By mid-August, most of us are ready to pack up the Tahoe and head back to school. We’re eager to rejoin our friends, haze some new kids, and return to our old college bars. Soon, most of you will be swimming in cheap pitchers of Miller Lite and $2 well drinks in some falling-down place off the boulevard, fake in hand. But, before you return to your favorite dive on campus, have a few drinks with these guys you’ve gotten to know over the summer.
5. The Cop
Most are surprised by the drinking habits of most cops. My local haunt is frequented by a patron in blue, “Steve,” who patrols a really bad borough north of my hometown. He’s universally liked and gets celebrity treatment when he rolls up. He’s always quick with a joke to belie his broken effect. He told me he was a comedian before he joined the force and his sense of humor is what kept him sane over the years, despite all of the horrors he’s encountered.
Cops like Steve are quality drinking partners. They won’t bum you out with the bad news, but they’ll be happy to tell you tales of heroism and brotherhood. They can offer you advice on how to keep yourself on the straight and narrow when you go back to school and you always know, in the back of your head, you’ll get a pass if Steve ever pulls you over.
4. The Off-Duty Bartender
Want to get destroyed on the cheap? Go hang out with an off-duty bartender at his bar. There’s honor among thieves when it comes to restaurant and bar employees, and coworkers and their close friends often drink for cheap, if not free. Hath thine cup runneth empty? Your bartender friend can go refill it for you without fear of repercussion. Someone forgot to put out the good stuff? Your buddy can run to the back room and grab it.
Aside from drinking perks, your bartender friend will be able to make good drink suggestions if you’re open-minded enough to listen. He’ll tell you what IPAs are good and which ones taste like battery acid. Your bartender buddy will know which beers have the highest ABV and which ones are just hoppy lemonade. He’ll learn you a thing or two about what goes into the drinks you so love. Best of all, he probably lives pretty close or has a DD for when the night has run its course and you don’t want to run into Steve.
3. The Recently Divorced Guy
The divorced men of your bar come in all shapes and sizes — mainly because they’re the bar’s primary inhabitants. The older guys who have been on their own for a while don’t qualify for this list, but the younger, more wide-eyed men do.
The fresh divorcee just got his heart ripped out and stomped. He’s living in a sad studio apartment down the street until the proceedings are finalized. So he kept his Jeep and maybe even the old dog, but this poor man wasn’t prepared to be single at 40. He lost touch with a lot of his old, single buddies ages ago and doesn’t know where to turn, so he hangs out at your drinking spot. Depending on how much alimony his ex-wife is getting, he may spend a lot of money down there, so bring your big boy pants if you want to keep up.
This guy is crowning with life advice. Pull up a stool next to him, or perch on the rail outside when he’s having a smoke and listen to him. He’ll offer you priceless considerations as you press forward into adulthood. He’ll be the first to tell you kids can wait, not to settle on the first girl your parents like and live your early 20s like he wishes he could have lived. The divorcee will always remind you that you’re young and you don’t need to settle down just because everyone around you is settling.
2. The Really Old Guy
If you’re a Billy Currington fan, you’ve probably imagined making friends with an old man at the bar and talking for hours about beer and women, just for him to die a few weeks later and leave you his entire fortune. That doesn’t happen.
The really old guy at the bar may fall into the category of the town’s divorced, but he is more likely a widower or a hen-pecked dude just looking to get the hell away from his old, nagging wife. You’ll have to speak a little louder when you talk to the ol’ timer, but he’ll share tales of five-cent baseball tickets, penny beers, and really old cars — the kind that are unsafe at any speed. He will curse Prohibition and ask if that damned Carter is still in the White House. An old-but-not-dead American spirit lives on in the old man, so order yourself another America and strike up a conversation.
1. The Retired Serviceman
Over the weekend, I minted a friendship with a retired Marine who was approaching 60. He was a shorter, slight-of-frame man with the “high and tight” haircut and accompanying tattoos. He was USMC through and through and I learned that he spent some of his retired years driving a bus. At first, he seemed like your stereotypical jarhead. He was loud-spoken and volleyed a few trap questions at me — not to bait me into saying something disrespectful or ignorant, but rather to get a hearty laugh out of dicking with me and trying to make me uncomfortable.
When we got to talking, he stepped outside of the Marine Corps stereotypes. He was articulate and intelligent with a few enlightened opinions. He still came off as a little bit truculent once he had a couple beers in him, but I suppose a few tours of duty will do that to anyone. He noted that I was a bigger, built guy and challenged me to a push-up contest — right in the middle of the bar. I declined, but he still hit the deck. And when he hit the deck, he pulled off three one-handed push-ups. He popped back up like a man 30 years his junior and asked if I wanted to arm wrestle. Even though I had the old vet beat by an easy 60 lbs and six inches, I once again declined, but not before a flood of interest washed over us, as half the bar’s men were eager to buy him a drink and thank him for his service. He got quiet all of a sudden and began grinning ear to ear. I realized these guys appreciate the free drink, but they love most when people approach them and thank them for their service.
So, before you slam the tailgate on your uncle’s Tundra, pull a couple Jacksons from the ATM and go down to your local place one last time and hear what the locals have to say. Don’t forget, as much as they have life advice for you, they also enjoy hearing your stories of excess and debauchery — they like to live vicariously through you and you stand to liven what will soon be a very drab bar in your absence..