Note: This was originally posted in the Spring of 2013. I want to share it with our growing readership, as it’s one of my favorite stories.
The entire affair was my responsibility.
As of late, it had occurred, there had not been enough nights out. Enough letting loose. Certainly not enough dancing.
It had been a simple plan.
In our little bend of the Midwest, its easy to fall into the “there’s nothing to do around here” mindset. The winters especially have a way of constraining, of forcing you into a corner. We hide in our little caves. We decry the again-delayed arrival of Spring (even though one can often hear such complaints with the earliest of December snowfall).
Still, even with Under The Dome atmosphere of winter, one really isn’t trying very hard if they complain of nothing to do. The truth is, our little bit of the Midwest has plenty for those willing to look. There’s the authentic Prohibition bootleg joint turned neighborhood blues bar. There of the number of recently sprung-up beer joints, breweries and wineries. There are fields and hills covered in snow.
In this case, though, we kept it simple. A local bar. A traveling cover band with a website that hadn’t been made during the era of Geocities. Four friends.
-As you likely know, dear reader, my lovely, patient, and creative girlfriend. Also, she’s pretty cute.
-Coworker and friend of Kristin, with whom we’d been forging a more active friendship
-The husband, also a part of the forging and such.
-Uh, yeah, that’s me.
This forging has had a number of amusing moments. There was the awkward company Christmas party where a barely familiar Gerardo and I switched our “Hi, My Name Is” tags (Gerardo could probably pull off being a “Justin”, but I don’t look much like a “Gerardo”). There was that time we debated crashing that Amish/Indian wedding, but none of us could quite get up the gumption to step first to the dance floor (a tale for which my grandmother later scolded me, stating “you always crash the wedding!”). There was the lead up to our cover band night out, during which Mirella insisted her husband and I coordinate outfits, so as not to create a situation where one of us felt “weird” about the others state of dress.
It had all led to this night, the “let’s get together with those folks because they seem like cool people and we need to get out more regularly” night.
We took our evening meal at the nearby TGIFriday’s (a taste of the local!). Food, a few drinks, and tales of ukuleles and earthquakes and it was time we headed to the bar. It would be a night laughs, an evening of music (all the greatest hits of the 80’s, 90’s and now!) and dancing and…wait, is that parking lot empty? No, not empty. Surely not. I mean, there are…can I count that high…eight cars. Yep, definitely eight cars. I think the bouncer is playing cards outside. Happening choice I made, right guys?! Guys? Uh, OK, a questionable cover band and an empty bar none of us had ever frequented…how do we handle this…
We immediately bailed, fleeing the club parking lot forever. We did what anyone would do in that situation… we engaged in the age old Midwest practice of throwing a heavy ball across the room to knock about a careful arrangement of wooden(?) pins. For points. Ah, bowling alley. Stay classy, you.
We knocked the pins about for an hour or so, but the night was still young, our bellies were grumbling and, well, bowling alley beer is terrible and I wanted anything to remove that flavor from my mouth.
To the pub! The Irish Pub! We actually had intended to enter a different place, yet another unfamiliar club, but they too were empty (wait, did someone just say it was Spring Break in a college town? ::cue crickets::). So to the Irish pub!
Thankfully, the normally packed Fiddler’s Hearth had free tables (we should start heading there at 1AM more often). We entered in time to catch the last few tunes from the Celtic ensemble on stage, during which we dined on Irish coffee and ice cream covered brownie glory. We chatted of Mirella and Gerardo’s time in Mexico. Of running away from home. Of..is that guy dancing a jig against the table next to us? What was I saying?
Our desserts and Irish coffees finished (or abandoned), it was clear we had closed down another room (the looming wait staff seemed to emphasize this). Time to fly. But to where?
We’d already cleared out the list of ideas of “what white people do in the land called Michiana.” We turned to our Mexican counterparts.
“We want to go to your club.”
“The Mexican Club?”
“The Mexican Club.”
“Are you just repeating what I say in the form of a statement?”
To the Mexican Club.
The man at the door was gracious enough to move us to a table directly in front of the band (though, in hindsight, I must wonder if he just wanted us in a good display position). And so the climax:
Things I learned at a Mexican Dance Hall:
1. I do not (nor my Irish/Polish girlfriend) blend in. Every eye turned on us as we made our way through the room. I congratulated myself on my choice of flower print button up shirt and slid cautiously into my chair. And, though we stuck out, the number of folks who approached and greeted us was encouraging. Also, beer appeared. Without request. From nowhere. The music was loud and the place was hopping. I think I’ll enjoy this.
2. There are a set of very specific moves expected of those who would set foot on the dance floor. Kristin and I were capable of, well, trying. I think we did pretty well. I base this mostly on the friendly shoulder pat from the grinning Mexican man who was currently taking his lady gracefully around the outer circle of the dance floor, though it’s possible he was gently pushing us back to our table, .
3. Tequila, well, that’ll get you in. The band, wearing shirts of such decor I could never pull off, were currently moving between people on stage handing off a mysterious bottle. I assume it was tequila, because I’m sorry to say, my Spanish is pretty weak. I’m not sure exactly how I got onto the lead singer’s radar. Perhaps it was being the only pale skinned man (aside from a couple of camo wearing security guards) in the building. I’m told Mirella may have been frantically gesturing at me. All I know is, after looking up from my Corona, I saw the lead singer before me, bottle held above my head, speaking so quickly the few Spanish words I did know were a blur. I glanced around. The rest of the bar was watching. It was make or break time. And I couldn’t break. I tilted my head back. I opened my mouth. In the moments following, I realized most of the bar was cheering me. I received handshakes and high fives and verbal congratulations from tables around me. Mirella leaned over and said simply “you just got cool.” I was in.
I’ve been granted the gift of willingness and desire to enter into territory unknown. I’ve been handed a long forged family tradition of looking resistance in the eye and saying “I’m going to be a pain in your ass, whichever way this goes.” And I’m only encouraged to continue as life shows me that it pays off.
Explore the world around you. Even if it’s just down the street (chances are there’s something there you’ve never seen).
Make yourself uncomfortable. The only time you should ever be completely comfortable in life is when you’re at the end of it.
Don’t let anything stop you. Climb, crawl, dig or punch a hole through what stands before you.
Lame Midwest bar with a cover band? Sure! We’ll make that fun.
Bowling and bad beer? Why, I’ll have another!
Being completely out of place, standing out, and not knowing the dance moves?!…..Sign me up!
You are an action hero. Go adventure.