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Ass Over Tea Kettle

I got hit by a car on Tuesday night.

More specifically, I drove my bicycle into the backend of a grey Pontiac Sunbird while riding to boxing. I was heading north on 900 East when outside of the Smith’s in Sugarhouse, some guy pulled into the parking lot, cutting me off and sending me ass over tea kettle into the street. I crashed into the backend of his car when he quickly swerved into the parking lot. For one brief moment I was airborne. The impact of the collision forced me into the air heading over the truck of his car. Fortunately, my penis and testicles were able to halt any further flight by slamming themselves into the stem connecting the frame of my bike to the handlebars. I skidded to the ground and slid on my left elbow and right knee before coming to a stop. I laid there dazed on the asphalt for a moment before I pulled myself and my bike to the sidewalk only to watch the driver pull through the parking lot and speed away east on 2100 South.

Jesus! Is there anything in that Smith’s worth running a bicyclist over for? As I tried to regain my composure on the side of the road, two thoughts went through my head. First, my good friend, Johnny Electric, drives a Pontiac Sunbird. Was Johnny trying to run me over for some previous slight? Second, I really need to get my truck fixed. Since having my catalytic converter stole a ten days earlier, I had been without a car and was relying on public transportation and my bike to get from Point A to Point B. I was waiting to get it fixed but after being the victim of a hit-and-run, it became very apparent to me that I am a truck guy not some 118 pound hipster kid pedaling a fixed-gear as my primary means of transportation.

I winced on the sidewalk for a few moments and took inventory of myself. My hands, knees and elbows were skinned up but I was alright. I didn’t hit my head and miraculously kept all of my teeth in my mouth. I was beaten up but still in one piece. I straightened out my handlebars and decided to go to boxing. I figure nothing at Fight 4 Your Life could be as bad as what just happened to me.

What a way to cap the last week.

I had just gotten through the Pioneer Weekend in Salt Lake City. Pioneer Day is a statewide holiday commemorating the original Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, who bravely crossed the country pulling handcarts, settled in the Salt Lake Valley and displaced its native occupants. Marked by the largest parade west of the Mississippi River, fireworks, BBQs and gatherings, I like to think it is the one day of the year that everyone is Mormon. Think that’s ridiculous? Then why is everybody Irish on St. Patrick’s Day?

From the prospective of the bar culture in Salt Lake, Pioneer Day tends to be one of the worst weeks for business. It’s a good weekend to get out of town, host parties or stay the Hell away from the crazies who line the street the night of the parade. I have been bartending for eleven years in Salt Lake and it is absolutely the worst week for customers…unless you’re lucky enough to have a convention in town. Just because locals stay out of the bars during this week doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good time to host a convention.

One of the things that I enjoy about bartending is that I get to see and interact with people for no other reason that they want to get drunk. I am able to witness so many interesting things from behind the bar because people do and say interesting things when they have been drinking. It is the best seat in the house even though from this seat, I have to muddle Mojitos, blend Daiquiris and layer B-52 shots. Even though I made enough money last week to buy five catalytic converters, I don’t know exactly what the convention was. I know that they dealt with rental cars and insurance agencies but that is the extent of it. If I had to guess what they did by the way they acted, I would have guessed they dabbled in human trafficking or multi-level marketing.

They came in waves. From Wednesday to Saturday, I had this huge swing of guests coming into the bar. It has been my intention to write this column as a straight narrative but this last weekend demands that I highlight three experiences.

The Australians Or How Dumb Do You Think Americans Are? The first couple through the door on Wednesday was this middle-aged group from Queensland Australia. They were in the used car business and were in town for the convention to try and sell their stock to one of the large rental agencies in this company. They were dressed conservative, wearing suits minus ties and drinking copious amounts of Dewar’s White Label on the rocks. I don’t expect a single red cent from Australians. After Mormons, they are some of the worst tippers on the planet. I don’t mind not making any money off of them; I just wish I could understand a single word that they say. It’s a weird singsongy accent that is too high pitched with too many colloquialisms and I am sick and tired of American women swooning over them.

They were a decent group of people until one of the members asked me why American trucks don’t have more floodlights on them. I told him that only hillbillies and suburban housewives driving Hummers had them. He asked if hitting deer were a problem in Utah and I said maybe in the mountains but I am not nervous about driving down State Street and hitting Bambi. He them goes on to tell me that in Australia they have a problem with kangaroos and that their cars have floodlights to protect their vehicles. Before finishing his thought, he asked me the Mount Rushmore of stupid questions: “You do know what a kangaroo is?”

If I had to summarize my thoughts on the culture and icons of Australia, I would list the following as being inherently Australian: Yahoo Serious, Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin, throw a shrimp on the barbee and kangaroos. In fact, if you were to ask the first 4th grader what they think about Australia, somehow that conversation gets to kangaroos.

I asked him if he knew what an elephant was. He smirked and went back to his group. I think it would be awesome that at the age of 37 I was first introduce to an elephant. How cool would it be if someone brought you to a zoo and said that four-ton beast with a prehensile trunk, large ears, ivory tusks and huge body was an elephant? I have a hard time not smiling when I see an elephant today; could you imagine what it would be like to see an elephant for the first time later in life?

Head For The Rockies. I hate Coors Light. It tastes like club soda. It’s the only beer that thinks its drinkers are so stupid that they need to have a “Cold Zone” strip to tell them when it is cool enough to drink. Coors Light drinkers are notorious for drinking a dozen bottles of beer and becoming increasing annoying after every one of them. They pout and turn their nose up to any suggestion of trying another equally shitty light beer. I have no beef with Coors drinkers. Any beer that can spawn one of my favorite movies growing up, Smokey and The Bandit, can’t be all that bad. Coors Light drinkers tend to be bad beer snobs.

Case in point this weekend: I had this guy come to the bar and ask that I make him a red beer. Red beers are light beer and tomato juice. They are not the worst thing on the planet and in fact, they make a decent hangover cure. I believe there is a list of breakfast alcoholic drinks and they are reserved for the AM hours: Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Prairie Oysters and red beer. Ordering any of these at midnight, in a packed bar, is a quick way to get on my bad side. I went to pour the ¾ pint of Bud Light off the tap when this dillweed shouted: “Hey! I want Coors Light!”

Here’s the problem: Tomato juice masks any flavor of whatever beer you’re using for a red beer. Second off, not having Coors Light on tap makes me us a bottle and that is only 12 ounces. I was trying to hook the guy up with more beer and less tomato juice. I told him what’s the difference? I explained that you can’t tell the difference and you’re paying more for less, so just have the Bud Light. He looked me square in the eye (and rarely does anyone ever look me square in the eye) and said: “Let me ask you something. Does Bud Light have the Rocky Mountains on it?”

Well, shoot. He had me there. I poured the beer into the glass, topped it off with tomato juice and made a point of pouring every single red beer he ordered later with Bud Light. I believe the customer is always right until they raise their voice to me.

3.2% Beer Is Indefensible. I’ve turned the page on 3.2 beer. For a very long time, I had defended Utah’s practice of selling a lesser alcohol content beer on tap and made it well know that we should celebrate the fact that Utah is different. Well, on Thursday, I had to rescind my position on this. It was the very beginning of the night and I only had a handful of customers in the club. Sitting directly in front of my well, were these two businessmen from Tennessee. They were drinking Ketel One and sodas and were complaining about the strength of their drinks. I told them that we pour an ounce per drink even though the state allows us to pour up to 1.5 ounces. They were giving me a hard time but if you bartend in a club that gets a fair amount of out-of-towners it is nothing new.

I went into my bit with them that you should celebrate the differences between Utah and the rest of the country. Part of the appeal of living in Salt Lake City is that it isn’t Las Vegas or New Orleans. I told them that I thought last call was a good idea (you need to put a cap on a night and she isn’t going home with you anyway) and that the beer they make in Utah is quite good. We talked about the value of travelling around the country and how the differences between home and the road make for great experiences. They both agreed with what I was saying and then asked: “Then why is the draft beer only 3.2%?”

They didn’t call it near-beer or fake beer. They simply wanted to know why we sold a lesser strength beer than the majority of the nation. I fumbled for the right words and in that instant, I knew that they were right and I was wrong. 3.2% draft beer is stupid. The DABC actually puts up enough loopholes that allows me to sell some of the most God awful drinks in the world but I can’t have Stella or Newcastle on tap? The best new beer in Utah is the Hops Rising from Squatters. Can you imagine having that on tap? It would be amazing. My shift beer would actually be one beer not seven glasses of Bud Light.  If given the choice between full strength beer on tap (illegal) or selling shots of gin with a 151-proof rum floater (legal), which one would you rather have? Better yet, which one would you prefer I sold?

Utah is an unique place. I think that is why I love it. It is unlike any other place in the country. Because I am in the bar business, I spend a lot of my time defending it but what I should really be doing is praising it. Even though some jerk-off ran me over with his car (you’re not off the hook yet, Johnny), I still love living here and I love being behind the bar. Bar life brings out the best and worse in people and I have a front row seat for all of it. Between the Coors Light, Kangaroo talk and defending our liquor laws, what makes living in Salt Lake so great is the fact that everybody else in the country thinks this place is so weird.

In the end, maybe it’s the rest of the country that are the weird ones.

Follow me on Twitter @BennyRaskin or become a fan of the column on Facebook.

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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