A night in the life

I drove home from work late Saturday night wondering how long it would take for me to see the flashing lights.

You see, there had been rioting in my neighborhood, or looting, or call it what you will.  The term civil unrest certainly fits the bill.

I live on the outskirts of a little town called Temple Terrace, which is essentially Tampa.  All night long at work, an incredibly busy Saturday night at the bar, I heard servers and customers and others randomly telling me “they’re burning this down” or “they’re rioting here.”  All the while, I was making service ticket after confounded service ticket, which is what my job as bartender has now boiled down to.  Thanks to the Coronavirus that has barricaded our country, customers are no longer allowed to sit at the bar.  No customers, only service tickets… but that’s a story for another time.

Miles away but not for long, protestors, or looters, or vandals, depending on how you choose to describe them had allegedly burned down a mall, and a gas station, a mere, few miles from where I live.  Meanwhile, eight more tickets for Angels Envy Old Fashioned popped up on my register.  The news made it rather hard to concentrate.

The proliferation of social media and misinformation – one and the same these days – kept giving us snippets of what was happening.  A local Mobil station had been burned to the ground.  Pawn shops, jewelry stores and sporting goods stores looted.  All I could trust was what people were telling me… and it wasn’t good.

When I picked up a co-worker on the way into work earlier that day, I saw helicopters flying overhead at the intersection of 56th and Fowler.  One could see hordes of police cars from a mile away.  A peaceful protest had been planned.  This had been hours earlier.

Someway, somehow, the protests turned foul, not surprising with the rising tension in America.  After nearby stores were looted, we heard rumors those same people were on their way to Ybor City, where I work, where my good friends gather.  No one knew what to believe at that point but it was still best to take precaution.  Bars closed early.  Other local businesses boarded their windows, an event normally reserved for oncoming hurricanes.  A storm was a-brewin’ alright.  For all we could tell, the damage caused could have been significantly worse than any act of nature.

The protestors never made it our way but that didn’t stop the evening from having a dreadfully eerie feeling.  The way those service tickets kept popping up, it was as if people were drinking away their last rites.

A tightly knit group, our Irish pub, people of all ages and creeds, hugged one another and tried to make sense of it all but there was none to be made.  America is fed up.  We are a nation that is spiraling downward quickly.  It doesn’t really matter on which side of the political spectrum you fall, it’s hard to see the light at the end of this tunnel.  I can honestly say, I’ve never been less proud to be an American.  We are living in the final scene of Do The Right Thing with no one, unfortunately, doing the right thing.

At four in the morning, I finally left work. Curious, I drove by the mall that was set afire.  I had to see the damage for my own eyes.  I had to make it real.  It’s not that I didn’t trust the (second or third or fourth-hand) accounts but I needed to see for myself.  John Coltrane played “Central Park” on my car stereo, reminding me of another area I grew up that has also all but been shut down.

And there I finally saw it.  You couldn’t get close, with good reason.  Police cars with lights bright barricaded the entire, multi-lane intersection.  It was an upsetting state of affairs.

Mine wasn’t the only city being torched that night.  Protests in urban areas around the nation put headlines of Coronavirus on the backburner.  Shit had gotten real.  People had had enough.

A friend paid me a great compliment the other night.  I was pouring drinks behind the bar as he was coming in for a cordial hello.  I wasn’t my usual cheery self, he noticed.  Something I don’t recall had me down, but he came to me, saw something was amiss and said that he always looked to me for guidance, for cheer and positivity.  That’s the joy of my chosen profession, the ability to still affect a person’s life in a positive manner, whether with a whiskey, a story or both.

Sometimes, especially on nights like Saturday night, maintaining that smile can be incredibly trying.  Another friend drove by my apartment, just to let me know it wasn’t ablaze with the rest of the area.  Fortunate, relatively speaking.

I’m not sure where the answer resides.  Smarter men than me have preached about the respect we should hold for others.  Heck, we’ve done that on this website in one way or another for the better half of eleven years.  I guess enough people aren’t reading.

So, I turn to my smile again because that’s what I do and all I can wonder is who’s with me.  And hope that the fires will eventually stop.

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10 Replies to “A night in the life”

  1. Solid post. Thx for letting us in. As you know, many of us have lived through this before. Just months before I gave birth to you we experienced horrifying assassinations of great leaders, protests, shootings, war, more rioting & civil unrest. Doesn’t make it right or wrong- my point is that we somehow survive it & move forward with the sad memories and scars. Hopefully some learn from it? I’m guessing it’s been that way throughout history. This too shall pass. Wish it were a more perfect world for you. Or that I could fix it. I’m thinking many parents must feel that way. I love you.

  2. I’m not one bit surprised that it would happen in that area of Tampa. It’s populated by the drug addicts who let the addiction get to their heads. The drug addicts who yell to you “I’ve got it!” Every single time you went to that Mobil station, an addict would walk up to you to ask if you had spare change. When I lived off of Fowler Avenue, I couldn’t go to gas station or supermarket, without being bothered by “do you have some spare change?” Good riddance to that Mobil station. Every day until mid-March, it was frequented by Busch Gardens visitors. Until mid-March, residents of that area enjoyed making life uncomfortable for visitors. Yes, the damage would have been significantly worse if Busch Gardens had been open. We can only praise the Lord that it happened at a time that Busch Gardens was closed down, with no visitors from out-of-town. If this what it takes to get rid of the drug addicts who bother visitors from out-of-state and out-of-country, then please, continue

  3. ” what we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred;what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness but is love and compassion toward one anoher, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or black.”
    Robert Kennedy

  4. Greg…

    That’s certainly one point of view.

    Another would be that the addicts you’re referring to might not have had the same opportunities to clean themselves up as others have. That it’s the drugs in that area that have kept that area down.

    And that is a systemic part of the problem that so many people right now are protesting.

  5. Thanks for the heads up Rev. A very powerful statement by a true patriot.
    Bobby also urged us “to dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.” Amen

  6. Deac…

    Would love to get back to that sort of leadership and speech-giving in this country.

    We’re currently seeing the exact opposite of that.

  7. Reading your chosen words is like the first time tasting fine whiskey on a cool evening on the way to Las Vegas.

  8. Careful though, A.

    You know what happens after one too many whiskeys in Vegas. Either hangovers or pregnancy. That damn malt is a gateway.

    Thanks, as always, for the inspiration. Catch ya’ in the hood.

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