We all had very vague notions of what was going to happen on New Year's Eve. "2012," we murmured. "This. Is. Big."
And yet, my friends and I were undecided on how to ring it in properly. We're at that in-between age, when we're too old for Sixth Street or anything resembling it, but also too broke to shell out for fancy ticketed parties. In the end, somebody suggested dinner and a dive bar down south, the kind with pool and neon beer signs and a bartender named Dixie. Yes: Dixie.
"Who witnessed my wedding proposal, I might add," said my friend David. "One year ago exactly. Also, I guarantee you won't find a better damn jukebox anywhere: It plays Johnny Cash AND Marvin Gaye."
Well shoot. Johnny? Marvin? A proven history of romance? It's no wonder we ended up at Horseshoe Lounge.
"Am I reading that correctly -- roadkill jerky?" I asked David.
"Yes," he sighed, "we lost Happy Jack this year. He used to always come around and sell that jerky to the regulars. It was this big honor to play Happy Jack at shuffleboard, and he'd get up in your face if you won. Try and fight you. But this is the kind of place where you don't fight and hug; you threaten to fight and then you talk it out and THEN you hug."
I liked this. A bar where everybody not only knows your name, they also know conflict resolution. I don't know about you, but I credit Dixie.
Something to know about my friends and I: We are not pool sharks. But we are very enthusiastic, and in pool as in so many other areas of life, I prefer enthused company over skilled company. I can't remember who won the round we played, probably because we interrupted our own game when Otis Redding came on.
You know something else? For years after I moved back to Austin, I thought the Horseshoe Lounge was actually called "Lucky Lounge," because it has an actual horseshoe on the sign in the place the word 'horseshoe' should be. Whenever people talked about Lucky Lounge (a real, albeit very different, establishment in Austin), I thought: "that's clever!" It was only later that I realized that Lucky Lounge was downtown, with no horseshoe, Grey Goose bottle service, and an occasional velvet rope. I'm pretty sure Happy Jack never sold roadkill jerky there.
At midnight, Dixie walked around giving everyone plastic flutes of champagne, and laid out a mini buffet (with black-eyed peas, naturally) at the back of the bar. Do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year's, Reader? I used to think it was universal, but now I realize it's just Southern. It's also the only tradition my parents are truly adamant about: We could have a plastic Christmas tree, skip pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but by God you WILL eat your black-eyed peas on New Year's.
I went out walkin' then, after midnight. In the moonlight. Just like Patsy. Mine was a shorter distance (to my car), and while I didn't see a weeping willow, I saw something better: my friend Megan's plastic New Year's crown still perched jauntily on her head. I think we can all agree you've had a good night when you walk out still wearing your party favors.
We shivered in the car and waited for the heater to kick on, and I told Megan I could totally get used to this dive bar New Year's thing.