Monday, June 25, 2007

Sonoma Bar Scene

The easiest way to get to know a place is to hang out, alone, in one of the local bars. And so it was that I found myself center stage at Steiner's, on the less-chic West Side of the Sonoma plaza. Apologies to the Hammer, who may have expected a guest more involved with the operations of his child's 24-hour playdate, but I'd just spent the first week-and-a-half of summer camp-free, and needed some time alone.

Sonoma is an up-and-comer, not as established as Napa but getting more attractive to wine types all the time. And, it seems, the town is divided down the middle of its plaza: new-style money to the East, old-school blue collars to the West. I took a lap around the plaza and decided on old-school.

At 4:30 every Thursday, the Mr. Deli comes into Steiners. He goes to Murphy's first, which is a higher-class bar on the East side of the plaza. Then he drives over to Steiners and starts passing our samples of a bunch of salamis and cheeses. Which is a little unusual, except that nobody in the bar seems fazed. In fact, a few people go, "Oh, man, I didn't know he'd be here today," incluing Meghan, the bartender, who might also want to pay a visit to Mr. Tailor and let those capris out a little bit.

Mr. Deli is sensitive. It takes only one pass on the salami for him to skip me altogether. On the sixth salami, though, he offers again, giving me a chance to ask when the cheese will be rolling around. If I were a good guest, I thought, sitting in a bar at 4:30 while, a mile away, the Hammer acted as de facto babysitter for my child, I would order up some of that exotic cheese dip Mr. Deli has.

I think about this for awhile but am distracted when one of the many 50-ish guys in t-shirts with moustaches announces, "I'm going to be Jewish here. I'm not buying anything!"

Now this puts me in an odd, though sadly familiar position. It reminds me of the argument I had with a fellow Joe something-or-other during the R.A. retreat, junior year. "How is it a stereotype when I say Jews are cheap?" he wanted to know.

Or the time my "progressive" neighbor had enough tequila to casually refer to the time this guy tried to "Jew him down." By the way, that guy maintained that he was the progressive until the day he and his loud-mouthed wife moved away.

So here I am, alone in a bar, getting along with everyone, talking to a guy named Rick about how this other woman's son is in Iraq, and this guy with blindingly white tennis shoes pulls out the Jew slur card.

"WHAT?" I said. This bought me a little more time, but also prolonged the moment. Rick turned to me and said, "He's just going off."

"Did he say what I think he said?" I asked. Rick waved his wand. Then the guy walked up behind me, looked over my shoulder at the Mr. Deli menu and said, "Get some of that cheese. I'm a cheese guy." Which meant that had I pursued this, I would look like a complete jerk. I let it drop.

At 9 p.m., said Meghan, there would be live music. I looked around. The live music, I decided, would be covers of 1960s classics and extended blues jams. The band would be wearing Hawaiian shirts. I came back anyway.

I've been to Sonoma at least a dozen times now, stayed the night at least six. But until I went into Steiners -- and by the way, the scene was even better at night, when every single one of Sonoma's over-35 unattached people was in the house -- the only people I'd seen in town were a slightly more relaxed version of the people I saw in San Francisco, which isn't nearly as interesting to me as a room full of firefighters, bigots, divorced guys in yellow linen shirts and women who take a full loop of the plaza, then return, sit down next to you and say, "There's nothing going on here tonight. This is it."

Roger A. Hunt would have enjoyed it. Sandra Bullock would have enjoyed it. In about 20 years, I imagine, my very own Jawa will enjoy it.

And to you, Hammer, I apologize. I will be a better guest next time. Or maybe I'll just invite you to come along to Steiners.


Anonymous the hammer said...

No need to apologize. Shaman enjoyed the company, esp the stories of when you were a kid. Btw, either I have amnesia (a distinct possibility) or you were sleeping somewhere else on most of those other visits. And you did invite me to Steiners, remember? I changed my mind at the last minute. I think I'm more the Murphy's Pub type than Steiners.

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