Saturday, March 17, 2018

We walk into a hook and ladder company

Hook and Ladder, Clovis, California
Before we went inside Hook and Ladder, Mindy found a coupon on their website for $.75 off your drink for first-time customers. Sure, $.75 isn’t much, but with two of us, that’s $1.50 -- and then we’re talking money. After we sat down at the relatively crowded bar, Mindy showed Samantha the bartender our coupon. She told us she was sorry, but that website was from four years ago -- before the present owner bought the bar. She said there might be specials on their Facebook page, which they use as a website now.

It turned out that drink prices -- which Samantha told us about before we ordered -- were pretty reasonable without a coupon. We got $4 well drinks (rum & coke for me, cranberry & vodka for Mindy. We didn’t try one, but we heard that nobody makes a better Bloody Mary than Samantha). We enjoyed our drinks and watched some of the TVs (good news for me: Oakland A’s spring training. Bad news: my alma mater San Diego State went down in the first round of March Madness)

As you might guess by the name, firefighter paraphernalia decorates the place. The former owner had firefighters in the family and wanted to honor them. The new owner didn’t just keep the theme; he’s also kept staff and customers through the changeover.

One of those bartenders was filling a glass rimmed with salt with Worcestershire sauce, olive juice and lime juice along with the last of a bottle of Clamato juice, topped with what she could fit of a bottle of beer. With her yellow skirt, red belt and blue top, we were reminded of Snow White, and we realized she was making herself a red beer/michelada (Mindy was proud of herself for knowing what was in a drink she has no interest in ever ordering)

When Snow White finished mixing her drink, she put it up on the bar, walked around to the stool in front of the drink, and sat down to enjoy it. Her shift was over, and the bar wasn’t as crowded, so we moved down and (with her permission) sat next to her.

We overheard her mention that she’s a Disney fan (confirming that she was, indeed, dressed as Snow White; she said it was laundry day). When we asked, she said she’s worked at Hook and Ladder for 16 years, first part-time with the former owner. She was happy to switch over to full time when she had the chance; she’d been working retail along with bartending and was glad to quit that job.

She said she was willing to answer our standard questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” Bob, a regular who was sitting next to Snow White, was willing to answer as well.

Snow said it was the “people that come in” and good company that make a good bar. The people she was talking about aren’t just the customers, she said, but the staff as well. We asked about the H & L specifically, “I love this bar.”

Samantha, who’d just come on duty and had gotten our drinks, added, “I don’t go to any other bar. I drink here.”

Bob said Hook and Ladder is homey.

Snow said, “It’s not a family business, but it used to be.”

Bob was friends with the old owner, but he stuck around after it was sold, and he said they seem to treat the employees right; “everyone’s the same here.”

We asked what makes for a good church. Bob said he’d gone to CrossCity Christian Church since he was a kid, but “it got too big”.

Snow added, “You want to feel welcome. When it gets too big, you lose that connection.”

We didn’t want to miss Samantha’s answers, so we asked what she thought. For a bar, she said, “Honestly, just the people.” She’d been a customer at Hook and Ladder before working there, and she said, “They tried to get rid of me so hard, they hired me.” We asked what else she liked about the bar. She said that she likes that it’s dark and divey.

We said that that it didn’t seem much like a dive to us, but the others said when it was in its old location across Shaw Avenue, it had been much more of a dive.

As for a church, Samantha said it’s “the atmosphere and environment.” She loved singing the old hymns. She grew up in a Pentecostal church where her family was quite active, and she had quite a bit of fun in the youth group. She still attends church regularly.

It was time for us to head out (I had to go to work soon for my night audit shift). Bob was on his way out as well, and he had one last idea about what makes for a good bar. “Did you get a look at the restrooms? You have to look at the restrooms.” If the restrooms are clean, the ownership still cares about the place. If the restrooms are dirty, it’s on the way downhill.

I should note I did use the restroom at the Hook and Ladder. That wasn't the only reason we left feeling confident that Hook and Ladder would be around a lot longer.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Dean considers smoking

The other day I was watching a rerun of the game show Match Game from 1975. (I don’t need to explain why. Don’t judge me.) Patty Duke Astin (you know, from The Patty Duke Show, “loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control”) was one of the panelists, and right there, in front of the studio audience and a national television audience, she lit up a cigarette. No one on the show made a comment about it. Smoking was an accepted part of the culture.

It dominated bar culture; back then, you expected a bar to have ashtrays -- and they would be used. Bars in movies were smoky places because bars in life were smoky places. Merle Haggard’s song “Swinging Doors” includes the line, “this old smoke filled bar.” Moe Bandy called a song “Smoke Filled Bars.

But times have changed. We live in California, where it’s been illegal to smoke in bars for over twenty years. Even in 2016, when we visited bars in every state, we didn’t see (or smell) smoke in most bars. Smoking is still allowed in some places in some states. (Those states, if you’re curious, are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas. Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.) We visited two bars, in Alaska and Oklahoma, where the bar’s management had decided to do away with smoking even though it was still legal.

In Oklahoma, people lit up on an outside patio, and we were surprised when we talked with smokers to find they were happy with the policy. A guy tried to light up in the bar in Alaska (the no-smoking policy had only been in effect for four days), so I assume he wasn’t happy with the policy.

It’s clear that a majority of people in the United States support smoking bans. There always is a balance between personal freedom and the rights of others; as a nation, we’ve decided people need to tobacco-free.

We found it interesting that on our trip, the place that was most friendly toward smoking wasn’t a bar, but a church. We went to Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, Colorado, which had a “smoking pastor” who sat on the church’s front porch to make other smokers feel welcome. We never encountered a bar with somebody hired to smoke outside and welcome people -- unless you count one of the owners of Blazing Saddle in Des Moines, Iowa.

In American history, smoking was celebrated in high society, on the stage and screen, in offices and, of course, bars. Churches were the one place smoking was condemned. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do” was a popular saying in fundamentalist churches.

The United States has, for the most part, come around to the church’s view on smoking, while disagreeing on almost everything else. We’ll keep going to the smoke-free environments of bars (and churches). But every once in a while, we’ll step outside. There are some pretty great people to talk to who’ve been exiled outside with their cigarettes.