As the saying goes, you really know who your friends are when you need to move house. Ken is my friend, then, because he has helped me move more than three times. He has also gone to Goodwill with me, picked up furniture I bought, and carried it into my home because it was too heavy for lil ol' me to carry by myself. (Ken has a truck, natch.) I keep looking for this bumper sticker for him that I saw once: "Yes, This Is My Truck. No, I Will Not Help You Move." It would be a joke, of course, because Ken will always help you move.
Ken is the only other person I know who, like me, owns the entire Icehouse catalog, as well as records by the Shoes, and Alison Moyet's solo works. We're talking really D-list music, y'all. Dude even owns album by '80s footnotes like Curiosity Killed the Cat, When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water, and Blancmange.
In addition to helping me move, Ken is also my go-to guy when I need companionship in the form of a bodyguard. Last weekend he drove me to the Bayview to check out a bar there. I'd never been to that part of San Francisco, and knew only all the horrible things I'd heard about it on KRON4. However, I live in a neighborhood that is supposedly just as bad, and I know how unreliable such reputations can be. Still, I didn't want to walk into a nest of Westmob bangers and order a Zima all by myself.
We drove down Third Street and spotted Sam Jordan's Bar on the left. Let me first say that the Bayview looks a lot like St. Louis. Both places are comparatively spacious and full of Victorians and black-owned businesses. Both are hilly and sunny, with sweeping views. Driving through, I thought about how other areas tagged as "urban blight" were also homes to ex-shipyards and power stations. It's ironic that most of the waterfront property in our region is basically a mass of radioactive housing projects and abandoned, crumbling buildings.
Ken handed me his iPod and I shuffled for good songs. It was typical Ken: He had great artists listed, like the Kinks or the Pretenders, but when I opened up the listing, it was the completely forgettable Kinks record from 1990, or Chrissie Hynde's solo album. I sighed, then picked Steve Winwood's Arc of a Diver and pressed play. (It wasn't the whole album, which is great — just that one song, and then some later-years Winwood thrown in, of course.)
We parked and walked into Sam Jordan's. There's always that brief moment of excited panic when you walk into a strange new bar, waiting for your eyes to adjust to the light and wondering whether the music will stop midsong and all the faces will turn to you. And yes, there was the race factor here too. In the back of your mind, you are replaying a scene from a movie, and you are scared that the bartender is gonna say, "We don't serve your kind around here, you honky-ass muthafucka."
But no, that never happens. You do get looks from people wondering what two young white yuppies are doing at their bar, but that's about the extent of it. Anyway, a drink or two usually assuages any differences. We sat down on the stools (the bar is one long counter), and Ken ordered a Bud Light (could he get more white? I gave him a kick in the shin) while I ordered a Diet Coke (oh god, could I get more white?).
Sam Jordan's has a barbecue place attached, but it's mostly a bar. It's cozy and snuggly, the kind of room you want to sit in all day and get drunk. The jukebox was playing hip-hop and oldies incredibly loud, despite it being a Saturday afternoon with about 10 people in attendance. That was fine with me; I like Bill Withers played at a high volume.
Two guys were giving each other shit in a friendly way. The trouble was, Ken and I were sitting between them. There was an older guy in a fedora on one end of the bar, and a younger guy with a big gap between his teeth on the other. The younger guy was having a ball, and the older guy was barely standing it. Normally I would've chimed in and made some sort of "Hey, hey, can't we all just get along?" joke, but Ken kept interrupting me.
"I need new music," he said. I tried to give him some ideas, like Bon Iver or Arcade Fire or Interpol — stuff I figured that he might like from the last ten years. "Mweh," he scoffed. "That stuff is okay." I knew what Ken really needed was a lost Bangles CD, or a recently unearthed A-Ha B-side.
Folks were looking at us, but no more than they would at any other place. In bars, people check each other out. We talked and laughed for a while. I had reached that point in my visit to a bar where I settled in and felt like I'd been there all my life, yet at the same time felt I would never really quite fit in. It's basically a metaphor for my existence in general. I suppose that is what booze is for — it makes every bar feel like home. I wasn't drinking, so I didn't feel completely at one with my surroundings.
The bartender went over to the jukebox and put on some Commodores. Ken encouraged me to talk to her and the other people sitting around us, but I felt an overwhelming sense of not belonging. It was strange, and sudden. Will this always happen if I don't drink when I go out? Or was it because I was in a neighborhood bar that wasn't in my own neighborhood?
"I want to go," I said to Ken — my rescuer, my limo driver, my mover, my friend. He didn't want to leave without meeting people first, but he could see that I was anxious. I wasn't in the mood for the forced camaraderie that comes from drinking. I wanted something real. Something ... like Ebn Ozn being played really loud over Ken's speakers.
We left a big tip and nodded to everyone as we walked out. I hoisted myself into Ken's car and pulled up some Jimmy Cliff: "Many Rivers to Cross."