My friend and I once had a hot debate about Gerry Rafferty's song "Baker Street." I'd made some offhand remark about how it must be about Sherlock Holmes, since the sleuth resided on Baker Street in London. She let out a guffaw followed by a chortle and said I was a dork and that it was about Baker Street in San Francisco. This sort of ruined it for me, because I always pictured Basil Rathbone in a deerstalker whenever I heard the tune on the radio; now I was supposed to think of Coit Tower or something. (Turns out Rafferty is a Scotsman, so who knows what the hell he was really talking about?) All I know is that whenever I can, I play the song on the jukebox.
The most recent time I selected the song, a guy yelled out, "Who the hell played this shit?" The voice came from a table across the room at Noe's Bar, where I had been drinking Sierra and eating pizza. His friends mumbled their agreement that the song was, in fact, shit, despite the fact that they all were old enough to remember the first time it came on the radio.
Unfortunately for me, the answer to said question was an easy one. I'd been standing in front of the jukebox for the last 15 minutes, plugging in dollar bills. During the particularly spectacular, swooping brass solo toward the end of the song, all eyes turned to me.
"This song is awesome!" I protested, to assorted playful insults. It was time to pull out the big guns. "Dudes, the Foo Fighters covered it!"
By this time the table had broken up, and a few members of the party came over to the bar. Apparently a strange new person with bad taste in music was better than the same old band of regulars they usually sat with.
A blond woman in her late 40s smiled at me. It was the knowing smile of someone who appreciates a little Rafferty. "I like that song," she whispered in my ear. Before I knew it, I had half the bar sitting next to me.
Noe's Bar is, of course, in Noe Valley, and seems to have a bit of a friendly rivalry going with the Dubliner down the street. But no one could match the Irish brogue of my bartender that night, nor the excellent service I received. The place has a pubbish feel and one of those digital jukeboxes with an archive of every song ever recorded, which is always very dangerous.
A weathered old guy plunked next to me and gave me a leer. Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights" (another of my unpopular picks) was playing, and despite my better judgment, I always do a bit of a slut dance when the bassline of that song comes on; sort of a "girl in a tube top boogieing down to Bon Jovi" hora, if you will. My new seatmate found this enticing. He said he was a taxi driver, if I needed a ride home. "Matter of fact," he went on, "I actually live five blocks away. You can stay with me."
"Yuck," I said (I'm tired of pretense).
He sensed that things weren't going the way he wanted, and so he leaned in and said, "I have cocaine."
"That's it!" the bartender shrieked in her thick Irish accent. "You're out of here! Don't you offer my customers cocaine!"
The creep sidled out, and the bartender called me "sweetie" and gave me a free beer. Exile's "Kiss You All Over" came on the jukebox. This place was amazing.
The blond woman voiced her approval of my song pick again. She had what I would call a rattled desperation, but I wasn't sure exactly what she was looking for. She was definitely drinking to escape something. You see a ton of people like that when you're out, but she was just a little bit different. For one thing, I liked her instantly, and it wasn't just because she liked the same crap music that I did.
"Do you want to play all sappy songs?" she asked me, gesturing to the jukebox. "I think I saw Ambrosia on there ..."
"Hell to the yes!" I replied, and we cued up a series of sap.
She said that she wanted to forget things. She said she was sick. She thought that her illness had gone away, but it was back. I could tell that she had spent a lot of time crying about it, and that she was indeed trying to get her mind on other things.
"Seals and Crofts!" she let out. I said they were a dang Christian group, but she corrected me and said that they were Baha'i. This babe knew her stuff.
"Little River Band!" I offered. The dollar bills got sucked up, one by one. The woman said that she used to work for Warner Brothers, adding that the biggest bitch she ever had to deal with was k.d. lang, which surprised me. We were dancing at the end of the bar to Ambrosia and singing along. A few patrons were staring, but for the most part no one gave a shit. Nope, the people who gave a shit cleared out pretty quick.
"Boy we really emptied this joint," I laughed, looking around the room. We high-fived.
"This is so nice," she said, in between refrains. "This is exactly what I wanted."
Despite all my jaunts out, I was having my very first actual bar-bonding experience with a stranger. We were the tipsy chicks who had just met and were singing along loudly with Air Supply, swaying to the music in unison, shoulder to shoulder. I think it was her illness that gave me the courage to let it all hang out, believing it would make her feel better. But it also helped that she knew all the words.
Pretty soon we were the only customers, and I had to catch the Muni. I figured we would do the compulsory sharing of information and then never actually contact each other again, like two kids at summer camp who swear to be best friends for life but fade into their respective suburbs. But she didn't ask for my number, and I didn't ask for hers. We just shook hands and said goodbye. I walked out to the train platform and realized how cool that was. It was what it was: just a joyful escape at Noe's Bar, punctuated by '70s lite-rock classics. Perfect.