My Days of Wine & Movies

Yesterday marked what would have been the third anniversary of my first shift working at the sweetest little wine bar.

Three years and one week ago, I arrived at the bar for the first time to attend a private party in honor of a friend. Some months earlier, I had seen an ad that the bar was hiring and joked to my guys that I was going to get a job pouring wine. They replied, “Yah, right…” and that was that. I didn’t apply.

That night, however, I unknowingly struck up a conversation with the owner who offered me a job on the spot. The next morning he called me. Laughing, he asked, “Are you serious?” Laughing on my end of the line I responded, “You know, I had the strangest dream that I accepted a job I hadn’t meant to apply for.” A week later I started my new job.

I started that job much to my family’s amusement and my friends’ amazement. I had no restaurant or retail experience. I’m an introvert and a homebody. I had spent my entire adult life working in and writing for churches while I also earned a Master’s degree in Divinity (an M.Div., common among pastors) and raised two boys. Working at a bar seemed off-topic and out of character.

Still, the very idea brought me joy. I like wine and I like people. Besides, I had four weekends, eight shifts, before my older son would leave for college and I would take two weekends off to drive him cross-country. I could do anything eight times and then, if it wasn’t a good fit, I could quit.

To the contrary, I loved it. Over time, I recruited four friends to work there as well.

Sure, sometimes it was slow and other times so busy I broke a sweat. But I discovered that I delight in offering hospitality, making someone smile as I suggested a wine they’d like or served them a beautiful cheese plate. I’m not big on small talk but often we discussed the movies playing next door, and sometimes those who sat at the counter came in for the company; they wanted to share the struggles and joys of their lives, and I was happy to listen.

The bar’s co-owners, business partners for 20+ years, also owned that gorgeous historic Art Deco movie theatre next door. They held an annual film festival that brought in stars and rising stars. They also developed a cabaret concert series in which Broadway stars traveled to our small town outside of San Francisco to share their flare for fantastic music. At both the bar and the theatre, we hosted receptions that included delicious wine and beautiful food. It was fast-paced fun and I had a lot of creative freedom to execute a vision for serving our honored guests and VIP ticket holders. The opportunity to support the arts added a new layer of meaning to my life.

I made friends at the bar and we definitely had our share of colorful characters. We became a real-life version of the TV sitcom Cheers, where everybody knows your name, as the staff and regulars developed a rapport that extended beyond the bar walls. We celebrated many special occasions together: birthdays and anniversaries, births and baptisms, home sales and purchases, holidays and blockbuster premieres. On Sunday evenings, talented local singers came in for Open Mic Night. On occasional weekends, musicians played guitar and sang for us. A local artist decorated the walls with movie-inspired paintings. We held monthly karaoke nights that month after month gathered steam to become the best party in town.

Four months ago yesterday I worked my last shift at the bar. The previous night had been a karaoke night; we anticipated a low number given the increasing amount of information regarding the pandemic and the correlating caution/fear. Instead, our regulars showed up in force and we had one last blast together before the bar came to a sudden close.

COVID-19 took my job. I miss getting out of the house, serving guests, seeing friends. But that’s small potatoes, as C-19 took a lot of jobs. What makes my heart ache is that it may take down the theatre altogether. The theatre’s fixed costs (rent, insurance, equipment maintenance, etc) total as much as $18,000/month, and clearly the longer movie theatres are closed the more difficult it will be to afford to reopen. Our community stands to lose not only a spot for gathering and entertainment but a theatre that has provided so much more than just movies.

The theatre is running a fundraiser, a One Ticket Challenge. If I’ve ever poured you a glass of wine; if you’ve ever enjoyed chatting with the server in your neighborhood’s version of Cheers; if you’ve ever taken in a movie at an independent historic theatre; if you’re willing to donate the amount of just one ticket to help save this historic gem, please visit their GoFundMe page. Thank you in advance for your support!

Karaoke

The first time I remember watching karaoke was Cameron Diaz as Kimmie in My Best Friend’s Wedding. It was also the first time I remember seeing Cameron. Cameron, adorable. Cameron singing karaoke, atrocious!

Even though Dermot Mulroney’s character lovingly fawns over his awfully-singing bride(-to-be), I could not understand the attraction of non-singers singing publicly, for applause?

You know what? I am wrong. When Harry Met Sally, one of my favorite movies, came out earlier and had a karaoke scene: Surrey with the Fringe on Top. I hear it in my head every time we pass the cute surrey bikes in Monterey—covered, not fringed.

But Harry and Sally’s karaoke was a party scenario, whereas Cameron sang to a bar full of people. Which is why I’m thinking about this tonight.

I work weekend nights at a wine bar, and last night was our first Friday Night Karaoke. And again, I check myself: watching people sing, for better or for worse, was so fun!

I arrived to our tech guy setting up lights and computers and taping wires to the floor. Our musically-inclined regulars arrived (we might be an unusual little wine bar, with musically-inclined patrons), and ordered their own ‘regulars.’ They got the show rolling. The projector filled the wall with lyrics, visible to anyone strolling down the sidewalk, and our friends sang their hearts out.

I watched from behind the bar as folks looked in from outside, considered, kept walking. And others came in, ordered drinks, and chose the patio (the wall of windows allowed them to see and hear the fun while still enjoying their own conversations). One couple stopped, and his eyes lit up. He swooped in, glanced at the menu, and then confessed: “I wonder if I could just order up a quick karaoke?” He put in his song choice, then ordered a couple of beers, so as not to be ‘that’ guy.

That first song led to many and they made our night. In fact, his first note altered our reality: this guy could sing! Not that every song was perfect, because karaoke, but still.

First, he sang to her because, as he told us, she had had a hard day. Then he sang just because. They sang a duet, then another. He jumped in on other duets. The guy who sold them ice cream down the street stopped in for a couple songs of his own. Our new friend turned the mic stand around and sang to the full bar. He got us all to sing with him. He sang and sang and sang, and we whooped and cheered when he kissed the girl. Folks on the patio picked up their bar tab (not huge, since he was so busy singing) because of the lovely and energetic entertainment he provided.

Eventually the party has to end, right? The crowd dispersed, and our friends went home. But I think I get it. Karaoke is not so much about being good as being on. It’s performance for those who will, and otherwise might not, perform. It’s fun and silly and wonderful and creates community. Sing and the world—or the bar—sings with you.