A Night in Northern Liberties


Thursday. Last Thursday now. I’m too busy a bee to get things down on paper seconds after they happen. And by busy, I mean I went home and passed out. Where was I? Last Thursday, Heather reminded me for the 400th time that we had concert tickets for Red Sun Rising. My memory is crap when it comes to anything time related. So she even created a Facebook Event to remind me to pick her up and take her to Northern Liberties. This is entirely necessary or I would have been on the couch watching Almighty Johnsons on Netflix. But Heather is a clever girl and I picked her up at 7ish. I’m not punctual either. Not sure why she puts up with me… I am an easily distracted friend.

After a half hour of driving and a further half hour of me bitching about not being able to park downtown (even though we were clearly in Northern Liberties,) we parked on 5th and Green. Heather stared at the sign and said, “You sure it’s Green?”

“Yes,” I said. “There is the sign. Here, look at it. You better remember it because I won’t.” (I use a GPS for everything. I have no idea how to get places, just a preternatural feeling of what direction my apartment is in.) Heather assures me that she has pinned it on her Google Map. I don’t have a smart phone. I have to trust these words. I should not have trusted these words. For I was dealing with buzzed Heather at this point, a double rum and coke in. Blithely, we continued on our way to the Ortlieb.

Unlike the big bars up in Far Northeast, the bars “downtown” are cooler somehow, smaller, divier and full of mysterious corners. They are in fact: cooler than the ‘Burbs. The Ortlieb is no different. Outside boasted a few bearded guys smoking cigarettes. Inside was all hot, warm reds and browns. The wall sported a bull’s head draped in the American flag. The bar was long with a brass rail and full of people drinking. The first booth was open. Heather slid in and sat on the red leather tufted booth side. I sat on a high stool. I’m short. This made me feel like a kid in a high chair. I’m mostly used to this feeling by now. Heather’s tall and seemed to fit the adult sized furniture.

The Ortlieb is not wide but stretches long and in the back is the venue. We haven’t been here before and I hope it opens up, since the bar is a bit cramped for me. I head to the bar to get us rum and cokes, which is the drink choice of champions. Trust me.

I stand at the corner being blatantly ignored. That gives me time to observe a few people around me. The girls to either side of me seem friendly. I smile. They smile. A young guy walks up and trades what might be an acid tab for a Yuengling. I raise an eyebrow and my twenty. The guy notices me and drinks are served! I debated getting us multiple drinks but my hands are tiny so I leave off. The drinks are a decent price. Bartender is a friendly young guy in a white tee.

Back in the booth, we discuss our flagging careers, since we both work in the same dead end data entry job, and our friends, family and random bullshit. It’s girl bonding time and we don’t give a shit who’s around us. The table to our immediate left is a bunch of older guys all in black band tees and jeans who are not interested in being friendly. Heather notices the band is at the table past the older guys. I goad her into getting her picture taken with them. She isn’t drunk enough to be brave yet.

The opening band’s music gets to us all the way out at the front of the bar. They’re good but doing covers. I never did find out who they were. We were there to see Red Sun Rising, that was it. Oh and maybe harass my brother who works in a bar ten blocks or so down. I made the mistake of teasing Heather about nursing her drink. She pounded it. I bought us more.

“These are so strong,” she says, “That I can’t tell which one is Coke Zero and which one is Diet…And I don’t care.”

“Mine is the diet,” I say with the air of an expert. “I think. It isn’t making me sick. It’s all rum though…so no way to tell. Do they put the lime in the diet? Or the lemon?” I ask, eying the citrus in our drinks.

“Lime,” Heather tells me. “Because sometimes limes are on the Diet Coke cans.”

This is as expert opinion. I agree and get us more drinks. At the bar the the brunettes are still there. The bartenders still have an aversion to me. It might be my devilish red hair. Relax everyone, it’s Vidal Sassoon! One bartender actually points to the other and says, “He’s got you.”

But he didn’t.

I amused myself by talking to the girls. I told them the band was swirling around talking to the crowd and were a few tables over. Girl on left says she’s seen them but hasn’t talked to them. A band member, I think it was Dave McGarry approaches her and asks, “Have you been in the back room? Are you going back there later?” Her shocked face entertains me. He charms her and I finally get more drinks.

Heather and I amused ourselves with people watching before heading to the bathrooms and the backroom after the band disappeared. Both of us come out of the bathroom angry that the dryers didn’t dry our hands and the soap was especially soapy. We get ‘O’s drawn on us as we get out tickets scanned and I give the guy shit about the tiny weird ‘O’s. He smiles and says, “It’s for Ortlieb but this marker sucks. The other guy took my good marker.”

Aaannnnd we were into the venue. Which if I’m honest looks like an old paneled library with a lot of red fabric on the ceiling. The stage at the end has red bunting that faces the band? So we see the sad wrong side of the fabric which was a bit orange-y. There’s a drink rail and an open space the size of my living room. We were about to be packed in like sardines.

Tall people start surrounding me. I will never understand why tall people always move to the front. I am 5’ 3.5”. Why do you feel the need to make me feel like I’m in a forest of redwoods? The guy to my left actually says, “Let me know if I’m blocking you and I’ll move. This margarita was $5. That’s good.”

All is right with the world. Also there’s a hot guy around my age to Heather’s left. But since his son is in front of us, I decide not to hassle him for being cute. The lights dimmed and the band came out. We were practically in their laps. The venue is that intimate.

Red Sun Rising starts with “Push” according to Heather. I know lyrics to most of their songs but for some reason I’m light on the names. What I’m not light on is the charisma that lead singer Mike Protich brought to the tiny stage. The band did not hold back. They seemed as excited and happy as the crowd as we all jumped around, singing, dancing and bumping into each other. Sometimes I lost sight of the band because I’m short and tall people were taking advantage of their camera phones. But most people were too into the music to care about recording it.

Comfortable and friendly, the guy on my left commented on the heat. Heather commented on the heat. We felt very closed in and people wished for open doors and fans. It didn’t stop them from dancing or reaching out to Mike when he out his hand out to us, we returned the favor. I got the feeling he was some sort of psychic vampire and he was living off our positive vibes. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t sure how many sexy incubi lived in Akron Ohio, so it was good for him to get out and make friends. Maybe with Gavin Rossdale? That one was definitely living off charisma stolen from me at Feastival I took my cousin to years ago (Wednesday, December 12, 2001 at First Union Center.)

I took my large green pea coat off and slung it over one arm. I wasn’t as uncomfortable as the rest. I lived for tropical weather and worked in greenhouses previously. It’s the cold that is my mortal enemy. I was happy to be warm.

The energy in the room was growing as they worked their way through the album. I clearly remember them doing “Amnesia.” I listen to that song every single day at work. It’s on my Spotify playlist. I went crazy and sang loud as hell. It was nice to get out of my head for a few minutes. “Emotionless” also riled the crowd into happy bouncing and clapping.

I was sad when the music stopped. It was like being cut off from all these people and being alone again in your own head. Heather is normal. So probably was just thinking, “How do I get a picture with the band?”

We stood around chatting and this guy I know from my days of dating the drummer in “the Jawn” walked out and started rolling up cables. I’ll be damned if I could remember his name. He might have been from the Great SOCIO? No idea. I went to a lot of band shows then. It was a good time. I was sad for a second, reminded if my ex. But I shrugged it off and laughed at myself for feeling like this ‘random guy’ was a good memory in a weird hipster sweater.

People did the job for us and started asking to take pictures with Red Sun Rising. I was on it. I moved forward and said, “Us too.” An impossibly tall woman said she would take out picture if we took hers. I obliged and took two lovely shots of her. She took a great shot of Heather with the band. I am not pleased how I looked in it. (Vowed immediate diet, which I am currently on..thanks a lot bad camera angle!)

Heather and I made our way out into the cold air where we immediately began enacting “Dude Where’s My Car?”

Now remember, I told Heather it was at 5th and Green. Heather started heading off in what I thought was the right direction. I have no sense of direction at all, so I am fucked in these situations. I have a system of memorizing turns and landmarks that I did not employ because I had brought a navigator.

My navigator was drunk.

We were initially going in the right direction. But it was taking too long. Also a guy from the bar who seemed friendly in a creepy way was trailing us. I kept an eye on him until Heather said, “This way,” and led us across the street. “I thought you’d appreciate getting away from that creeper.”

“He did seem creepy,” I said.

He was probably fine. We weren’t taking any chances. Northern Liberties isn’t the greatest neighborhood. I ask her to check the pin, and gave her the cross street. She makes a joke that that probably isn’t where the car is. I am undermined. I refuse to give in. “5th and Green. We looked at the sign. I thought you pinned it?”

It’s not in here, too many pins. Google maps hates me. I put too many pins in.”

“Can you look it up? 5th and Green,” I repeat.

“Are you sure that’s the cross street? I don’t remember Green…” I don’t know if she is kidding.

Minutes pass. I remember nothing of the landscape. We head toward a bar with an awesome robot sculpture out front. I stare at it. “I would have remembered that!” I say, pointing.

“I don’t think this is the way to Green,” Heather says. “No big deal, we’re on 5th. We can always go back to the bar and start over.”

She teases me about the cross street as we pass a lady and a dog. I ask her. She says it’s one block over and points. We go that way and I am extolling the trustworthiness of dog owners. I shouldn’t have. She sent us in the wrong direction. We wander for awhile. I am confused. Why won’t the magic Google Maps thing take us to 5th and Green? Are there multiples?

I sit down on the steps of St. John Neumann and remember I may have sung there once when I was in the chorus in high school. Ugh, no I am not thinking about high school…I repress the memory and look around. “I’m scared. I recognize none of this.”

Heather does magic on her phone. “That is Girard,” she says and points.

“Where is Spring Garden? That’s where the car is.” I say. I am confused by her smart phone. It seems to be deliberately leading us astray. Technology hates me. I think it’s trying to get revenge on me for that time I dropped my old flip phone on concrete and it exploded.

Heather points back the way we came and says, “That bitch sent us in the wrong direction. It’s 6 minutes away.”

Her phone thinks everything is 6 minutes away.

We walk around in the dark, loud as hell and mostly alone. The snow and ice are thick in spots. We are beyond caring. The stress of being up for like fifteen, sixteen hours has given me a headache at this point. I really haven’t been sleeping right since we went to overtime at work. This makes me stroppy. I try to keep my temper in check. This is no one’s fault.

Drunk Heather says alcohol makes her:

  1. Giddy
  2. Truthful
  3. Loud

I agree, laughing. She decides to send this revelation to her brother. I wonder if we’ll ever get to my brother’s bar. I am debating. Do we go home when we finally find the car? Or do we go to Mark’s bar? Hell, we’re already out and I am never in Northern Liberties. Frankly, I want to see my brother. I never get to see him outside of family functions. We are stupid, busy adults. Debate over.

“Ah, there it is,” Heather says.

I still don’t see the car. Beginning to think this is all some hallucination. Somehow I got that bartender’s acid tab in my rum and diet… But there she is! My dented, side swiped, glued-on passenger mirror, dented hood and dirty Alero is sitting in the slush looking smug. We hop in like heroes on our way to rescue…ourselves I guess.

“Put the bar address in your phone thing,” I say.

“I already did, pfft, go that way,” says Heather, vague pointing.

My head is pounding. I am exhausted. I’m also happy. I like adventures. I tell her if we can’t find parking we are out and she agrees. We loop around the block and are told to go to Green…another Green and now we know why Google Maps has failed.

“There’s too many Green streets!” I yell as it tells us to turn on it after we pass it. We loop around while Heather bitches about how Green streets are awful, evil things we can’t ever go near again. Down a bit and across the street from the bar, we see a poor bastard in an adult size car struggling to get into a snowy parking space. We wait. He leaves. We pounce.

Our Alero is tiny and mighty and probably going to fall apart at any moment. (The car was a gift from my brother when my Dodge Colt died. Mark had bought a new car and no one trusted the Colt. Except me…well until oil leaked all over the engine and it basically shit the bed to car heaven. I miss you Dodge Colt.)

“Remember where we parked the car,” I tell her.

“I’m not that drunk anymore,” Heather says.

“You’re a terrible navigator,” I say with a laugh.

“Only when drunk. Sober Heather knows it’s that way,” Sober Heather says and leads us across the street and down to where the Institute Bar is.

I hear about this bar all the time on my brother’s Facebook and in person. But what I remember most is: Franklin the Cat lives here. We walk in to a nice clean bar with awesome pipe for handrails and a real industrial feel to it. It’s half empty. But that’s okay, Mark said he would be upstairs.

“What’s up Franklin?” I say to the fat orange tabby warming himself in front of an electric fireplace. He flicks an ear in acknowledgment. I speak cat.

Upstairs people are nuts. Everyone is in pseudo bike riding/running gear. They’re huddled in a circle and saying crazy shit. One says, “Oh, they’re letting civilians in now?” as we pass. I stare him down. I’m the bartender’s sister. I am better than a civilian. I’m hoping I’m comped.

Heather and I climb up on to bar stools. My brother is there and he looks loopy. “What are you drinking?”

“Rum and cokes, diet for me,” I say.

My brother nods. He knows we drink Captain Morgan. Rum and cokes are the family go to drink. Although I’m sure he’s expanded to fancier drinks now. “There’s no ice. Get your drinks downstairs and come back up.”

We did. And we overheard hipsters being oh so hipster-y at the bar. I would have punched the guy at the bar on principal-he was that annoying-but we ordered fries and that made me feel peaceful. The young dark haired girl behind the bar hooked us up. We paid and roamed back upstairs. But not before Heather got a chance to hang out with Franklin.

I didn’t hear what they talked about but knowing Heather, that cat told her the secrets of the universe and she forgot instantly. Because I handed her a rum and coke. We headed back upstairs. We reclaimed our stools and let the bullshitting begin!

My brother and I have similar storytelling styles. We are loud and melodramatic. We talked about comics, his upcoming trip to Colorado and he bitched at us for complaining about being up since 6am. Apparently he had only had 5 hours of sleep and I was supposed to pity him. Pfft. He broke off talking to us randomly to get people drinks. Tell other people there wasn’t any ice and to bring us our fries.

He spent a few minutes flirting with a girl about Italy. I love how he plays up being Italian. I play up being Irish/German. We’re American mutts and we know it. But whatever works to get the girl, I guess. She was okay looking. Eventually a cute guy with long-ish hair took her back into the circle.

Mark tells us they’re part of a run where they go crazy and come here to drink and talk shit on each other. Heather eyes them up. I ignore them mostly. One of Mark’s regulars comes in and his name is Mike. Mark and I are talking about a stripper he used to date. He’s still weirded out that the guys at my old work bought me a lap dance from her. I don’t know why. I’m straight. The stripper was straight and apparently we shared a birthday. I think I’m way more flexible about gender norms than my ex-military brother. She also had no pasties on, for those who care about such things. I was 27 and it was forever ago.

I turn to Heather to explain that I worked in a factory where I was the only girl. Mike, the friend gets up and tells us rudely that we weren’t talking to him so he was going to talk to other people. I tell him he wasn’t talking o us. Heather says, “We don’t know you.”

The fries were amazing. I believe they are loaded with bacon and cocaine. If so, I think I’m addicted to bacon. I down some cokes. They’re weird. Not flat, not fizzy and strange tasting. Mark shrugs, “It’s dark, thick and weird up here. I have no idea why.”

It’s after midnight and the ball is over. We have got to go home and get some sleep, so we can type our data into entries. Not that it matters. But you gotta pay the rent somehow. We leave and I say goodby to my brother and Franklin. I think Heather will miss the cat most of all.

She doesn’t understand the significance of meeting my brother. I have friends who have been around me for decades who may have seen him once, interacted with him never. It’s a unicorn evening.

We didn’t even get lost on the way back to the car. When I show Heather the rough draft, I asked her if I captured everything? She told me, “I remember most of this, but rum took the rest.”


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