Behold: the world’s most inept bartender and that would be me.
One of the frills of playing piano on a riverboat is occasionally hopping behind the bar when everyone else is tied up serving food or plunking on banjos. It’s a very laissez-fare arrangement with no scheduled times or duties on the Spirit of Peoria. If you’re not entertaining behind the microphone and there’s no one behind the bar you jump in and do your best . . . or in my case, your worst.
I don’t know diddly about mixing drinks so I’ll usually 1) ask them how the drink is made, then 2) tell them to say “Stop” when it’s boozy enough. The owner of the boat probably doesn’t approve of this method and if I’m ever reprimanded I’ll let him find a new bartender. Of course this makes me a favorite among the drinkers. If the customer seems especially picky at having an uninformed Presbyterian mixing his drink or if the drink is particularly complicated then I’ll send a deckhand down to get Linda. Linda’s a rough old river gal who runs the bar on first deck and can mix any drink known to mankind . . . and I think she used to wrestle alligators. Last week we had a lady passenger who was celebrating her 106th birthday. That’s right. . .One Hundred and by-Golly Six years old! She sent her male attendant up to the bar and he looked me right in the eye when he said, “Leonore wants Sex on the Beach.” Okay, this was not what I expected. I said, “She wants what?” He said it again. . . “She wants Sex on the Beach.” I told him that we didn’t dock for another two hours and that she’d have to wait. That’s when he figured out that I was an idiot mixologist. “It’s a drink,” he said. “Oh,” I said. “Good.”
So I sent word down to Linda that Leonore wanted Sex on the Beach. I could hear the laughter from down on first deck when this was announced. In a minute Linda came up the stairs, mixed vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juice and something called crème de cassis over ice then garnished it with a wheel of orange and served it in a highball glass. I was totally impressed. Linda’s a whiz who’s not only feared but admired up and down the river. Leonore comes onto the Spirit of Peoria every year and no doubt she’ll be back next summer asking for you know what. Next year I won’t blush.
So far I’ve learned to pour beer down the side of the glass, learned not to put the red wine in the fridge, how to stab a floating olive with a toothpick, and that the whiskeys on the top row cost two bucks more. Oh, I’ve picked up a few other tidbits of knowledge on the river. . . the green buoys are called nuns, three toots means you’re backing up, the bridge at Henry is the oldest on the river, brisket takes eight hours to cook, Australians drink a great deal, Mennonites carry their own sewing kits, Canadian women are crazy about playing euchre, the kids in Chillicothe Elementary love to hear Yankee Doodle on the calliope, Asian carp can smack you in the back of the head when you’re playing accordion on the first deck, you can only dock a paddle wheeler while it’s pointed upstream, barge captains are some of the nicest people on the river, and when you drop a china plate on deck three it sends the deck two passengers into a panic.
But more than anything else, I’ve grown to appreciate folks in the service industry. . . the checkers, the waiters, the store clerks and bartenders. While most of our passengers are so sweet you just want to stick them in your suitcase and bring them home, occasionally you’ll run into a creep that’ll make you appreciate the woes of the guy behind the counter. One lady had to have exactly three ice cubes in her orange juice. . . no more, no less. Good grief, gal, this isn’t a James Bond movie. One fellow wanted only large olives in his drink. Two small olives weren’t the same, and all I had were small olives. I called for Linda and she told him about the various places she could stick a large olive. One fellow from Iowa insisted that I pour the whiskey over the ice before adding his soda. I wanted to tell him to go caucus. We offer about five different white wines each afternoon and one gal from Springfield insisted on sampling each before making her choice. I didn’t see her again.
Hey, it’s a fun job and once I learned where they put the limes I started getting the hang of things. Whenever I think of retiring from the riverboat I think of Leonore who’s still having . . . well, you know.