Veterans Day

In November of 2011, I was driving my car towards Beaverton, to get some parts for my el Camino. I realized I had to make a stop and.., well…, you know, so I looked up and saw the perfect sign: ‘The Pit Stop Sports Bar’. Not a place I would normally frequent, it seemed appropriate this time so I pulled in. It wasn’t much to look at from the front, but I soon discovered that everything was in the back. It was only about 8:00 am, but the sign said open at 7:00 am, which is the earliest a bar can open in Oregon. I like that and the fact they had a ‘Happy Hour’ from 7am to 11am ( the morning is my favorite time to be ‘Happy’ ). Of course I was the only one in the place, so I grabbed a stool at the bar ( after I…, you know ) and ordered a pint of Pabst. Upon delivering my frothy friend, the cute bartender asked; “Are you a veteran?” “Yes I am”, was my reply. She then informed me that the first two beers were on the house and she thanked me for my service. I couldn’t help but think that this bar not only hires cute lady bartenders, but also mind readers. How else would she have known I was a veteran that wanted a free beer. Curiosity got the best of me so I asked her how she knew. “It’s Veterans Day you big lug, I’m asking everybody!”, came the reply, along with that ‘special’ female look that seemed to say; “Men, they don’t even know what day it is”. I disregarded the look and still managed to feel good about myself, because at the time I only had 12 bucks in my pocket, and the way I can drink beer, it wasn’t going to last. Thank you US Army. After 42 years, the time I spent with you is starting to pay off.

I finished my beers, and of course had to, you know again, and headed for the door. I drove down the road, grabbed my auto parts and headed back in the direction of home. There is something about hanging out in an auto parts store while some old guy thumbs through a huge parts catalog, that always makes me thirsty. Shopping in general, be it garden equipment, home improvement supplies or auto parts, always has a way of making me…, hell, who am I kidding, everything makes me thirsty! The remedy was right down the road and it’s called the Ship Tavern. This watering hole I know well, as I have been coming there since the 80’s. It’s located in a small enclave of Portland called Multnomah Village, where everybody knows everybody. I plopped down on a stool and asked bartender Katherine for another Pabst. Yes!, I drink Pabst because; It’s tall, cold and cheap ( just like my ex-girlfriend ).

To my good fortune, Katherine being a woman ( and a major ‘hottie’ ), who knew what day it was, I did not have to pay for this beer either. Again, I was thanked for my service. I sat back for a moment and thought; “I’m sensing a trend here”. Two bars, no money spent, ( Yes I tipped ), this could be the best day ever. A quick wave to Katherine, and out the door I went heading for my car. Time to stop driving and put ‘Betsy’ in the parking lot of my friend Tommy’s apartment building. Catching a bus downtown seemed like the smart thing to do. I mean really, more bars, all walking distance, it was the perfect plan. As I stood at the bus stop, the owner of Renner’s, another bar in Multomah Village, yells across the street, “You, veteran, get over here to my bar, I’m buying”. I decided there was sure to be another bus along sometime, so I shot across through traffic and up the steps I went.

I explained earlier my fondness for Pabst Blue Ribbon, but two, or three, or four, is about my limit ( I’m watching my weight ). Lucky for me, I’m always quick to come up with a solution and that is to switch to bourbon ( it’s less filling ). Because the owner is very generous, I had two drinks at Renner’s, and then looked at the time that was ticking away. I said my goodbyes, and headed for town. Everything was working perfectly, bus pass in my pocket, money to tip with…, yup…, this was going to be a great day. I reminded myself to get something to eat, as the #44 Tri-Met bus rolled up, and I hopped on board.

So far, every bartender had asked me first if I was a veteran. I knew it wouldn’t be proper for me to ask for a free drink and then get up and leave if the ‘house’ didn’t honor the tradition. I was down to $9.00, so I had to be selective or this would be a short trip into town. Having been a bartender myself for 13 years, I always have a sense of which bars I would be comfortable going into and those are just the type of places that give free drinks to veterans. Turns out, I never made a bad choice all day. I spent the day telling ‘war stories’ with strangers, bumping into old friends, making new ones, and as always, I fell in love with all the female bartenders. Many drinks and much fun later, it was time to go home. In total, I had been to 11 bars that day, had a free meal, tipped everybody and still had a couple of bucks left. There was only one thing left to do before I caught the bus for home, and that was to have a ‘nightcap’.

I decided the perfect place to go for my 12th and last stop, would be a restaurant owned by a Chinese family, that I tended the bar for in 1975. Being Chinese, and a little frugal, I knew they wouldn’t buy a veteran a free drink, or anybody else. I decided to slide in anonymously, buy my own beer, and then walk around the corner to the bus. Everything was set. The place was packed so I squeezed my way past patrons at the bar and stood by the kitchen door next to the waitress station. No one noticed me at first and that was just what I wanted. A Spanish Coffee waiter in his late fifties, ( I’m being kind ), walked by with his tray, heading for a table to do his show. He stopped and give me a quick look, then made his way through the crowd to the dinning room. On the return trip, he stopped again, and gave me a longer look with one of those puzzled ‘head shakes’. I didn’t know if he knew me or was asking me to get out-of-the-way of the waitress station’. He left to put his tray down, then quickly returned pointing his finger at me saying; “You’re Uncle Don aren’t you?” “Ahhhh……., yes I am,…well…, that’s my nickname anyway”, I finally said. Turns out this fellow was a 16-year-old busboy at this restaurant when I was the bartender and I would sneak him drinks into the pantry during the late night shift. I do remember sneaking drinks to the kitchen staff, that’s how you got a good meal, but not him in particular. Well, he remembered me, so he turned to the young bartender on duty and yelled; “This man is Uncle Don, get him whatever he wants, as much as he wants, and do not take his money”. He then walked off to do his Spanish Coffee show. Everybody at the bar that heard his request to the bartender, turned towards me and started up conversations. One was a well dressed lady about my age, who must have thought that I was ‘somebody’. As I stood there feeling like a celebrity, again I thought; “You know, the Army wasn’t all that bad. Had I not been in the service, this day would not have happened”.

Sometimes you get up in the morning, hoping to have a great day, and it never comes. Despite all your efforts, positive attitude, smile/wave, hold doors open for people, pat little children on the head; nothing really happens. Veterans Day, 2011, was a day of eating, drinking, meeting new friends and bumping into old ones. It was the kind of ‘special day’ that could never be duplicated ( I know this to be true because I tried again in 2012 ).

( post script ) Due to a slight error on my part, Veterans Day 2012 was on Sunday the 11th, but Monday the 12th was the legal holiday, so that’s when I thought it was. After going to two bars and being informed I was a day late, I finished my last Pabst and went home early to watch Monday Night Football and play with the cats. It was a great game that went into overtime and my two cats, ‘Biff’ & ‘Cosmo’, are a laugh riot. Hey, it turned out to be a great day anyway. Thank you Pabst Blue Ribbon for all you’ve done for me. I mean it.

“I would like to echo the one thing I heard many times that wonderful day; To all that have served and those still serving, Thank You, Thank You Very Much.”, by Don Van Kirk

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