Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sometimes I see Jesus as I sit at Wally's Pub

     Tucked back in the middle of a one way street, in the town of Canandaigua where I grew up, sits a jewel of a bar, nondescript both outside and in.  The street it sits on is named for a mythical bird that rose from the ashes, but the nickname by the locals is far more colorful, Blood Alley.  I have a brother who says that the name comes from the large number of butcher shops that used to be on the street, but I suspect that it has more to do with a seedier time in that city's past and the opportunities for nefarious activities that might have gone on there.  The bar is called Wally's, and yes, sometimes I see Jesus there. 

     It's a dive bar, plain and simple.  What's a dive bar?  I can't describe it better than a quote I pulled from a 2010 Playboy article (I told you I read it for the articles), which said a dive bar is "A church for down-and-outers and those who romanticize them, a rare place where high and low rub elbows — bums and poets, thieves and slumming celebrities. It’s a place that wears its history proudly."  I met a guy in a bar one night and he wrote a book on the drinking history of another western NY town, Buffalo, and he swears that the term "Dive Bar" originated in Buffalo.  If either the topic of drinking or Buffalo interest you, you should pick up his book "Nickel City Drafts" by Dan Murphy.  It's a short but interesting read, but I digress, back to Wally's, it's a dive, but what a dive it is.  Most folks, when asked what makes this place special, would probably mention the food and I wouldn't argue the point that they have fantastic food.  Well before they were a finalist in the NY State Fair Burger competition last year, I was a fan of the Wally Burger and in that town, they serve up the best wings, but I'd still put the food second to the people that I see there, especially since one of them is Jesus. 

     I first saw Jesus at Wally's in the face and the acts of friends of mine who used to play there, once a month on Saturday nights, Meyer and McGuire (see My friend Frank). I'd try and talk with them between sets and while waiting for the regulars to clear out, I'd overhear snippets of conversation where these simple folk would catch Frank and Siobhan up on their lives since the last month that they had been there.  Honestly, there didn't seem to be much progress in some of those people's lives and stories (Surely weren't my stories of travel and dining more interesting?), that's the nature of some of the people in dive bars, but my friends sat and listened intently to these folks, like they were being pitched a million dollar idea.  I used to get impatient while waiting for my turn to talk to them, until I had a cathartic moment one time and realized, I didn't need the face time nearly as much as the others.  I'd then sit back and watch the parade that would play out, and how could I not see Jesus in the way that these musicians would listen and counsel this wide variety of people that came to chat with them? No one was turned away, and Meyer and McGuire even immortalized some of them in song (See At Wally's on Blood Alley).  That song is from their "Road Less Traveled CD" and one of my favorites.  Point is, Jesus spent his time among those that some might call "The Great Unwashed", and so I saw him at Wally's on some Saturday nights when Meyer and McGuire played and did the same.

     I next saw Jesus in the interactions of the patrons at Wally's. I have a couple of family traditions that bring me to Wally's and over time I realized that other families and friends do the same thing.  They take the time to get together with their siblings and acquaintances in this low pressure place huddled over a beer and a Wally Burger. I'd bet that more confessions may have been heard on the stools of that bar, than a few blocks up at the Catholic Church and I'd bet that reconciliations happen there all the time.  My sister, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, meets a high school friend of hers there regularly and she claims to have seen Jesus there too, during these discussions.  My sister, Peppermint, found herself a couple of friends there, and they have become almost family to her.  The walls of Wally's are lined with flyers for a variety of charitable events, and even though the patrons are amongst those who have less to give, they open their wallets regularly to buy chances on raffles, to fill cans with coins for the less fortunate and those in need, and they take care of their own.  I see a living example of two bible verses in these acts, the widow who drops two mites in the temple plate, and the story of the Good Samaritan.  You can pick the one you see, but I see Jesus across the bar regularly as I witness these acts.

     Finally, I saw Jesus at Wally's just last Friday night.  I had a "night off", my wife was out of town, my son Nolan slept over at a friend's, and my siblings were all attending a Chocolate Gala for a local charity.  I was looking forward to misbehaving in town as my witnesses and my back-up consciences were all busy that night, but God had other plans.  I met some friends as soon as I arrived at Wally's and promised to join them at their table as soon as a grabbed a beer, but as I turned, I saw someone I hadn't seen in a while.  I'm friends with this man on Facebook, but our relationship goes back to my childhood.  He sat huddled over a beer with a whiskey chaser and I almost ignored him, as we aren't that close, and I had friends waiting, but for some reason, I stopped and acknowledged him.  I remembered that some of this status updates of late had talked of a divorce, and moving to smaller place, but that also they spoke frequently of his blessings given by God.  I mentioned sincerely, how I found them to be inspirational and that on days that they helped me keep my life in perspective.  I then recalled how I had mistreated him when we knew each other in youth and I apologized for that behavior and let him know that I aspired to be better and that he motivated me to be better.  He paused for a minute and he picked his head up and looked over the beer and simply stated that he really needed to hear that, that evening.  He was once again moving, and he had suffered some setbacks at work and in his life and he was questioning his direction in life when I stumbled upon him.  We talked for barely 20 minutes but both of us came away from the conversation more enlightened.  The funny thing is, is that he thought he saw Jesus that night sitting next to him at the bar, but really it was me who ran into Jesus, once again at Wally's Pub. 


Gayle Hendershot said...

I see Jesus so often in the faces of my students. They are supposedly the "simple minded". Nothing could be further from the truth! They have undiluted love for others and patience for me that is so appreciated. I see Jesus everyday at work.

Judy Johnson said...

This is wonderful, Bill. It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for a beautiful story.

Dan Yarger said...

Just goes to show, God can be found in everything and everyone if you are simply willing to look hard enough.

Brother Mike said...

a) your brother does not claim blood alley is so named because of butcher shops...the mayor makes that claim.

b) I've often thought it would be great if church services were held in bars. Pull up a stool, grab a cold one and listen to the sermon.
I'll have an order of wings as well.