After some serious Annie muscle, what I believe to be a minor rotator cuff injury, and — Phillip’s infinitely better idea — a little patience (turns out we had flooded it), the outboard finally cranked. It seems even when you buy a brand new one, outboards are just finicky critters that you have to baby about. Go figure. But, chilled to the bone, we puttered on back to our boat and hunkered down with Mr. Heater.
Aside from the oven, engine and long johns, it is the only heat source on the boat and this little guy cranks out some serious heat. As chilly as it got during that trip, I never found myself cold on the boat with this little heat machine running. We cooked up a feast (lamb chops, sauteed mushrooms and kale salad), set a kerosene-lit table for two and curled up for another night at Fort McRae.
The next day, we pulled anchor around noon and headed on over to Pirate’s Cove, which was about a 3-hour jaunt west:
We were able to sail for a couple of hours before we made it to the tighter parts of the ICW that require the motor and actually passed some friends on the way who were out kiting at Johnson’s Beach.
We made it to Pirate’s Cove around four-ish, secured the boat and settled in at the dock.
Instead of a cozy night in, we decided to get out and throw back a few with the locals at the Cove. Now, anytime we pull into an old salty harbor, we always expect the local riff raff to provide some mild form of amusement, but, what we got at the Cove was — aside from that random midget burlesque show we caught back in the spring — one of the most entertaining and bewildering nights of our lives. I swear to you – every bit of this is true. And, thanks to the Pirate’s Cove live webcam (I’m serious: www.piratescoveriffraff.com) and my phone – it was also documented in vivid detail by yours truly for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy:
We walked in around 6:30, I guess, looking for a drink and an outlet. The place was littered with a few run-down looking regulars. Hell, we probably looked like a couple of run-down regulars. Without saying a word to anyone, we started roaming the perimeter for a usable outlet so we could recharge our laptop and phones. Living on the boat, we had no qualms plugging in anywhere. Well, I say we, but Phillip is actually worse. I threw a shy smile to the bartender as I mozied around each wall, subtlely, or so I thought, looking for two available prong holes, while Phillip unabashedly started shimmying behind the soda machine and shaking the cords that ran from the back of the machine and the coffee pot, shouting loudly enough for anyone to hear, “Which one is this?,” as he shook it violently. “Trace it back. If it’s the coffee pot, unplug it.” I looked around suspiciously, thinking the electricity Nazis would surely come and kick us out, but Phillip, who was half bent over the soda machine by now, one leg kicked up in the air for balance, said “They don’t give a shit, unplug it.” So I did.
With the computer juicing up, probably coincidentally so I could memorialize this tale the next morning, we finally made our way to the bar. And, as it always seems to turn out, Phillip was right. They didn’t give a shit at all. They could have cared less whether we walked the perimeter five times, spat on the doorstep, barked and walked away. It was unlikely anything we did could interfere with their “atmosphere.”
We were at Pirates Cove, which I believe is technically in Josephine, Alabama, but by reading the haling ports on most of the dilapidated old boats in the slips there, I took it for a “place” all its own. The building itself was basically a pile of driftwood and sheet metal fastened together in some manner with rusty nails and caulk. I was actually surprised they had electricity at all.
The floorboards leading in and out of the main door were worn down at least an inch by foot traffic alone. Well, let me take that back, mammal traffic. They were at least four dogs roaming around at all times, one of whom was equal in weight and stature to a small pony with black, wart-like growths the size of baseballs formed at each of his elbows from years of laying on wooden floors. His name was Tiki, but the bartender repeatedly referred to him (yes, him) as a “needy bitch.”
Rick, the bartender, looked like the lead singer of the Grateful Dead—that Jerry character that I believe is since long gone. He kept pushing sweaty, wavy hair back from his face and stroking his white bushy beard. He wore a purplish luau-like shirt that buttoned down, although I don’t think it would have reached around the massive beach ball of a belly that protruded from his mid-section. It seemed to function more as a wearable handkerchief than anything as he would occasionally pull the tail end of it up to his face and blow his nose in it without ever missing a beat. But, for a bartender, he was exceptionally well-spoken and delightfully entertaining. Engaging each of us at the bar only when provoked and even then, only ever so lightly, with an interesting tale or observation. He was, by far, the best “soft-sell” barkeep I’ve ever encountered. He had greeted us with an appropriate “Hey guys,” when we walked in but had left us entirely alone while we walked the walls of his establishment suspiciously and fiddled with his drinking equipment, but it was as if he sensed it when we started to turn his way for a drink. His salutation then changed to “What’ll it be?”
You gotta love the live webcam. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to refresh it throughout the night on my phone and capture these shots:
Here’s Rick – sporting his luau shirt-slash-hanky:
We ordered two rum runners and settled in on two of the sturdiest damn bar stools I’ve ever had the privilege of resting my rump on. They were made out of exactly four pieces of wood, two sides, a seat and a support bar/footrest about halfway down. Each piece was at least eight inches thick and the whole stool weighed about forty pounds, a design I personally believe was intended to prevent stool tippage and usage of stools as weapons as we later witnessed a 300-pound patron who went solely by the name ‘Bama’ teeter on one repeatedly but not fall over. Phillip and I wrestled two stools up to the bar just about the time Rick Garcia slid our drinks in front of us. He then let us be to soak up the banter that was already brewing up nicely and acclimate to the atmosphere.
There were two regulars seated next to us who had clearly had a few but their slurred small-talk was still incredibly entertaining. The man next to Phillip had a full, blonde seventies shag and liked to try to speak with an Australian accent (although they both attempted German and Brittish throughout the evening). His comrade to my right was a clean-shaven, crew-cut gentleman who I believe actually was German, or at least had mastered the accent far better than his “I’m okay, you’re okay” compadre.
As Phillip and I perused the pizza menu, I heard the Shag say “We need a really great toast, something like ‘To the Fuerher!’,” which appeared to please the German. They shouted the sentiment with raised glasses and downed their shots with fervor while Rick Garcia was already making them another round.
Intrigued by the Hitler exchange, I had missed the stringy pizza man that had snuck up on Phillip. He was holding a pizza box open as if it contained some illicit substances, looking back and forth quickly over each shoulder and speaking in low tones. I leaned in to get a better listen. “Now, you want to get the MaryAnn’s mess with extra artichoke and spinach. Always extra spinach,” he said to Phillip in a whisper. The kid was probably all of twenty-one, with a grungy toboggan hat slid to one side on his head, cheek bones jutting out from underneath it and bony prominences sticking up along the back of his neck like a rooster’s mane. As quickly as he had appeared, he slipped a quick peak over his shoulder, closed the lid to the pizza box and slinked away. I asked Phillip what had sparked that encounter and he responded with only a slow shake of the head and a long pull of his drink, but with a smile slowly stealing over his mouth. We knew then and there we were definitely staying. We were certainly not going to find any entertainment better or free-er than this.
The whole crew:
We followed the junkie’s advice and ordered the MaryAnn’s mess – extra spinach – and another round of “rummers.” The Shag and the German were debating again over some previous exchange they had had at that very same bar last week, the Shag apparently recalling it one way, and the German, another. As the Shag was clearly making up details, “Yes, yes, I recall, I was wearing my flannel shirt and sipping a bourbon, when – yes, that’s it, I can see it clearly now, I’m having a flashback to … ”
“Your other personality obviously,” the German pitched in, “because you don’t wear flannel and you sure as hell don’t sip bourbon.” That did me in. I couldn’t then hide the fact that I had been watching them unapologetically like a movie. Blissfully staring. But, I couldn’t help it. The German was sharp and witty and the Shag was a perfect stupefied surface for his comments to bounce off of. But, unfortunately, as it happens, laughing at an old drunk’s joke at a bar is like feeding a dog at the table.
You’ll never shake him then. The Shag turned to me and widened his eyes, like a flower blooming before me. “Oh, what do we have here?” Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. But, he and the German both turned out to be incredibly smart and wildly entertaining. It was the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination and they both recalled, with vivid detail, where they were and what they were doing when they got the news. Although the Shag claimed it it must have been the memory of his other personality because he wasn’t actually that old. Rick Garcia piped in with an entirely inappropriate but perfectly-timed joke about someone who, legend had it, asked Jackie-O upon her return, “So, aside from that, how was your trip to Dallas, Jackie?” This quip garnered a roar of laughter from the bar-seated audience and was repeated, re-hashed and utterly used up by the time the night was over. The Shag would come back from the bathroom saying it smelt of copper and cat urine, to which we would all respond with “So, other than that, how was your trip to the men’s room, Shag?” The German griped about the piss-poor drink he had got on his last flight, and we would all respond with a “So other than that … ”
What we had failed to notice, however, during our bonding with the regulars was the bond that had been forming between the junkie with the pizza box and Bama, who had been stumbling in and out of the joint all night. Bama and the Junkie had somehow found each other in that sparse, dusty bar and were now hunkered together at a sagging picnic table behind us, one arm draped over the other’s shoulder as they belted out “on the cover of the Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stone … ” Bama was a smooth baritone and the Junkie, a raspy alto, but they made a decent duet and us bar hounds raised our glasses and swayed a few times in honor of their harmony. This was entertaining, at first, buy they repeated this verse every nine and a half minutes, approximately, throughout the night and by the fourth rendition we all began a collective eye-roll when they would strike up.
Two drinks in, our pizza finally came, a heaping, melting mozzarella-covered miracle and Phillip and I dove in, dipping whole slices in ranch, wiping swaths of grease from our face and washing it down with rum drinks that seemed to get stronger by the pour. The Shag had hunkered down and was scribbling something on some receipt paper he had pulled from the register.
I figured he had fallen prey to his intoxicants and was reaching that head-hang stage where one finds himself capable of only mono-syllables and drool. But, mid-way through another “cover of the Rolling Stone” revival, he emerged with a snap, flipping his blond wig back mightily and shoving his receipt paper drawing before me. “Ahhh .. a Lyden original,” Rick Garcia said, eyeing the piece. The drawing was actually an incredible sketch of a woman’s face, exceptionally detailed and shadowed, particularly considering it was drawn with only a ball-point pen.
Original, I thought. Rick, ever the ‘reader,’ sensed my inquiry and responded, “He’s an artist. Won something up in Fairhope for painting that … what was it Lyden? The swan over a crack?”
“A creek, Rick. It was a creek.”
The Shag, now known as Lyden, handed me a business card that boasted the incredible swan over the crack with his name and website on the back. He was indeed an artist.
And a handsome one at that, pre-shag:
I fumbled the card around a bit, trying not to utterly destroy it with the massive quantities of pizza grease that coated my every finger, while I watched Rick Garcia use his purple luau cloak to simultaneously wipe the grease from his own face and blow his nose single-handed. “It serves many a-purpose,” Rick said completely unapologetically as he continued splashing together another concoction for Bama and the junkie at the other end of the bar.
While they were momentarily silent, enthralled by watching the mammoth Tiki eat a piece of cheese, the German engaged Rick in yet another riveting topic: employee theft. “So, how did you stop them?” He was asking about the apparently many-preceding bartenders who had managed to, night after night, sneak a few key dollar bills from the register, to which Rick Garcia responded by merely pointing up toward the corner of the bar to a camera. “We filmed them,” he said. “It’s amazing how accountable people get when they know they’re being videotaped.” Phillip and I eyed the camera intently while Rick continued. “We just put it on a live web cam so we could watch from afar, and we haven’t had a thieving ‘keep since.”
“So, we’re live right now?” Phillip asked. “Well, live, in a sense,” Rick Garcia responded. “It refreshes every two minutes. Here, let me show you.” He started fumbling around with his phone trying to look up the website, grumbling to himself that his “smart phone” was in fact “retarded.” He looked up with a frown and told us, “It seems I don’t have enough lapband.” Lapband? Phillip and I shared a confused look. “Lapband. Band-lap. What is it?” Garcia asked. “Bandwidth?” Phillip and I said in unison. “Yeah, that. I’ve had the lapband too – didn’t seem to have enough of that either – but bandwidth, that’s it.”
Luckily, it turned out I did have enough “lapband” and I looked us up on the old riffraff webcam. The first image that came up was of Phillip and I, eyebrows raised, watching the junkie/Bama band in yet another encore of “the Rolling Stones … ” an event that had occurred two minutes earlier, and so, by our calculation, was then set to occur again in approximately seven minutes and thirty-four seconds, give or take. When we refreshed again, I was pointing vigorously at Rick Garcia, making, I’m sure, a refreshingly witty comeback to his Lapband mishap.
We continued to refresh the webcam throughout the night, reliving each moment, exactly two minutes later, and enjoying immensely the greasy pizza, recurrent Stones revivals and the engaging banter of the Shag, the German and Garcia.
After three hours at the bar and four rummers in, Phillip and I found ourselves immersed totally in their “atmosphere.” I watched intently as a new couple sauntered in, keeping their distance, initially, from our group. The woman wrestled a massive barstool into place and nudged her partner when she first noticed the mammoth Tiki, a sight that was now normalcy for us. The Bama/Junkie duet struck up again, and I watched the couple share the same look Phillip and I had shared only hours prior. Oh, we are definitely staying. I knew, in just a short amount of time, they would join us at the bar and, before long, feel we just as we do now – like part of the local riff raff.