Driving home on sunday, I realized that I hadn’t had any supper yet. I was also too lazy and tired to fix anything up for myself. So, I stopped by the bar near my house and decided to get some food, a coupla beers, and watch some of the Steelers v. Colts game.
I noticed a gentleman 2 seats down from where I was sitting and said, “hello”. He nodded back and I proceeded to put my food order in and sip on my Fat Tire. I was intent on the flashing TV screens as I watched Pittsburgh and Indianapolis go at it while catching up on the updates from all of the other games that I had missed earlier in the day.
Halfway through my meal and after I was all caught up on football, my bar neighbor asks me how my food is. I tell him it is pretty great with a rude mouthful of beef burger, sauteed onions, and melted provolone on toasted rye. I work on swallowing my bite and he tells me that his food earlier was excellent as well.
“I had the uh, uh…grits and uh…grits and prawns!”, he says.
“Shrimp and grits?”, I ask, noticing the accent and the “prawns” substitution for “shrimp”. Australian? New Zealand? No…they use “shrimp”. I take another bite of my burger.
“Shrimp and grits! Yes!”, he exclaims. “It was excellent!”
“It’s the best dish they have on the menu here. A favorite of the South. Technically, we’re in the South right now, but kinda not really.” Sometimes I ramble.
My neighbor changes the subject. “You Americans have a good thing going on over here. You have a good thing. I like what you Americans are doing here.” He seems a bit inebriated.
I think he changes the subject. Maybe he’s still talking about shrimp and grits. But, in either case, I find an opportunity to pinpoint his accent.
“And, where are you from, sir?”
“You Virginians have a good thing going. Everyone uses ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. I like Virginia. You have a good thing going.”
“Not everyone in Virginia is always polite. Are you here visiting? On business? From where?” I think I’m starting to come off as a bit impolite.
“Yes”, he agrees, “Business. I’m here on a job.”
“I’m just visiting here. Here for work. Business, business…”
“Where’re you from, sir?”
“South Africa. Johannesburg.”
Huzzah! South Africa!
“Wow. That’s far. How long have you been in town?”
“Over 3 months.”
“That’s a long time. When do you go home?”
He drinks a little whiskey, looks down at the glass, and shakes his head.
“I fucked up. I missed my flight. I was supposed to fly home today. I fucked up.”
“That’s okay. You can fly home tomorrow.”
“I got so caught up in work that I forgot I was supposed to catch my flight. I fucked up.”
“We’re all allowed to get overwhelmed sometimes. It’s okay. You can fly home tomorrow.”
“This is why I’m here, drinking. It was 2 in the morning over there when I called my wife and told her that I missed my flight. She called me an “asshole” and then hung up. I fucked up. I put my job first, you know? I put my job first and I missed my flight. I haven’t been home in over 3 months. I fucked up.”
There was a brief silence; less awkward than expected. I look up at the flashing TV screen.
“What do you do for work?”, he asks.
“I play guitar.”
“A musician! Excellent!”
I buy us a round of Knob Creek and we shoot the shit about bands and bourbon for a little bit. Shortly afterwards, he settles his tab with the bartender “Thank you, ma’am”. Then he thanks me for the drink and heads home stumbling.