
Helps me kick the cigarette habit.
Does it work?
Nah. But it helps when I’m at a bar and can’t smoke inside.
I can see that.
River leaned back and narrowed his eyes at me.
So, what’s your story?
You like repeating my words as a question.
I apologize. I do have that habit.
So, what’s your story?
My story is that I’m an accountant with two kids.
That’s it. Boring life really.
Well drinking alone at a park and following a wandering man named River to a bar isn’t so boring.
I guess not.
So why the change?
Why the change?
You’re doing it again.
As he waited for a response, River took the toothpick out of his mouth and examined the teeth marks he left behind on the wood.
Well, I feel lost and bored.
Now that’s a great reason in my book.
And I decided to play hooky from work and let the day take me anywhere.
There you go.
And my wife just asked me for a divorce. Last night.
River put the toothpick back in his mouth and looked into my eyes.
Well, look at it this way. You’re a free man.
I wouldn’t say that.
You are. Starting today. Embrace it.
I still have kids.
Old enough. Why don’t you take a drive out west? Feel the freedom of the open road.
You been out west?
Never. But I’ve always imagined myself there.
You’re free now. Why not go?
Want to travel together?
I like that. Keeping things open.
You like a lot of things.
Sure do. It makes life better.
I wish I could think like you.
You can. You just have to train your mind.
Like anything else. With practice.
The realization that the young man in front of me was wiser than myself made me laugh.
Why are you laughing?
Because I just realized something.
What about you?
That I’m not all that wise.
Well, it’s wise to know that you aren’t all that wise.
I’m an old man who just figured that out. So I wouldn’t call myself wise.
Why are you so hard on yourself?
Because I’m not wise.
How old are you?
Fifty-two isn’t all that old.
Maybe not. But I feel old.
River nodded his head in commiseration.
How old are you?
His wrinkles made him appear older than his age.
You sure are young. And you sure are wise.
I’m wise in some ways. Ignorant in others.
I don’t know shit about settling down or making money.
Take it from an old man. You’re wise to look elsewhere for happiness.
Look at me. I’m fifty-two and playing hooky from work like a truant teenager.
He nodded his head at my response and looked down at the toothpick in his mouth.
So, young wise man, give me your best advice.
He glanced up at me with a wry smile.
It’s a phrase.
Give it to me.
There are two sides to a coin.
It’s simple. Nothing is heads and nothing is tails.
I don’t get it.
There’s no good or bad. So don’t get frazzled when the coin is in the air. And don’t be upset about what you get when the coin lands.
I mulled that advice over before responding.
You know, they say that a coin toss isn’t fifty-fifty.
Yeah. It’s more likely to land up the way it started. A fitting analogy for the way wealth works in this country, don’t you think?
Why not look at it a different way?
Like if you flip the coin with a happy spirit, it will turn up in your favor.
See that’s why you are where you are at twenty-five and I am where I am at fifty-two.
Where am I?
Enjoying life and actually living it.
River laughed and raised his hand for another drink. When he got the scarred woman’s attention, he put up two fingers and smiled. A few minutes of silence ensued as we waited for the beers. I searched for words to reengage the conversation, but my mind was empty.
After we received our drinks, River spoke.
Do you play cards?
Are there cards here?
I carry a pack in my case.
Oh. Well sure.
Do you know Crazy Eights?
No, I don’t.
What about Gin Rummy?
I know how to play. But I don’t remember how to score the game.
We’ll make it simple. I’ll do the scoring.
Sure, I’ll trust you with the scoring.
My man! You’re getting into that free spirit.
River bent down and took a deck of cards out of the front pocket of his banjo case. The cards- which were held together by a blue rubber band- were bent and yellowed at the edges. He dealt out ten cards each, placed the remainder in the center of the table, and flipped the top card face up: 10 of spades.
Nodding, I lifted my cards and organized them: two jacks, two 8’s, 4,7, 9 of diamonds, and a 3 of hearts, 10 of clubs, and 5 of spades. In the metaphor of a coin toss, I had flipped a heads.
River motioned for me to proceed, so I picked from the pile. I drew a 3 of spades, which I traded for the 10 of clubs. Then River picked from the pile, drawing and discarding an 8 of hearts. I picked up the 8 and discarded the 3 of hearts.
I guess you are going for the 8’s.
I kept a stoic face and watched him pick up the 3 of hearts.
I guess you are going for the 3’s.
Could be that as well.
We continued the game wordlessly, each consumed by our hand. It wasn’t until the draw pile was halfway turned that I came across a third jack. Two turns after that, I came across the 10 of diamonds. At this point, all I needed to complete my hand was an 8 of diamonds. River was aware that I had my eye on 8’s, so it was risky to hedge my bet purely on this card. But what I did assume, given my hand, was that he would have no use for the 8 of diamonds.
It was as River said: two sides to a coin.
Just two plays after, I watched River reluctantly place down the desired card. With a sigh of dismay, he saw me exchange the 8 of diamonds for a 4 of diamonds before slapping down my gin hand. He threw his cards down with a disappointed flourish: 2 of clubs, 2 of diamonds, 2 of spades, 4 of clubs, 4 of hearts, 4 of spades, a 3, 5, 6 of hearts, and the ace of spades.
I needed that 4 of diamonds.
So what’s the score?
You get 25 points for gin and then an extra 15 points for the 3, 5, 6, and ace in my hand.
So it makes sense to get rid of the high cards.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that.
How many points to win the game?
That’s a lot.
You’re already close to 50.
I dealt the cards, giving myself a less desirable hand this round. River won- 42 points to my 40. We began a third game, but partway through River was interrupted by a friend of his and the game never resumed.
I spent the next few hours getting tipsy on Guinness. As a middle-aged office worker in my fifties, I was given quite a bit of attention from the young folks at the bar. But as the afternoon progressed into early evening, the excitement of being unconventionally conventional wore off, and I found myself wandering back to my usual spot.
As I entered Peter’s Pub, I easily spotted the red-haired woman drinking alone at the center of the bar.
How are you?
Hey! I’m good.
I’m sorry, but what’s your name again?
Alice. Luis, right?
I raised my hand and ordered a Guinness. Alice took a sip of her beer and turned towards me.
So you’re out again tonight.
As are you.
Yes. But I don’t have a family.
I prefer perceptive.
I had forgotten her ease with words.
Well, I’m soon to be single.
Really? You didn’t tell me that yesterday.
It was right after I left here that my wife asked for a divorce.
Oh fuck. I’m sorry.
No need to be sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong.
The sorry isn’t related to any wrongdoing by me or even your wife. I’m just sorry for the hurt you are going through.
So you feel sorry for me?
Yes, I do.
That’s even worse.
She straightened her back and leaned away from me, appalled at my response.
Because it makes it out like you are pitying me.
I’m not pitying you. I’m empathizing with you.
What’s the difference?
Seems like you have some negative belief patterns there.
You’re analyzing me again.
She leaned forward with a disappointed frown.
So what is wrong with my beliefs?
I didn’t say wrong.
According to you they are negative.
Well, I’m not a psychiatrist. And this isn’t a therapy session.
But you seem to enjoy psychoanalyzing people.
Look, I didn’t come to a bar to talk about your psychology.
Okay, I’ll give you that.
She sighed and took a sip of her beer.
So what are your plans now?
Yes. Your plans.
I don’t know. I don’t have any I guess.
Are you staying in your house?
I wasn’t kicked out.
Do you want to stay?
No. I don’t want to go back to anything. I even skipped work today. Without calling in.
Now that’s a bit rash. Did they call you?
I don’t know. My phone’s been on silent all day.
That does sound delightful.
It has been. I fucking hate these smart phones.
I have a love-hate relationship with them.
I gave a smile, which made her tip her head to the left in interest.
Why the smile?
You know. I’ll use this time to consider what I want in life. That’s my plan.
That’s not such a bad plan.
Maybe I’ll drive out west with some guy I just met.
Well, maybe that’s not such a good plan.
Why do you say that?
A lot can go wrong with it.
You distrust strangers?
Not inherently. But there is a lot of unknown risk in your plan.
Well at this point, the prospect of adventure trumps the risk.
That’s a fair assessment.
I leaned back, nearly tipping the stool to the floor. I steadied my left hand on the counter and turned back to Alice.
Do you like games?
Like card games?
Yes. Like card games.
I haven’t played cards in years.
Me either. Until a few hours ago.
What did you play?
Did you win?
The first round. Lost the second.
How many rounds are there?
First to 100 points.
An awkward pause ensued, but Alice quickly talked over the silence.
You like games?
Not really. I think that’s why I’m failing at life.
Where is the connection in that?
Life is a game.
That’s a strong viewpoint to have.
Strong? Or negative?
Strong and negative.
But perhaps a bit practical.
So you agree?
I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it enough to have a firm opinion.
I like your honesty.
She watched the bartender pour a drink and then turned back to me.
So- if we are assuming that life is a game- would you say you are playing it well?
No. What about you?
I would say so.
So why are you in a bar drinking alone two weekday nights in a row?
Does that correlate with being successful?
I think there is a correlation there.
Strong or weak?
So why are you here?
I’m tired and need a break from work. I’ve been up since four in the morning.
Are you waking up at the same time tomorrow?
You should go home then.
I should. But being at home unsettles me right now. Hence why I am here.
Well, we are here for the same reason then.
You really aren’t going back home tonight?
I don’t plan on it. In fact, I’ve decided to drive out west.
I thought you were kidding about that.
What about your kids?
They have phones. I’ll call them from the road often.
A phone can’t replace a father.
Look, it’s not my plan to be on the road forever.
She gave a blank stare at the opposite wall before turning back to me.
You really are planning on traveling with that guy.
Have you told him you want to leave tonight?
She leaned over with an amused smile and briefly looked into my eyes.
How drunk are you?
Do I seem drunk to you?
Your speech doesn’t sound drunk. But your reasoning does.
Maybe I’m a lousy reasoner.
No, I don’t think so.
I am tipsy.
Maybe a bit more than tipsy.
I drank the rest of my beer and stood up.
Never a better time than now.
A better time would be tomorrow. When you aren’t more than a bit tipsy.
True. But that’s just the details.
I have no idea what you mean by that.
Neither do I. But goodbye.
Bye. Stay safe out west, if you do end up going.
I left Peter’s Pub and walked back to where I parked earlier in the day. An orange ticket was tucked into my windshield wipers. I laughed and threw it into the wind before driving to the bar. After two wrong turns, I pulled up to the front of the building. River was outside, in animated conversation with a young man I didn’t recognize from earlier. I honked the horn twice to get River’s attention. He came up to me with a surprised smile.
You left without saying anything.
Let’s go out west.
How drunk are you?
I’m good to drive.
That wasn’t the question.
Are you coming?
His smile widened.
Then get in.
Let me get my banjo.
I watched as he turned back to his friend. They ground their cigarettes into the pavement and entered the bar. About ten minutes later, River came back with his banjo slung on his back.
So really. Where are we going?
You have clothes and stuff?
I’ll buy them when I need them.
Well, can I grab my bag? It’s at my friend’s place not far from here.
I let River guide me to a dilapidated house in a rundown section of the city. He walked in without knocking and came out a few minutes later with a ratted black duffle bag. I leaned over, opened the passenger-side door, and watched as he climbed in, threw his belongings in the back seat, and forcefully shut the door.
As I drove towards the interstate, River began fumbling with the radio stations. He scrolled through at least ten songs before stopping at Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It.
Anything but this.
What’s wrong with this song? It’s a classic.
Just change it.
He turned the dial, but most of the stations were broadcasting commercials.
You know how to hook your phone up to Bluetooth?
Yeah. I can manage.
Do that. And then put on ‘Easy’ by Lionel Richie.
‘Easy like Sunday Morning’?
Isn’t that the Commodores?
Yeah. Lionel Richie.
He began pressing buttons on the head unit as I merged onto Interstate 80, taking us west towards open freedom.
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