Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Jim's End of the Bar

This old bar hasn’t changed much in the thirty plus years, since Big Jim started coming here. The owner is a crotchety old German who believes “if it aint broke don’t fix it”. So the bar is still wrapped in nineteen seventies vintage red vinyl upholstery, from the padded swinging door, to the tuck and rolled style booths, to the swiveling bar stools. The room then as now, is dark and smoky, with dim reassessed lighting that allows even the old broads to stand a chance and that seems fair to Jim. He likes the “L” shaped bar giving him the perfect spot which most refer to as Big Jim’s end of the bar.

Big Jim has extremely broad shoulders that are evened out some by his massive biceps. On another man it would look all wrong but on Jim’s thick six foot tall frame it looked just right. Even after retiring, his body seems to have remained rock hard. Certainly from thirty-three years of running a jackhammer, eight hours a day, for the City of Los Angles. The hard work had made him strong as a bull and shaped his life. Of course retirement has allowed a little paunch to creep in where his extremely tight abs used to be; not that he’s complaining. His watchful blue eyes dance around the room noticing details that most would miss. Like the guy five stools down who constantly twists his wedding ring, maybe it and the marriage are just a bit too tight.

Jim always parks his bike out back, on the left side of the back door, under the dim yellow bug light; no one would be foolish enough to mess with his bike. He calls her his last bike. She’s a beautiful custom stretched nymph, sporting candy apple red paint, drenched in rivers of chrome, set of by diamond cut barrels on her 120 inch S & S motor. The back door faces the parking lot, which is just off an alley that serves the truckers delivering to the market further up the center. It’s also used frequently by customers who may have been more than a little over served. Once you enter, there is a short narrow hallway, with a pay phone on your right and the shitter's on your left. Part of the cramped claustrophobic feeling isn’t helped by the empty beer cases stacked to the ceiling against the right wall. Big Jim has seen many a fool get jacked up in that tight space.

The night bartender is a short tempered but quick witted old bastard name Bob who has over time become one of Jim’s few friends outside the club. Bob has worked there most nights for thirty years and on many, Big Jim has kept him company. Jim being a creature of habit, always drinks the same thing, an ice cold long neck Coors beer. Jim likes that its American made and it tastes good. If you paid close attention, you might notice him reaching into his empty front pocket, he’s still looking for that pack of unfiltered Lucky Strikes he gave up a years back.

The man’s hands are as large as bear paws, calloused and stained by time and hard work. Father time has added some character lines here and there on his tanned face, a testament to the time he’s put into living life. His silver braid reaches down brushing against his old leather belt adorned with the twenty-five year Satan’s Angel buckle he earned a few years ago. Jim is ruggedly handsome even now women aren’t hard to come by and every now and then, a young one would comes along striping a few years off of him, if only for an evening.

In those younger days, you would usually find Jim shirtless or in a sleeveless t-shirt. He loved showing off those massive biceps and his colorful ink. However, the ink hasn’t fared so well; too many years in the sun has caused most of the lighter colors to fade and some of the lines look a lot thicker now than in their hay day. Yet each one holds a memory for him of some time or place, of someone he loved or brother he lost.

This mountain of a man sits in his usual spot with his back to the wall; a habit that has served him well threw the years, slowly sipping his beer. All while keeping a watchful eye on the current flock. The bar is at it’s busiest on Friday nights and the crowd is varied. Of course there are the regulars all vying for their favorite stool. It is an interesting mixture of young and old, male and female, white collar and blue collar, a bunch of folks that ride, with a few outlaws sprinkled in for good measure. They all meet here rubbing elbows with those that are just passing through.

Every bar has its own special cast of characters and this place is no exception. On certain nights when the moons full this place can be a sanctuary from the crazies or a cornucopia of assholes. Sometimes the collage kids drop in filling the place with fresh young faces. They’re just looking for a change of scenery and usually receive some higher education while they are here. That savory human mixture is what holds the attraction. Big Jim’s been adding to that mixture for a very long time.

Funny but Big Jim never believed he’d live past thirty, not that it scared him it was just a feeling that he carried with him when he was young, now at sixty he laughs at the thought. Although now he understands that because of that feeling he tore into life for all it was worth. Today he knows all too well what an amazing feat it is that he survived at all. In spite of what most people may believe he doesn’t own a single regret.

Of course surviving this long, he looks at life differently now not that he’s afraid of dying because he isn’t. However now; he rides a little slower, pays a lot more attention to who he drinks with and most of the time to who he sleeps; which is something new for him. He’ll tell you that he left the drugs and whiskey behind two decades ago yet admits that the cigarettes were harder to quit. His temper rarely flares anymore; his fuse has grown longer with time. Big Jim always liked a good fist fight but now he understands all too well, that the black and blues just take too damn long to heal.

Unless it’s raining Big Jim rides some every Friday night; it’s a life long habit and one he just doesn’t want to break. So tonight won’t be much different from other Friday nights; you’ll hear Big Jim arrive long before you see him. Then he’ll walk threw the dark narrow hallway with his broad touching on either side. He will make note of everyone there saying “Hello” as he walks past. If his stool is empty and it usually is he’ll slide right on not needing to order, his cold Coors will be waiting. In their usual fashion, he and Bob, will verbally abuse one another, purely for their own entertainment down at Big Jim’s end of the bar.

Six Shooter Sally