Happy Hour

A not quite middle-aged lady rests at the sidewalk, looking as if she has nowhere to go. She wears a kerchief around her head and a long print dress. A full wicker bag lies at her feet. A winter coat drapes the low concrete wall she sits on. Chin propped up by her fist, she watches cars come in and go out of the parking lot. A red van parks in front of her so that I cant see her anymore. And she cant see us.

I think she was looking at us up here on the terrace of this Mexican restaurant, two floors up. Or maybe she was just staring into space. I’m drinking a margarita. Sun is sinking. Strains of electric organ glide out to the terrace. The van pulls away. I see her rise: Aphrodite on the half shell. She walks this way. Out of sight again, gone who knows where into the maze of shops below the restaurant.

At the table a few feet behind me a woman says to a child, “This is girls’ night out. No boys tonight.” The little girl chatters. Are they too drinking cheap margaritas? (I have not turned around to look.) Does the traffic on Chapala Street know how content we are up here, chattering to others and ourselves like night crickets? Happy hour, it’s called.

I’m reminded of the Christmas late afternoon I sat alone in a fancy bar at the Red Lion Inn on Cabrillo Boulevard. About opposite where the conga drummers hold their Sunday afternoon jam sessions down by the beach. I’d spent the day earlier with a few of the drummers. But I couldnt stay at Joey’s for turkey dinner because I had to work. I’d left early, feeling a little downhearted. I sat with a black Russian in my hand, listening to the piano man. Nursing my one and only drink so I would not be drunk for work while this suave cat played his rendition of Riders on the Storm.

The sun is still going down. Slush in my margarita melts. Soft tones of electric organ drift out to the terrace, understated like the ocean when you sit on the beach. Diners. Drinkers. Street and sidewalk traffic. Waitresses, jabbering little girls, gossiping women. Cars tumbling about in the parking lot below like glass balls on a platinum floor. A child hushed by her mother, car door slammed, male voice making its point through lung power. Orange-pink on the horizon past the red tile roofs of white buildings. And in the cornflower-blue sky not a cloud to hide that airplane filled with travelers oblivious to the words on my scratch pad.


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