OAKLAND -- My friend Zach and I began our evening at a little dive called the Kingfish Pub that was recently moved across the street on a trailer. It's known best for Olympia beer in the can (a.k.a. the poor man's PBR) and shuffleboard. Not this kind of shuffle board. This kind. Zach and I were ruling the shuffleboard table, lapping up Guinness and beating the shit out of a couple of sisters from South Africa who wouldn't stop tittering about Ernie Els. That's when it happened. The first riff of "Sweet Home Alabama" kicked out from the shitty little speakers wired around the ceiling, and I lit up like Bryant-Denny during a 6 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, and Catherine and Imke (the sisters who were occasionally speaking Afrikaans) thought I was silly for singing all the words and air-guitaring all the solos, but I didn't care, and Zach thought it was endearing, and I even got a little laugh from Sharon, the late-30s bartender who told me earlier in the evening that her day job working with developmentally disabled children was pretty comparable to pouring drinks for the Kingfish regulars.
"Why are you working two jobs?" I had asked.
"'Cause I got a bun in the oven," she had said.
"Why don't we take Uber?"
Nick's Lounge is about two miles from Zach's house, and I thought I was making a reasonable request. We had successfully stumbled to his place after drinking our fill at Kingfish, and the night, like Sharon, was still pregnant with possibility.
"We don't need Uber, when we've got a scooter," Zach said while palming a white helmet he had pulled out of nowhere. "Put this on. Oh, and you've got handles on the bitch seat back there, so there's no reason you should be hugging me or giving me a reach-around."
Noel likes to wait until the very end of the night to sing Beyonce. Before then she's too busy doling out Buds and little bags of Classic Lay's. But by about 1:45, the ten customers at Nick's Lounge, which does karaoke every night of the week, have all sung at least once, and Noel glides out from behind the bar, tells Steve the DJ to cue up a deep track--"'Single Ladies' is so overdone!"--and kills. I mean, she really kills. Which is actually saying a lot. Of us ten customers, five were sickly talented. Like "You-don't-need-to-buy-me-a-beer-I've-got-hot-tea-here-in-a-thermos" talented. The guy with long, curly blonde hair who nearly out-Planted Robert Plant, hitting every high note in "Whole Lotta Love." The tiny woman who kinda reminded me of the principal in Kindergarten Cop and who belted out a song from the musical Rent. She. Effing. Brought. It. There were no winners at Nick's. No cash prizes. But it was clear to everyone in the room that no one unseats Queen Noel. No one. Certainly not me with my slurry, off-key rendition of "Blister in the Sun" that couldn't even be redeemed when I nailed the part where you're supposed to whisper. And certainly not Zach, who sang something by Roy Orbison--"'Pretty Woman' is so overdone!"--and took his shoes off so he could dance an Appalachian gig with an old Asian lady who thought he was cute.