On the Patio at Harbour Lights

(This was written on 1/27/2013 as an assignment for the MatadorU Travel Writing course)

One night at the Replay a man in a Deadmau5 shirt bought me a shot of whiskey.  I threw up in the alley within 20 minutes.  My friend Jamie walked me to her place where I puked in her toilet for an hour then fell asleep in her bed while she slept on the couch. 

I met Jamie at Harbour Lights on Christmas Eve, 2011.  The place was nearly empty that night.  I noticed her when I was out on the old patio reading Joyce’s ULYSSES on my iPhone  and having a cigarette.  It was cold out.  I went inside, sat across the room from her, half reading, half looking at her.  Something about her.  Made me think of classic movie stars like Lauren Bacall or Rita Hayworth.  

She walked over and asked, “You want to play pool?”

I said, “Sure,” wishing I looked more like Humphrey Bogart.

Harbour Lights is like a friend that’s always there for you.  The interior is virtually the same now as it was when Jamie and I met.  The same dimly lit one-room bar, the same graffiti on the same walls, the same old pool tables and warped cues, the same people drinking the same drinks on the same stools at the same bar same as they always have.  The bathrooms have been replaced, but everything else is the same inside.

I push my way through a crowd of people that have taken over every inch of open space  and head toward the outside seating where I can have a cigarette and perhaps reflect that smoking with a sore throat is not the best idea in the world but, I feel, makes me strangely in touch with the human condition.  I’m sure Gogol or Dostoevesky wrote something about that very thing, or at least they should have.  Some story about a man with a head cold having a beer and smoking cigarettes meandering through a bar crowded with strangers trying to find a table on the back patio.  The table represents a purpose in life, a place to call one’s own.  I find such a table and sit out on the first level, under a cloudy night sky, surprised that none of my friends are here tonight.

The renovations to the outside began in July 2012.  Harbour Lights is one of the oldest bars in Lawrence, KS, located at 1031 Mass. St. on the edge of the downtown strip and hadn’t changed for a long time up to that point.  There wasn’t upstairs seating.  The heat lamps worked, but not that well.  “Employee parking only” and “WE B TOWIN’ AND U B PAYIN’” was still painted on the old back wall from the days before the smoking ban, before the back area was fenced off and made into a reasonable facsimile of a beer garden–or something like that, just some tables and chairs, really.  When construction plans were announced, there was some worry with the regulars that Harbour may go too commercial and drive off the loyal clientele.  Now everyone comments on how nice the changes are.

Megan and that poet friend of hers who wrote the poems about a dead girl in the woods are now seated at the table with “PLUR” carved into it.  The “PLUR” looks like it’s been there for some time, long before Deadmau5 and Skrillex came about, when I used to be part of the rave scene in Kansas City.  I miss those days and am glad that table wasn’t tossed out.

Megan and I hug.  I take a seat.  Megan points and says, “There’s a roof up there now.”

I look up at the sheets of corrugated steel covering the rooftop seating area.  “That must have just gone in.  Wasn’t there last week.”

Megan used to have long dreadlocks that went down nearly to her waist.  For some reason I’m not entirely aware of, she cut them off a few months ago.  She hosts a bi-weekly poetry reading at The Gaslight I’ve attended a few times.  She says, “You got the crud?”

I blow my nose.  “Yeah, probably shouldn’t have come out tonight.  How was the poetry reading?”

She replies, “It was so great; it felt like the first real one we’ve had.  Everyone spoke from the heart.”

I think of Jamie.  I think about writing from the heart, writing about a girl I met in a bar who I’ll never forget.