The year was 2004. It was a Winter filled with suspense: would cupcake-baking, craft overlord Martha Stewart actually serve jail time? (Yes.) Would the triplets of Belleville—Bush, Cheney and Rove—steal election #2 and continue driving this nation into a cesspool of ignorance and fear-mongering come November? (Yes.) But more importantly, would the New England Patriots, underdogs still after winning their first Superbowl evah just a couple of years earlier, be able to prove they weren't just a fluke? (Hell, yes.)
I, on the other hand, was far too busy to worry about such pressing issues as how Tom Brady's ass would sparkle in those silver pants. I had betting squares to sell! I had a 6' projection screen and $10,000 projector that didn't belong to me to secure. I had a party to pull off that was probably going to bomb instead.
Because even though I was preparing for the Superbowl party to end all Superbowl parties, the truth was I'd be lucky if I got a handful of thirsty customers. People just didn't make their way out to my bar, sitting kitty-corner from a low-income housing project and several blocks up the street from San Francisco General Hospital's methodone clinic, just to sip a few $1 Pabst Blue Ribbons on the biggest game day of the year. But little did I know, I was about to have the best Sunday afternoon shift of my career. Too bad I hadn't planned for a barback...
The first strike against me was that I was opening two hours early to account for a 3:00 kickoff. I had advertised the hell out of the party, giving plenty of coverage to this fact because I was convinced that those additional two hours would be dead, since my regulars would plan to arrive at the normal time.
My second concern was getting the damn projector set up. Have you ever tried to balance a $10,000 piece of equipment on top of a barstool on top of a pool table in the middle of a bar? Clearly I hadn't thought this through when I was begging my audio engineer boyfriend to get the machine from his job. Add to that the neurotic coworker who had decided he'd join me early to "help," which actually meant that he planned to hook up his own VCR to this system (did I mention it was a $10,000 projector?) and play some pre-game clips he had lying around. As much as I loved Tiny, this was a guy who was shorter than me (I'm 5'3") but with the energy of ten tweakers on the go. The pouting wasn't pretty. We ended up having to move the projector out of reach by tucking it into the corner at the end of the bar.
By this time I didn't have time to apologize for hurting Tiny's feelings (no you can't fucking touch the projector!). I had to get those betting squares drawn up. Having never actually seen a betting square in my life prior to drawing one up on poster board that afternoon, I had my work cut out for me. But with the help of the Audio Engineer and a couple of earlybird Carolina fans—the outlook was dire already—I managed to wield the Sharpie deftly and get the board up behind the bar.
Now it was time to get my bar set up. Like every good opening bartender, I not only had to prep enough lemons and limes for my own shift, but for the shift after me as well. Then there were the dishes to wash that were leftover from the previous night's closing bartender's after party. I prepped the coffee (never brewing it until the first customer asked to ensure a fresh cup), pulled all the bar stools, wiped down the surfaces, rearranged the seating to face the largest projection screen I had ever handled, and set up my speed rail. From there, it was on to the taps. I liked to run them each briefly to clear out any liquid that had settled in the lines overnight—otherwise, that first pint is a bit nasty.
I went through the Anchor, Sierra and Prohibition with no problem, and continued on to the next bank of taps. I emptied my foamy glass into the drain, angled it under the next tap, and pulled down the Pabst handle. A rush of beer and foam hit the glass, releasing a musty waft, and then with a loud sucking, squirting "poof!" it stopped. I had killed the Pabst keg. My best-selling happy hour beer by far at $1 a pint (the best deal in town), was no more. Aha! you might say, It's a good thing you had a backup in your cooler, seeing as how it was your best selling beer! But oh, no, I did not. Because my underbar cooler would only hold enough kegs as we had taps, and the rest of our kegs were stacked in a cramped, dark, humid little den of iniquity gently termed The Office. There would be no Pabst for another couple of hours.
As I was playing musical kegs under the bar, sliding ponies and hundred-pound kegs around to get my PBR keg free, I heard noises above me. Familiar noises, like the soft murmer of voices. I pulled up on the keg lever, gave it a good counterclockwise jerk and released it from its hold. Letting the lever hang from its lines like a sad little monkey dangling on a jungle vine (huh?), I leaned over the dead keg, grabbed it with both hands and lifted from the knees. And then something remarkable happened. I straighened up and lifted my head, and came face to face with over a dozen customers craning their necks from in front of the bar. I had been officially open for about 15 minutes, with no PBR to speak of, and I was already slammed. Fucking sweet.
The rest of the shift was a blur of football, booze and betting squares: my "Willie McGuinness" drink special (a pint of Guinness and a shot of whiskey, named for then Pats linebacker Willie McGinist) was a hit. A good buddy won the first quarter squares and bought a round of shots for everyone he could afford, even leaving enough leftover to tip me properly. And although the majority of my bar was filled with smack-talking Pats fans (do we come in another kind?), we all came together in a roar of laughter when Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's booby on a 6' screen. It was heartwarming.
But the moral of this story isn't really about Janet's malfunction, or even my record-breaking sales that day. I suppose the moral of the story, in reality, is to do whatever you have to do to make football interesting for you, even for just one day. For some, it's not that hard. For me, it took throwing a party. How will you do it?