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Spring Break 2017, Part Four: “VIPA”

Bit of a day. I slept until noon, read until four, then went out for a beer at five. I think the weariness of the drive out here hit me on a delay. I’ve just been going rather non-stop and it definitely took a toll. I’m grateful for the rest, but I’m now a day behind on the reading schedule I’d set for myself, so that’s disappointing.

Due to my sleeping half the day away, I don’t have much to report or any pictures to share, as I simply didn’t go anywhere except a bar a block away for twenty minutes to get one beer. That said, while at the bar, I did have a strange new experience.

But first, some necessary background information.

There’s a restaurant in town which hosts Steal a Pint events every Tuesday. Virginia has a ton of craft breweries, and as a result of attending almost every Steal a Pint the year I turned 21, my apartment is well-stocked with glassware from these many breweries. That’s part of what I missed most about where I lived in VA: all the amazing beer. It spoiled me, it really did. Tonight I went to this restaurant for a Steal a Pint by a brewery I’d never tried before: Hardywood, from Richmond, Virginia. I sat by myself on the far side of the restaurant’s U-shaped bar and ordered the Hardywood VIPA (Virginian Indian Pale Ale) and the soup of the day (Thai chicken and rice). While I waited for my order, three guys and one girl sat on the opposite side of the bar, directly across from me. I made casual eye contact with a couple of them, and smiled politely. We’re all here to enjoy some beer and get a free glass while we’re at it; there’s no reason I can’t be civil, even to strangers.

My soup and my VIPA arrived. The VIPA was surprisingly good (I don’t usually like IPAs) and the soup didn’t last long (it was also delicious and I’d no idea how hungry I really was after sleeping all day). I pulled pieces off the thick slice of bread that came as a side and sipped the rest of my beer, absentmindedly staring at the television above the bar.

It was in those moments that I became painfully aware of what I’d semi-consciously noticed throughout the evening: one of the guys in the group across the bar was staring at me. I caught him doing this in my peripheral, as I was still looking at the news on the TV, and I made a split-second decision to behave in a way I haven’t behaved before. With one hand, I stirred my glass of water using its straw. I then slowly turned my head away from the television, locked eyes with this man, and I stared back.

He smiled. I smiled, too. He broke the eye contact first. He turned to one of his friends, who’d just asked a question about the beer he’d ordered, and then he turned back to me. I hadn’t looked away. Eye contact again. He broke away first again. What fun was I having here. No one had ever checked me out at a bar before, or if they had, I was never aware of it in the same way I was of this. And I certainly never stared back.

This went on for a few minutes until the bartender came over and asked the man if he wanted to order anything else. I couldn’t quite hear what was said, but he gestured in my direction, the bartender looked, then checked something on the computer, confirmed that same something with the man, and then left to put the order in with the kitchen staff. Five minutes later, the bartender delivers to the man the same soup he’d just watched me eat. Bread and all.

The eye contact dance continued for the next ten or so minutes. He watched me as I ate, so I thought it’d be a good bit of fun to watch as he did the same. He seemed torn between wanting to just enjoy the attention, or do something about it. I looked at him until he looked at me, and then I’d look away. Yes, reader, the old middle-school flirting tactics. He’d stare until I focused back on him, and then he’d pull away again. No one ever told me that flirting across a bar as an adult would be so much like flirting across a classroom as a teenager. Judy Blume should’ve prepared me for this.

Eventually more people joined this guy’s group, and they elected to relocate to a table in the restaurant proper. They all started moving, gathering their glasses, except for him. His friends teased him, threatened to drink his beer if he didn’t move right then and there, but he said, looking right at me, “I’d like to finish my soup first.”

Just a few minutes later, he set his spoon down and stood up from the bar. He looked at me a final time, seeming to debate whether to join his friends immediately or venture to my side of the bar and actually speak to me. He seemed fixed to that spot on the restaurant floor until he could make up his mind. He looked down at his shoes, and then left to join his friends.

I closed my tab, gathered my things (including a lovely new glass for my collection), and walked toward the exit. I’d seen where he and his friends were sitting now; he was sitting in such a way that he could still see me at the bar, so I knew he could see me as I left. I had to walk past his table to leave the restaurant, and I was hoping maybe he’d stand up, follow after me, maybe introduce himself.

I walked by his table, locked eyes with him one last time, gave one last smile, and…nothing. I stepped out into the street, into the rain, and walked back to my friend’s loft. I wonder what tonight was like for that man across the bar. To see a stranger, be drawn to her in some way, and then do nothing but watch as she leaves. It seems rather sad.

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Author:

22. BA English, James Madison University. MA English Candidate, University of South Dakota. Poet. Playwright. Memoirist. Cat Mom.

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