Since Saint Patrick’s Day seems to have come and gone without the usual festivities, it occurs to me that some of you might feel a little unbalanced. So, here’s a St. Patrick’s Day story to lift your spirits.
In March of 1983, I tended bar at Dollar Bill’s Saloon in Cincinnati, Ohio. In that capacity, I was also part of a family of friends who engaged in all sorts of activities together. The bar’s owner sponsored several softball teams. I played on a men’s team Monday night, a co-ed team on Tuesday night and coached a women’s team on Wednesday night. The bar also organized bus trips to concerts on the riverfront, Cincinnati Reds baseball games, Cincinnati Bengals football games and, on a few occasions, had groups traveling to Cleveland and Chicago when our teams played on the road.
So close were we all that I married a Dollar Bill’s waitress and have called her wife for 32 years.
All sorts of bands, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, and more, played four or five nights a week at the back of the long narrow bar. Directly across the street was a music venue called Bogart’s with a capacity of about 1500. The servers at Bogart’s, like those at many of the other nearby restaurants and bars, made Dollar Bill’s their preferred hangout. In this rather close-knit environment, as many of you who have worked in the business know, bad employees do take care of one another. In short, Dollar Bill’s Saloon was a lively place and at 22 years of age, it was an important part of a rather care-free time in my life (sort of like now as I sit here reminiscing and pecking away).
Okay, here’s the part about Saint Patrick.
As it turned out, one of the other more respectable dining and drinking establishments in town found themselves unable to use the permit they had acquired to appear in the city’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade. About a week before the parade, the owner of that restaurant offered the permit to Dollar Bill’s Saloon.
On that auspicious day, I found myself rather intoxicated being pulled through the streets on the flat bed of a semi-tractor trailer whose primary safety features were a few two-by-fours made to look like a fence, graced with some green tissue paper that demonstrated, not only our passion for St. Patrick, but the saloon’s commitment to drinking alcohol at odd hours when the calendar demanded it.
On a crisp clear day, we headed down from one of the seven hills of that fair city (not sure which one it was) to the downtown riverside staging area, and spent much of the late morning and early afternoon pretending that we were respectable members of the community participating, as we were, in a celebration of St. Patrick. The kegs of beer on ice fore and aft, and the Port-a-Potty, served as testament to our cause.
A parade organizer, whose job it was to move a collection of vehicles, floats, and more, through the streets of downtown without any incident that might reflect poorly upon the Queen City, made the observation that many of us were drunk and that perhaps we should sober up a bit before joining the parade. A not-so-drunk, yet not-quite-sober spokesman named Pat emerged from our group to speak with the organizer on our behalf.
The organizer reminded Pat of the terms we had agreed to upon signing the application for the parade permit. Not wanting to implicate the more salubrious establishment which had covertly transferred the permit to a truck load of drunks, the appropriately named Pat deftly shifted the conversation to the spirit of holiday.
I must admit that his argument carried more weight than it might in 2020. It was 1983 so his pleas to the organizer centered on the association of Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking.
In the interest of enlightening my younger readers of the way things were in 1983, Pat’s argument focused on the stereotypical observation that the Irish like to drink. While this may not be the kindest thing to say today, my observation has been that, even as stereotypes are often cruel and offensive, they often have some small basis in fact. Indeed, I have yet to meet an Irishman, and I, like many Americans count myself among them, who has ever taken offense at the observation.
Whether Irish or not, you must certainly agree that a people should never let the time of day interfere with what it is that they do so well.
Anyway, Pat’s feigned sobriety seems to have won the day because the organizer agreed to plead our case to a small committee which now held our parade fate in their hands. He returned with the message that we would be one of the last floats in the parade. And then Pat fell off the truck.
The organizer made a quick visit back to the committee and returned with the bad news. However, he delivered his message in such a way—with polite deference to our dilemma, and most certainly with the fear of infuriating a crowd such as ours—as to make that wonderful day more memorable than if we had actually been permitted to join the parade.
Here’s what he said: “As we have examined these things in our best effort to determine which float might go next, considering the one that might be placed before it or the float that might come after, and in the spirit of today’s celebration, and in recognition of the reason we all do these community things in the first place, we have unanimously decided that this flatbed truck filled with a load of day-drinkers has no redeeming social value whatsoever that might properly reflect Cincinnati’s commemoration of Saint Patrick.”
May God bless that man and may God continue, for years to come, to bless Saint Patrick. Amen.