There’s a bar in a town along the gringo trail where, if you’ve spent a few nights there over the years, the owner/bartender/every-other-job-doer knew your drink, your favorite snacks and where you’ve been. But he never asked your name – nor did anyone else at the bar. But we knew most of each other’s stories – and there was rarely too much exaggeration because we’d all been to most of the places and occasionally bumped into each other a country or so away.
I stopped in when I was passing through town a few years ago. The food was still mediocre. The beer warm, as usual. If he knows you’re a beer drinker, it would be open on the bar by the time you get there. Really doesn’t matter what it is – Gallo, Brahva, or Dorada. You’ll get whatever he’s got in stock, which means whatever he could pay the deliveryman for that day. You really don’t want the wine. It’s worse than cough syrup. But we kept coming back for the owner, a local guy with a wonderful sense of humor who never forgot a face and carried on simultaneous conversations in at least four languages. Fluently. He knows which patrons don’t like the local dogs at their tables and which ones make sure the dogs don’t starve. Oh, and there’s the internet. Let me re-phrase that. A Wi-Fi sign. Newcomers had already paid for their beer when they got around to asking for the password. He gave them some random digits and, when they found nothing happening, told them the router must be down tonight [same as every other night].
I’d been gone for a while and stopped back in recently. Physically, not much had changed, except that the owner’s daughter was now running the til. None of the regulars were there. I just figured it was an off night. Then I noticed: There was no hum of conversation. And the blue smoky haze that had concealed so many faces had been replaced by the blue glow of screens reflecting their silent owners’ faces.
On my way out, the old owner caught my eye, shook his head and pointed to the steps to the outdoor patio, which used to be where people went for a higher level of conversation. I climbed the stairs, saw a dozen or so nicely dressed gringa mothers and daughters drinking their agua pura over American style burgers and fries. From their looks, it was a Junior League field trip. From the sound of their conversation, they appeared to be from some church group, here to save the local souls. I went back downstairs. The owner shrugged at me, nodded his head toward his daughter and moved his fingers in the international sign for cash. I stepped aside at the door as he greeted another group of well-dressed monolingual patrons.