Is this a sign?

The e-mail hit my inbox at a fairly unfortunate time. As I absorbed the impact of another law enforcement officer in my community dying in the line of duty, the subject line of the quick note seemed terribly inappropriate.

“National day of mourning,” it read.

Upon reading the note, I discovered an famous watering hole in my old college town had burned to the ground. The ‘Berg had been around since my mama was 13 years old and had liquored up four decades of college malcontents. I had a lot of memories invested in that place. It sat right across the street from the journalism school where I toiled in a vain attempt to become the next Edward R. Murrow.

Slowly, as the community finished its mourning over the fallen deputy, I began to think more about The ‘Berg and began to realize what a damned shame it was that it burned. It was a definitive college bar and I can’t help but feel bad about it burning.

A few days later, I decided it was time to toast The ‘Berg. I drug my tired, near-old body to the one remaining place in my new hometown that I felt comfortable drinking. A year or so ago it replaced my frequent watering hole–the one that turned into a frat bar of sorts–as the default bar for drinking incognito (a place where you won’t be recognized or a place where the clientele are as such that it doesn’t matter that they recognize you).

CLOSED.

The sign couldn’t have been much more clear. The place was dark (darker than usual…which was pretty dark) during prime drinking hours. No one was inside. After asking around we discovered that the chief investor had no idea the bar was going to be such a bar. She wanted it to be a nice sit-down eatery type of place. Silly woman. Now they’re planning on opening up as a restaurant that doesn’t serve booze. Good luck with that one.

It wouldn’t bother me as much if there was any place else in town that served my need for an out-of-the-way bar that caters to people who like to drink, listen to a guy play guitar, flirt with the waitresses, and talk with friends…without wondering if the college freshman from Furman University is going to puke on you or the mayor is going to walk in and recognize you as the drunk you really are. It’s a fine line this drinker walks.

Plus, just a few months ago, that bar was the site of a great memory. Five great college friends (the ones I drank at The ‘Berg with) surprised me by showing up in town without notice. I was sitting in the bar at the time.

Now it is closed. The ‘Berg is ashes. And somehow I lost money in a poker game this weekend (for the first time in three years).

Something, friends, is out of alignment. Out of whack. My life as I know it just ain’t on its usual track. My watering holes are drying up. My poker game is in the toilet.

And get this: In the past three weeks, quite unexpectedly, I have become very emotionally invested in my work. The stories on which I’ve been working have been working pretty hard on my head. I’m preoccupied and generally ill-tempered.

Maybe this is a good thing.

It doesn’t feel good, though.

Then again, neither does exercise.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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