Eau Claire put on its best show. The weather was perfect at dusk. Streets were lined with art and jazz music was piping in through corner speakers making the whole town feel like a living room. I romanticized the idea of bundling up and heading out to a bar to watch a Packers game in the middle of winter. I could have walked the street all night and part of me wanted to instead of sing that night. I was afraid to go into Scooters, the local gay bar. I was afraid because I wasn’t sure if I belonged, if it was right for me to enter a sacred space so close in time to the Orlando shooting.
I’m nervous as I enter the bar, but this journey is a time for risks. Pat, a grizzled older woman is bartending. She’s the kind of woman who seems damn tough and probably is, but underneath, there’s a softness that draws you to her. She pours me a Spotted Cow, a local lager and I sit at the bar alone. Then Jake, the KJ, introduces himself by warmly shaking my hand. They ask what brings me to their place and I tell them about my journey. As Pat’s shift was ending (she works days, and is thankful for it), she placed her hand on my shoulder and wished me good luck.
There are peanuts on the bar and a show starring David Duchovny on both televisions. Game 6 – possibly the final Game of the NBA season – is nowhere to be found. A group of men occupy one corner of the bar. Around 9 the place begins to fill; A large group of women come in, order drinks, and adjourn to the patio. A couple pulls up stools next to me, engaged in focused conversation. I’m hurting even though no one else around me seems to be. There’s an air of comfort, not fear or sadness. It’s OK to be here. People strike up conversations with me about allergies, the weather, and recent breakups.
The singing begins and everyone but me seems to be a regular. I’m uncharacteristically nervous as I get up to sing my first song, but the negative emotions wash away as soon as I begin. I feel at ease. Later, a man so drunk he stumbles up to the mic (stumbles all over the bar, really), tries to sing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Jake wanders over to where I sit to let me know he does this every week. Throughout the night, people get up to do their thing, but no one claps afterwards except for me. This seems out of place with such a friendly environment. My dollar bill is the only one I see in the tip jar. Everyone just doing their own thing I guess. Some here for the singing, others for the company, maybe others for the stiff pours. I have no idea if there are thoughts of Orlando; I don’t hear any, and everyone seems happy to be there, among family.
- Location: Scooters Bar, Eau Claire, WI
- Miles traveled: 330
- Songs sung: Heart of Glass (Blondie), Long Way Home (Supertramp)