The 'good old days' weren't always as great as we remember
Columnist Dan Conradt says our paths had gone in different directions. And I was suddenly very thankful for the path I’d taken.
“Hey, Dan-o, how’s it goin’?”
The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Someone from work? The guy at my pharmacy? Telemarketer?
“Good,” I said, hoping he’d give me a hint. He did: “This is Jeff. I’m going to be in town tomorrow night. Let’s get together for a drink.”
It had been a long time, and I nearly asked “Jeff who?” It helped that I didn’t know many Jeffs.
“Sure,” I said. “What time?”
“8:30,” and he named one of our former hangouts.
Normally I’m in the middle of my pre-bedtime nap by 8:30.
“I’ve got to work the next morning,” I said. “Can we make it a little earlier?”
“No problem! What time?”
It drew one of Jeff’s signature rumbling laughs.
“Really? The place doesn’t start hopping until nine!”
I didn’t tell him that the closest I came to “hopping” any more was Saturday afternoon at “The Bounce House” with 6-year old Steven.
Jeff was sitting at the bar when I got there the next night, peeling the label off a bottle of Budweiser. He hadn’t changed in the 20 years since I’d seen him last, but our former hangout had been gentrified and there was now a neon sign where the Blondie poster used to be.
“Beer for my buddy Dan,” he told the bartender.
“Make it a Coke,” I said.
“Yeah. I haven’t had a beer since …” I had to stop and think: “’87.”
Another rumbling laugh.
I drank the Coke directly from the glass because drinking it through the skinny little straw would make me look like a sissy.
We sat at the bar and caught up on what had happened in our lives since the last time we’d talked.
Jeff had a Harley; I had a minivan. He was renting a house with two other guys; I was seven years into a mortgage. He went to Vegas twice a year; I went to parent-teacher conferences twice a year.
We’d been good friends once, and at some level we always would be. But along the way our paths had gone in different directions. And I was suddenly very thankful for the path I’d taken.
We split an order of wings … spicy for him, mild for me … and our conversation became a series of stories that began “Remember the time …”
“Remember the time we went to The Terp and, like, 20 guys got into a fight?” I remember that Jeff waded into the middle of it while I chose that moment to go to the restroom.
I remembered a rock concert that left my ears ringing for three days. A Saturday at the lake that left me with third degree sunburn.
“To the good old days,” he said, raising his beer in a toast.
I clinked it with my Coke.
We’d run out of stories and finished our drinks. A dense fog had formed by the time we stepped out of the bar. We shook hands and shared the obligatory promise to “Do it again sometime.”
We never did.
Jeff vanished into the fog like a scene out of “Casablanca”, and I sat in my car with the heater on “high” to ward off the cold.
I hope Steven’s still awake when I get home. I feel like reading “Good Night Moon” tonight.
You were right, Carly Simon … these are the good old days.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.