Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Legend of the Ski Lodge in Dubois Pennsylvania

"I don't buy this beer, I just rent it."

In the men's room of the Ski Lodge bar in Dubois, Pennsylvania this is what passes for conversation. The genesis of this witty remark was a short, balding guy in his early 40's who had evidently had his fill of Straub Beer. The sound of the discarded beer pounded the porcelain and, much to my chagrin, was accompanied by the cacophonous drum roll of flatulence. Part of me wanted to laugh, another part of me was overcome by a strange sadness and yet another part of me wanted to cut my own piss short and run for the hills that were in no short supply in West Central Pennsylvania.

Without tearing my gaze away from the poster for a local cover band (ANNOUNCING THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF THE WORLDS GREATEST GARAGE BAND- TEN TILL!) that was directly above the urinal, I nodded. Pulling up my zipper I decided to eschew the act of washing my hands and without pause made my way back to the bar.

While 90% of sports minded America was watching the Cavs-Magic Eastern Conference Finals, we were squarely in Penguin country. That means hockey. Which, outside of the fights and mullets that occur both on the ice and in the stands, I find terminally boring. No matter, the big screen TV behind the bar was tuned to the Detroit-Chicago NHL playoff game relegating me to people watching while sipping my Straub (a really nice local beer from St. Mary's, PA, by the way).

And oh were there some people to be watched!

There were hulking tattooed Roughnecks working the local natural gas mines, middle aged prepsters in khakis and Calloway golf polos and orange tanned twentysomthings to observe. I started chatting with the roughneck, who ended up being a helluva nice guy, and he attempted to explain hockey to me. As I absently pretended to listen I noticed the crowd part near the entrance and a buzz invade the air.

And there he was. An aging hair metal refugee who everybody--and I mean everybody--happily referred to as "Rockin Robert." Rockin' Robert had graying hair styled like the rhythm guitarist from LA Guns or Dokken (that means BIG) and had a long star-shaped earring dangling from his left ear. Tight acid washed jeans clung to his thin legs while a black silk button up shirt fell from his narrow shoulders. Then I noticed his shoes, which were a non sequitur in motion: white Seinfeld style Reebok tennis shoes. As the aforementioned cover band went through their laborious sound check (Hey guys, the Rolling Stones have a shorter sound check . . .you are a bar band in the middle of nowhere-act accordingly) Rockin Robert moved through the bar collecting back slaps and handshakes with a eerie knowing smile on his face. I was set on speaking to this legend.

On the miniature stage that was at the other end of the bar, Ten Till (WORLD"S GREATEST GARAGE BAND!) slaughtered Zeppelin's "All of My Love" but Rockin' Robert showed a thin smile of approval as he met eyes with the lead singer of the band. This seemed to do wonders for the band as they ambitiously moved on to one of my favorite cheese out songs, "Tears of Jupiter."

I plotted my approach.

Please do not misinterpret this as some quasi-urbane elitist blog post making fun of Rockin' Robert. In fact, I was mystified by him and was very eager to hear his story. There had to be something behind his nickname, something propping up his status in Dubois . . .something about his look. I had met guys like him during my first bartending job at the Oakwood Bar and Grille in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and they always had a great backstory. Long nights, hot women, a chance meeting with Dennis DeYoung from Styx in the parking lot of the Akron Agora, etc.

Yet I never did get to speak to Rockin' Robert as I just couldn't summon the nerve to do so (and at the conclusion of the boring NHL game I persuaded the barmaid to turn on the Cavs game just in time to see LBJ hit a buzzer beating three to beat the Magic).

So I sit here in my cubicle in Times Square, thinking about the next time that I visit Dubois (my grandmother basically lives in her camper there during the summer) and what questions I will ask Rockin' Robert . . .

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