I sauntered into Mei Wah’s Beer Room in Isleton an hour before the pop-up art gallery had been scheduled to start. Iva looked over her shoulder at me and said to a man on a nearby stool, “Don’t believe anything she says, she’s from out of town.” The guy smiled. Iva drew his beer and raised an eyebrow in my direction. I nodded. She poured a kombucha and set it on the bar.
The man asked what Iva had meant, was I going to lie or something? Before I could answer, he called over to Iva that I had just told him she was a great bartender, was I lying? and we all laughed. He asked why I had sat on the end and not right close to him and his friend. “We don’t bite,” he admonished.
I gestured to the large fan in the doorway and shrugged. I don’t like a lot of air blowing in my face. The man told me his name, Jeff; and his friend’s name, Dan. Then he asked what I was reading. When I showed him my copy of In These Times, he wanted to know what it was.
“A leftist magazine,” I explained. And he and his friend slid one stool further away from me. They played it off like it had something to do with the food that the owner of Yes My Sweet BBQ had just delivered.
The first one asked if I considered myself a leftist. I debated before replying that I would rank somewhere on the continuum between liberal and progressive.
“What about Iva, is she a leftist?” I didn’t know if he was gigging me. Iva, the owner, a woman married to another woman, would certainly be considered liberal if nothing else. I didn’t answer though, and he turned back to his food. A few minutes later, they finished their ribs, settled with Iva, and vanished.
A young woman and her brother took the vacated stools and ordered from Iva’s killer beer list. They wanted to talk. He said he lived in Sacramento; his sister had just come from Oregon. They were driving down to LA to see their parents.
“Do you live here?” the woman asked. “How do we get to the Delta?” I explained that they already were in the Delta. I took the man’s cell phone and found the Loop on Google-Maps. He asked, “what exactly is the Delta, anyway?” and I spent a few minutes explaining the history. Iva sent them to the foyer for a copy of the Delta magazine. I showed them the Loop on its centerfold map. They seemed excited when they left.
The door had closed behind them before I realized that I’d been mistaken for a native.
When Iva brought me a second kombucha, I told her about Jeff and his friend and my magazine. She chuckled. “I’m definitely a leftist,” she assured me, and went over to pour another round for three men wearing shirts that said #RESIST. I went to the back of the bar and watched the artist at work for a few minutes. I asked him where he lived. He said that he had been traveling the world for two years and had come to visit his parents. “They live on a boat in Owl Harbor,” he told me. “I used to live in my car but I sold it.” I couldn’t think of a reply so I just nodded and took his picture to post in the Delta News group on Facebook. It never hurts to give the place a little free publicity.
A little while later, I paid my tab. I hovered in the door, watching the room: Iva behind the bar, the itinerant artist sketching a lady in a silver dress, and a couple of tables filled with people who looked as though they had regular stools and their own beer steins.
Nobody noticed when I left.
It’s the fourteenth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
John Prine’s HELLO IN THERE.