From the Introduction
The Boys at the Bar
At the heart of every town in the American West is a neighborhood bar. The Corral Club, Oasis, Antler’s, Elks, or Cattlemen’s. It doesn’t matter whether it’s called the Mangy Moose, Lost Dog, or Old Style; it makes a statement about place. It is home for plowjockeys, nailjockeys, slatrats, ranchers, miners, government dumbasses, quick-buck artists, hired men, three-piece suits, Biblebangers, and drifters.
In my town, the main watering hole sits on the main drag. When it was built in 1954 everyone said it was too far East of town. They were wrong. Everyone said the garbage man was going to be elected Man of the Year. They were right. The Corral Club is where the Good Ol’ Boys begin the day drinking coffee and end it with a couple or three beers. It’s where Stomps and Freaks get along. Where attitude isn’t a problem, it’s a way of life. Where you don’t have to be rich, beautiful, or halfway smart. You just have to know not to order a martini.
The seats are covered with cracked maroon Naugahyde. The grease trap has never been cleaned. Everyone knows who put a bullet through the neon sign in front, and no one will tell who stole the sign in back warning, “No Horses Allowed in Bar.” Today’s “special” will always be chicken-fried steak, mashers, and Jell-O salad—more’n likely with marshmallows. Ketchup and mustard come in squeeze bottles. They keep Schlitz in the cooler for Billy because he’s the only guy in town who drinks it, and every now and again Mary Kay tends bar in a nun’s habit. The Church Ladies bring their own coffeecake so they won’t have to tip the waitress. While wheeler-dealers scribble numbers on napkins, ownership shifts with every game of Bar Booth.
After any noteworthy event—be it rodeo, softball, funeral, or wedding—everyone shows up to pull on a cold one. Perley says no horses are allowed in the place because no one wants to see a long face; but Old Bob Nefzger, who ranched a few miles west of town, rode his mare, Congo, in pretty regular. Locals wear Carharts, refer to their wives as the “Old Lady,” smoke, chew, and spit. Wannabees wear logo jeans and cowboy hats with snakeskin bands and feathers. It makes no nevermind who buys the next round because someone always slaps a $20 on the bar. Everyone drinks till it’s gone and the guy on the next stool antes up another $20.
The Corral Club is the hub of social, economic, and political activity. It’s where the “regulars” share laughter, lies, and hijinks, tell it like it was, or spin it like they want it to be. It defines who we really are. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than by who goes and who does not, where they sit, how long they stay, and who they go home with. Like every corner pub, it has been responsible for a lot of marriages and even more divorces.
The neighborhood bar is where news is made, shared, and revised. Where stories are told the way you want them remembered, and prizes are awarded for the first, the most, and the biggest, whether a fish, an elk, or a woman. Where tales about your dog, your horse, and your gun get magnified. But no one would dream of pointing out that it really didn’t happen that way or that you’ve told that one seventeen times. On a good day, the Old Lady will call to remind you to come home, other days she just locks you out of the house.
The Boys at the Bar don’t give a rat’s ass about O.J. or Hillary. They care about the who, where, why, what, and how of real life: who set the fire in the dumpster behind the garage; where the bowling league stands in the playoffs; why County Road 57 isn’t paved; what the commissioners plan to do about the gravel pit; how the Beavers, Badgers, or Bears will redeem themselves Friday night.
While the latest Blue Ribbon Committee is huddled in the basement of the elementary school “visioning” what the quality of life in the community should be, the Boys at the Bar can tell you. They don’t need a Power Point presentation, a 12-Step Program, a facilitator, or a planning director to examine the meaning of life. They know when the bond issue is going down, whether the superintendent of schools needs to be replaced, and which city councilman is green-belting his property. They are equal parts nosey old ladies and bona fide historians.