Sunday, August 23, 2009

Don't drink the water.

In my younger years, I visited many bars all around the world, from Omaha, Nebraska to Monterey, California; Melbourne, Australia; Seoul, Korea; Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Long Island, New York; Tampa, Florida; San Angelo, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Ames, Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and many, many towns in between these towns. There were a few bars that remain in my memory simply because of their unusual names.

In the early 70's, if someone shouted an insulting name in your direction, it was expected that you would respond in kind with, “So's your mother.” In Des Moines, there was a bar close to Drake University on University Avenue that took on the name, “So's Your Mother.” It was a fun bar; mostly Drake University students. My most “fond” recollection of the place was when a person with beautiful blond hair and a creamy white pant suit captured my fancy. I saw her only from the backside at first. I walked across the dance floor and tapped her on the shoulder to find out that “she” had a well trimmed red beard and very bushy eyebrows. “Uh, I'm sorry, I thought you were some one else.”

Well, there was one other memory from that bar. It was the musician that played there one night. The 1st string on his guitar was actually the “E” string from a bass guitar. It made for some very rich bass runs in his music. I figure the action on the guitar had to be very high to accommodate the thick bass string. Perhaps he crafted the nut and the bridge so that they accommodated the large string. I did not look at the guitar closely. I just enjoyed the music.

And then that triggers another memory; my apartment in Des Moines was a very small 6 ft by 10 ft room with a smaller room with a toilet and a small shower booth in the basement of a one-hundred year old mansion. The most interesting thing about the apartment was that it had a combination safe in the solid brick foundation of the house. The door was locked open—you could not close the safe because the locking pins kept the door from closing. The landlord told me that he did not know the combination of the lock

One night, when I didn't have the money for So's Your Mother, I removed the inner panel on the safe door, exposing the tumblers. I played with the tumblers, while listening to the Guess Who's “Share The Land” album, until I figured out what they represented in terms of numbers. Then I applied the “clear right; twice left; once right” rule to the numbers and successfully unlocked the safe. I was excited! Then for fun, I played a little further and figured out how to change the combination. I did it and successfully unlocked the safe with a new combination. I thought I was pretty damned smart. The landlord was impressed when I left him with the combination to the safe.

Also, I shared the same name as the leader of the Des Moines chapter of the Black Panthers. Many times, I received early morning calls telling me that the “pigs” had locked up so-and-so, and that I needed to take some action to get them out of jail. Since I was somewhat involved in the civil rights movement at the time, I was often sympathetic to the complaints that came my way. None-the-less, I was obligated to explain that I was not the person they thought I was.

Then there is the “Lift Ticket” bar in downtown Benson, Nebraska. Benson was a town once upon a time. Now, Benson is a suburb in Omaha, Nebraska. Its old town center still thrives as a commercial district in the suburb. Why was it called the “Lift Ticket?” I have no clue. The clientele consisted of the “hip” people in their late 20's and early thirties. I was a sound engineer for a band in those days and we played that bar frequently. One memory that remains from that experience was the day one of the band members called me crying. “Someone broke into the bar and stole all of our sound equipment." It was more than a thousand dollars worth of equipment. I was the only person in the band that was fully employed. I excused myself from the job for the day and met my friend at the bar. I quickly ascertained that I could find new equipment and have it set up and ready to go for the night's show. It cost me well over $4000 ( about two month's pay) but I was glad to do it.

The other memory from that experience was the night that a lady was trying to put the make on me right in front of her husband. I learned that she was a cousin to our lead guitarist. I discretely approached him about her. “Oh, yeah. Stay far away from her. She's a pack of trouble.” I had already decided she was nuts. His admonition only confirmed my suspicions.

And last but not least, a bar with a “south-of-the-border” theme-I believe it was in Omaha, too, “Don't Drink the Water.” The thing that stands out in my memory of that bar is simply the name. I have no recollection of the bar itself. Hmmmm. Maybe I should have drank the water.

What brought on this series of thoughts? Well, I was in a negative funk tonight, pondering what I could do about a situation that piques my ire. I concluded, once again, that I can only change myself. I can't change anyone else. The most that can happen, is that if I change, perhaps it can inspire change in others. But, don't count on it, I assured myself, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Of course, “Don't Drink the Water” came to mind immediately after that. And here you are, a victim of my rambling thoughts.


  1. My mom just told me a story of an experience she had in regards to So' Your Mother's bar from the 80's..... nostalgia at it's best has me wishing this hole was open still

  2. I saw Carl Perkins there in 1979 on a weeknight. There were only a few people there, but Carl and his band still did a great show. Jack, my last roommate before my wife (34 years ago) and I even got to talk with Carl for about 15-20 minutes between set and got some Carl Perkins guitar picks (we were both guitar players).

  3. FYI Mother's was on Forrest Ave, not University.