They saying goes that life somehow begins when you get outside of your comfort zone. Well, I don’t know about that since I’m pretty comfortable right here right now, and yet I’m living just fine, thanks. But I do know that when we set sail and start landing in other countries where we don’t speak the language, where we don’t fit in with the general population, we will both be well outside of our comfort zones. Why is that?
Well, I’ll tell you why: we are white. I mean REALLY white. And not just white but white-middle-class-suburb-living-educated white, which is a special kind of pale. We iron our shirts, if not our sheets, believe in the importance of the Queen’s English, and like our beer micro-brewed; preferably locally. We buy organic. We take a lot of supplements. My personal comfort zones include Costco, Safeway, and possibly Corrina’s Bakery in Tacoma, on a day when I’m feeling extra wild. I can go to the yoga studio downtown, but I cast a wary eye at all the body art displayed there with nary a thought for anyone’s sensibilities; not a care for whether one wants to see those parts of another’s body. Which, by the way, I don’t. Mike appears to be comfortable at West Marine, but I think he secretly goes to places down on the Tacoma tide flats, the rough industrial part of town with all its weird roads and businesses with no apparent signs. Who knows what goes on behind those business doors? It could be anything, and it probably IS. Mike lives more dangerously than I do because I don’t know the rules in those places.
Anyhow, this is the year we prepare to be well outside our comfort zone. So when my voice teacher, Melanie, told me she sings in a ’70’s rock and roll band and invited me to their ‘gig’ last night at a place in Tacoma, I thought maybe we should start our travels a little early and go about 5 miles from our home. In Tacoma, 5 miles will take you somewhere that’s like another country, only closer and without all the drama of crossing an international border. I wanted to hear her band. I mean, I was in a rock and roll band once in the 1970’s for about 5 minutes. Sure, I was only in 8th grade but I was living the dream. Also, the student in me thought maybe if I showed up for her, she would let me sing something in English during our lessons, rather than, say, Italian or French. You know, a little give and take brown-nosing. Melanie is pretty hip, even though she teaches high school students. So I figured her band, High Rollers, would be playing in a hip dance club; the kind of place where people get dressed up and drink fancy drinks with snooty, unpronounceable brands of alcohol. Mike looked the place up on the computer and that’s when I realized the truth: This is not Seattle. This is Tacoma.
The place they were playing is called Dawson’s and it’s a Tacoma bar. They don’t call Tacoma ‘Grit City’ for nothing but I always thought that was a reference to all the grime that gets on our boat due to all the traffic close by, and the bridge we are practically underneath. I was wrong. Apparently it’s because of bars like Dawson’s; bars the likes of which I have never encountered because Mike would never take me to one and I’m certainly not going to a place like that alone. Dawson’s is on the corner of 54th and South Tacoma Way, an area of town that is not exactly high highfalutin and is filled with ‘interesting’ characters, many of whom have embraced ‘grit’ as a lifestyle choice. It’s not a club. It’s a bar. And apparently there is a difference. Who knew?
True background story: Before we were married we were at Mike’s home in Martin, Tennessee and he wanted to go to a bar there named Cadillac’s. I don’t know what this bar used to be like, but a quick Google search turned up a couple of interesting reviews of the place. The best one was by a patron named David Hitsman who ranks Cadillac’s as “A good place to get drunk at.” So, you know, it must be excellent. Apparently I was ‘too good’ to go to said bar because Mike refused to take me, saying it was no place for a girl like me. That was so cute of him. Maybe Dawson’s looked like it might be one step up from Cadillac’s. Maybe being married for 33 years has taken a few of the stars out of his eyes when he looks at me. Well, not really, because he says he still wouldn’t take me to Cadillac’s. There are some parts of this man I will never be privy to. Vivre le mystere.
Still, Dawson’s type of place wasn’t really on my radar and I failed to understand the implications of that. I figured there would be dancing. This was my opportunity to wear one of my kicky little dresses I will have to give up when we move aboard. I put on a dress and gave it a test twirl. I thought I looked great. What do I know? Mike gives me the once over. “You are wearing that? You are way overdressed for this place.” He muttered something about ‘Fine, wear whatever you like.’ This did not bode well so out came the old jeans and a semi-decent long sleeved t-shirt that would allow me to blend into the dark. I managed a bit of hair and makeup. On some level, I knew he knew more about bars than I do. Never mind he was wearing a paisley shirt and his sport coat.
“I’m not carrying a purse. It will just get stolen in a place like that.”, I said as I handed Mike my driver’s license, just in case someone decided to card me. LOL, as they say. “And I’m leaving my expensive phone locked in the car.” I notice he left his as well. We walk down the sidewalk, past the One-Way Jesus People coffee house, where there is music going on and someone waving a white flag. I don’t know if this means that they are ‘surrendering’, but based on my previous experience with religion, it probably does. I felt like the fact there was a Jesus coffee house close to Dawson’s would offer some kind of spiritual protection perhaps.
So a man and a woman walk into a bar. That would be us, and that’s the joke already so start laughing. We scan the crowd and notice that there IS one. It’s really crowded. There are all kinds of people in this place and no place to sit, or even stand. No one is wearing a dress. Not. Even. Close. Thank God I listened to Mike or I would not be living that down ever. He looks at me as we are standing just inside, looking for a place to fit in, and just starts laughing. Damn it.So far, this place is living up to all my stereotypes nicely. I feel so out of place I may as well have worn the damn dress. It wouldn’t have mattered. We find a place over by the darts (yes, darts) and across the room from the pool table (of course) and stand feeling like wallflowers at their first school dance. The band has not yet started to play. Mike leaves me alone and goes and gets us two Pacificos at 4$ apiece. Ah, so that’s why there is no cover charge. Still, I’m a cheap date when it comes to Mike so we stand around and sip our beer with lime and try to look natural. There will be no ‘drinking’ tonight. We need to keep our wits about us. He looks extra spiffy in his sport jacket next to the guy in Harley leather with the Duck Dynasty excuse for a beard. Crap, he may as well be wearing a bow tie. I begin to imagine our exit strategy. I’m thinking we’ll stay long enough to make an ‘appearance’ for Melanie, and then go home and go to bed like normal people do on a Saturday night. It’s already 9:00pm and Matlock is probably over.
Then the band starts to play and they are excellent! I am really in good hands with Melanie because she is a great singer. Every instrumentalist is excellent. ‘Black Magic Woman’? No problem. ‘Smooth Operator’? Indeed! ‘Ladies Night’? It sure is. They play all the songs of our soul, part of which seems to still live back in the 1970’s. My foot starts tapping but we are hanging back. I mean, it’s a throng out there; the dance floor is small, and we were both fully into the swing of responsible adulthood by the time mosh pits became a thing. I have visions of being lifted into the air and carried off or, worse, dropped onto the floor and moshed to death. A large biker dude (not a cyclist) might want to cut in, forcing Mike to defend my honor, resulting in a bar fight and a night in jail, if not broken teeth. If television has taught us anything, it’s that the world is a terrible, dangerous place full of menacing, drunk biker people.
There were couples dancing like nobody was watching, even though we totally were. There were threesomes dancing, individuals dancing; people of all body types, skin colors, education levels, and probably religious and political preferences were jammed together on this small bit of throbbing space. I noticed a couple about our age, except the guy had an earring and a tattoo. But he was also wearing what looked like a fairly expensive, tailored shirt, and there was no beard or ponytail in sight. Why do people tend to mix stereotypes like that? It makes me sweat. I don’t know the rules in this environment.
The band may have been outstanding, but the star of this show was the man with his arms in the air. We both were completely charmed by this tiny man who was having the time of his life. I don’t know if he was drunk, simple, or just happy, but he kept this big smile on his face all the time and he worked the floor, let me tell you! Mr. Tan (not his real name we don’t think) would walk out onto the dance floor and open his arms to the sky, begin gyrating as if invoking the goddess of all dancing, and simply wait with these open arms until a woman wiggled into them and danced with him. Whatever his mojo, it worked for him. He had one partner after another. He was having the time of his life. Mike told me I should dance with Mr. Tan, but I felt like that would open the door to possibilities that I wasn’t quite ready to embrace. One thing at a time, Mr. Boyte. One thing at a time.
All of this was really amusing but I finally decided enough was enough. We are already really good at hanging on the fringes and observing people quietly and unobtrusively, making up stories about them in our heads. There is no challenge in that. I got tired of waiting for Mike to ask me to dance so, breaking all rules of white-middle-aged-recovering-Baptist custom, I said ‘let’s go’ and we wove our way to the floor, leaving our beer on a table to get warm. We joined the throng on the dance floor. And this is where it gets interesting.
I love to dance. I’m not very good at it, but I can feel the music in my blood and I just kind of move in time to the music. I can still do the ‘bump’ like it was yesterday. I’ve got some great moves to ‘Disco Inferno’. Burn, baby, burn. (Oh, I think that burn is actually my hip.) Mike loves to dance, too, but he gets distracted by his enchantment with the musicians, whom he worships with the childhood innocence of a “Little Baby Jesus in Golden Fleece Diapers”. Plus, he went to high school in Tennessee, where they don’t believe evolution is even a ‘thing’, much less that dancing is fine. At least that was true in the 1970’s and I hear tell that in some places little has changed since then.
According to Mike, the Church of Christ kind of ran the school system back in his day. They believed dancing was somehow of the devil, if not of the basic sinful nature of children, so school dances did not exist for him. He never learned the high school skill of slow dancing by grappling with each other and just kind of hanging on. I’m trying to teach him but he won’t let me lead. Plus, nowadays draping oneself over one’s partner and swaying around simply isn’t enough. Now there are hips and legs involved and I think his Southern Baptist upbringing gets in the way. I tried, but then I noticed some people laughing and thought maybe we looked ridiculous. Sure, they were looking the other way, but we probably still looked ridiculous. Enough of that. We’ll practice at home. I want to get this leg thing down. If only he would stop watching the musicians long enough to pay attention!
Before we knew it, we were having fun and lots of it. I guess we kind of forgot to be uncomfortable in this zone, the differences between all the people there and us becoming a huge blur as we all knew all the words to all the songs and nobody gave a crap who voted for who in the last election. By 11:00 we were still having fun, but my knees and hips were starting to give me grief due to all the hip grinding action going on. It was a little like turning into a pumpkin as I realized that I am not, actually, living in 1975 with a body that can dance all night without stopping. Damn it.
We decided we’d go home and come back another night. Yes, that’s right. We’ll go back to this place and dance some more because we are mighty comfortable there now. If we can have this much fun expanding our comfort zone in the grittier, seedier side of Tacoma, I’m pretty sure we can take on Mexico and beyond. I mean, in Mexico the worst thing we had to deal with was clowns at stoplights and driving off-road trails in a rental car. So there you go. Easy.