The parking lot of the bar-brewery on the outskirts of town is packed with cars. It’s a large parking lot, so I’m thinking the place will be packed.
I veer to the right on the gravel, picking an open space to park between two vehicles on the outer edge of the lot.
It’s a beautiful Saturday evening, late September. I’m here for a department get-together, something I signed up for at the last minute at work to avoid a family get-together.
But I don’t particularly feel like being here, either, conspicuously alone and feeling out of place. There’s a line when I walk in the farmhouse-looking joint, just to my left, people talking and laughing within it. To the right, fermentation vessels in an enclosed space for brewing beer.
I suspect I’ll recognize colleagues in the queue right away, but I don’t. So I amble past the line and through the front area, heading outside where I know the real action of this brewery takes place.
Kids are everywhere, running around and playing, their parents nearby at the tables, eating, drinking, socializing. I don’t recognize anyone, but I wonder if colleagues I hardly know recognize me and are not saying anything. It’s possible. Then again, in my jeans, ball cap, and sunglasses, I might be unfamiliar to them.
I stroll through the homey outside area. The picnic tables are loaded with people and a band called Bandoneon Massacre plays old-timey music. It’s quaint with a tinge of the chaotic with all the children around.
Food trucks in the gravel lot, I suddenly remember. That will kill some time. Between pizza and Mexican, I choose the burrito route and snap off a few pictures of the outdoor area while waiting for it.
The sky is glorious. I see a young couple heading toward their car and a woman with dyed green hair and a bright-in-the-sun tattoo enclosing her forearm. She’s lugging equipment – with the band, perhaps? A three-legged dog on a leash in the parking lot gamely moves forward.
When my ten-dollar burrito and bottled water are ready, I find a picnic bench in an enclosed area, away from the action. An employee of the brewery is sitting at one of the tables, alone, and I sit near him, my back to the people walking in and out. Looking forward, I can see through the windows of the bar’s indoor area.
To the left, through one of the windows, I spot a colleague. I put my head down, chomp through my burrito, hoping she won’t spot me. I stare at my phone on the table as I chew, pretending I have serious business; maybe others will think I’m waiting on someone.
The woman with the green hair slides by behind me; I see her through the glass of the window in front of me. Moments later, I spot another colleague, his reflection showing in the window as well. He’s towing a wagon with his kids inside. This person I’m sort of chummy with at work and like. I could stand up and follow the guy, say hello, end this self-chosen isolation.
Instead, I rush out, head back to the sanctuary of my car. It’s just after 5 p.m. If I wait in the car long enough, I will have served my time at the work function that caused me to miss time with my wife’s family.
I check Life360 on my phone and see that my wife and stepson arrived at dinner with her family at about the same time I finished my burrito and came to my car. I wonder if my wife is checking the same app to see if I’m still at the brewery.
Time drags in the hot car. It’s seventy-nine degrees outside. I put the electric windows down and remember that I was invited by my dad to attend a college volleyball game tonight, an invitation I declined.
I pull up on my phone a Politico article titled “Even Russia’s friends are getting upset over its war.” I skim through the piece and wait.
It’s been thirty minutes since I arrived at the bar on the outskirts of town. I look through my windshield and for the first time notice large solar panels directly in front of my car. Three individual panels are connected to one another vertically and span the length of this side of the lot, at a slight angle to better catch the sun.
I put the Jupiter String Quartet on Spotify for background noise and frantic-sounding violins ensue within the confines of my car. Anything to pass the time. I’ll wait until 5:30 and then leave. My wife suggested I pick up a few things at Meijer while I’m out here, so I’ll do that before heading home.
The music has transformed to subdued, eerie-sounding piano and violins as I start up the car and leave the parking lot. Wind whips through my car windows as I drive, drowning out the music of the quartet.
When I arrive at Meijer, I notice the parking lot looks desolate with fewer cars in it than the one at the brewery. Inside, the temperature in the store is cool and there’s a calm aura, not a lot of people. I grab a small, rickety, embarrassingly loud cart and stroll through the massive building. I’m here for cat food, tart cherry juice, treats for the dog, and maybe a dessert if one looks good in the bakery section.
I’ve deprived myself of all conversation this evening, so I opt for the regular checkout lane rather than the self-checkout option when I’m ready to go. The woman at the checkout lane is in the actual lane, pulling up the chain at the front as if she’s about to close it.
“Hi,” I say.
“Ready to check out?” she asks, putting the chain back down.
“Yeah. Is it slow?”
“It’s a little slow.”
Back in the parking lot, I see two younger women who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent wearing hijabs and giggling. One gets in the driver’s seat of their car, the other places her phone on the back of the vehicle, posing and smiling at it flirtatiously, likely taking pictures of herself. She gets in their car and I notice a young man wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses heading toward his vehicle.
It’s nearly 6 p.m. I arrive at a stoplight at the corner of Windsor Avenue and First Street and notice a woman I’ve seen in this spot multiple times. She’s waving at me and holding a cardboard sign that reads, “Please help. Have two kids. No money for food. Good migrant.”
Moving past the stoplight, I feel bad and wonder where she and her family are from. Tonight, my wife and I will finish up the latest Cobra Kai series on Netflix and watch the first two episodes of Monster: The Jeffry Dahmer Story. Binge-watching shows helps me stay out of my head.
Pictures by Sal Nudo