Hats off in Monroe

9 12 2009

The bartender at the Holiday Inn in Monroe was a woman with hair so red thoughts of Reba McEntire came dancing into my head.

Jim ordered us a couple of beers as I walked around the empty, darkened lounge. Football jerseys of past stars were framed on the walls. Most of the names I did not recognize, with the exception of an old Packers jersey, once worn by the great Brett Favre — Southern Mississippi’s favorite son.

It was the night before Thanksgiving and the lounge was dead. Reba bemoaned the local economy, serving quick notice that there would be no “2-for-1” specials on her watch.

This was no happy hour.

Reba said drugs were ruining Monroe and gambling was sucking the life out of the city.

Depressing stuff.

Before sinking deeper into Monroe’s sorrows, we left the lounge and headed into town for dinner at a nice riverfront establishment. Built on the banks of the Ouachita River, Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant came highly recommended.

There was valet parking out front, but Jim opted to handle that himself.

Once inside, we were greeted by the instant smell of cedar.

“Let’s eat at the bar,” Jim said.

This would become another signature of the trip. Eating at a restaurant bar was a somewhat foreign concept to me, but as Jim pointed out, “you get the best service when you eat at the bar.”

I ordered a steak filet medium well and they burned it pretty good. My beverage of choice, sweet tea, seemed to irk Jim and the young bartender, a burly fellow from Pittsburgh.

“I gotta pace myself,” I told Jim. The days ahead would provide ample drinking opportunities and I had to wade into those waters carefully. After all, my college years were well behind me.

Jim, however, drank like a fish. After dinner, he insisted we return to the hotel bar for another round. Reba was still there, as peppy as ever.

Jim tried to lift her spirits by promoting Panama City Beach as a prosperous place to relocate. He praised the emerging Pier Park development and told Reba if she wanted to make some serious cash in the service industry, PCB’s Margaritaville was the way to go.

That night, I had to help Jim back to the room. One too many rounds had made his walk a little wobbly.

Back at the room, Jim had a surprise in store for me.

“You’ve never seen me without my hair, have you?,” he said.

Jim proceeded to tell me about how he began to lose his hair at a young age. This was a huge confession on his part and I nodded understandably at every word.

He took off his silver-colored wig and went to bed — with the TV on, as was his custom, and the volume cranked up.

I had known Jim for more than seven years and always knew that he wore a wig, but seeing him without it was a shock to my system.

It made me focus more on his eyes.

His vanity made him appear more real.

Just one day into our trip together, Jim had revealed so much.

I wondered if I was doing the same.

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