Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dean and Mindy walk into a bar in North Carolina

"What are you rebelling against?" a man in the food line asked.

"Whadda ya got?" I replied, and the man was impressed that I recognized his reference to Marlon Brando's The Wild One.

We were not in a bar. A Fork in the Road is the food truck parked alongside the pub for the Lazy Hiker Brewery. Lazy Hiker doesn't sell food inside, but many people buy their food outside and bring it into the taproom.

We'd heard about the Lazy Hiker from a friend who's hiking the Appalachian Trail. (Kira also told us about the church we are visiting this week.) Both the brewery and the church are in Franklin, which is just over a hundred miles into the over two thousand mile hike.  Trail travelers often take an overnight stop here, enjoying the food, showers, and yes, beer, to be found herein.

Once we got our food and went inside the Lazy Hiker, the man who'd referred to the 1953 classic motorcycle film again, as he waited at the counter for a beer. I introduced myself and learned his name was Terry. He's a local who frequents the Fork and Lazy Hiker every couple of weeks or so.  We talked about the pub, and he told me that five years ago the town of Franklin was dying. The Lazy Hiker Brewery and other businesses appealing to tourists stepped in and turned things around.

Terry had ordered his food to go and was drinking his beer as he waited. I told him about our bar/church project , and he happily agreed to answer our questions. In answer to what makes for a good bar, he answered, "Avant-garde." (Terry seemed to like short answers.) I asked what he meant by that, and he said that this brewery brought new ideas to town, which is a good thing. He said that plans were in the works for another brewery in town that would perhaps be bringing even more business to town, and he was excited about the possibilities.

In answer to what made for a good church, Terry told me he was a churchgoer; he goes to the Unitarian church, which he said was great. I asked again what made for a good church, and he said, "Faith." (Again, short answer.) I asked whose faith, and he said that of the congregation.  He said fellowship is important in the church, especially one on one fellowship.

I asked him one other question, "What was the best Marlon Brando film?"

He answered On the Waterfront. (That is a perfectly acceptable answer. Also acceptable: The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Freshman, Apocalypse Now, or even Superman. Not acceptable:  The Island of Dr. Moreau or The Formula.)

"God bless you," Terry said as he left.

We ate our food at a table, then took our drinks to the bar (we later realized it was National Beer Day -- Mindy had a Winter Porter and Dean had Trail Mate Golden Ale). We sat next to a couple who were locals but had through-hiked the trail (though not together). Therefore, they had trail names; Eddie and Karaoke the Bard. (Many people walking the trail adopt aliases as means of security and just for fun.)

Eddie has worked as a bartender in the past, and she considers the owners of the Lazy Hiker friends. She appreciates a bar where people are there to talk, not to get drunk. She thought Lazy Hiker was a bar that people who are authentic come to, where they want to build relationships with others. She said there are bars that just have a bad atmosphere. She also said there should be good beer and good service ("Lazy Hiker has the best bartenders on the planet!" she said within hearing of Kim the bartender.) She said that a good bartender will, even in the midst of being slammed, acknowledge a customer with a nod or a smile. She mentioned that this bar had an unusual, strictly followed method of ordering from one place at the bar, rather than the mass confusion found in some other bars.
The Bard said what makes for a good bar is the same thing that makes for a good trail: good people. People seek a bar with people of like minds. He said he appreciates a pub called Rathskeller which tourists don't tend to find, but where locals gather to discuss local events and politics. Conversation and community provide the heart of a good bar.

Speaking of church, Karaoke the Bard had been burned by a church. He said the church should have good people, but instead politics dominated. It was more about being seen with the right people than being good people. The Bard values what people do more than what they teach or believe. "If you've never given food to a man in need; you've missed out. You're the one suffering spiritually. What matters is what people do...Otherwise it's just semantics."

For Eddie, a priority for a good church is that God's Word is "rightly divided." People should be able to put aside their own opinions, she said, and find the true meaning. She believes the reason there are so many denominations and different churches is because people won't put aside their own opinions. But she appreciates anyone who is seeking God. People get burnt out, but then sometimes find "Trail Magic" (an unexpected blessing that renews your strength and resolution).

I talked to Stefan, a man walking the trail who was taking a break in town. Stefan hadn't been in a bar for years, so he didn't have a ready opinion of what makes for a good one. He appreciated that the place wasn't covered with in dirt, and there was a bathroom rather than a privy. In a church, he appreciates when the person in the front can communicate God's Word with stories, personal experience, common sense, and simplicity that people can relate to.  He said he was raised in the Catholic Church so he has "a strict understanding of what God is, not that I agree with it." He said all churches teach the same thing, even though they teach it differently.

Kim the bartender took time to talk to us even though she was trying to do her closing tasks. She's only been a bartender for a year and questioned whether the Lazy Hiker was really a bar, since it's more properly a brewery. (Mindy and I have been debating with ourselves about the definition of a bar for this whole year.) But as for a church, she said that she thought a good church is a community, and people will travel a long way to get to a good community. For instance, we've traveled about 10,000 miles for the good community found at the Lazy Hiker.

Total time spent in bar: 1 hour 20 minutes
Our rough count: about six in the outside seating area (it was spitting rain and chilly; hikers are tough. Also, they had a dog) and about 17 inside at tables and the bar
Music: light rock
Snacks: burgers, chicken tenders, quesadillas, etc., available for sale at the Fork in the Road food truck
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: people were happy to chat with strangers, and we saw at least one person buying a drink for a hiker. Visitors were encouraged to sign a banner in the hallway.

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