Bridge City

By Robert Russell

 

A steady four-on-the-floor snare sounds from the far-away stage as a band prepares to begin. Throwing gestures of approval to the guy in the back after a few hits, and once the snare is good, now for the kick drum. He must have quite the ear.

          I’m at the bar, triple-whiskey neat, its been a rough day. And God knows tomorrow will be worse. I’m sporting my uniform, like most of these guys in here, but it’s not pride, I’m promise. It’s leverage. I, like every one of these poor devils never planned to be drafted. And I’ll be damned if my last night on solid ground isn’t memorable. I don’t have a beau like some of the guys I know. Of course, they aren’t here tonight. Unlike my chances, they actually are making their last nights memorable.

          The whiskey takes the sting out of the envy.

          More members of the band take the stage to test out their instruments. I spot a washboard and then remember I’m in Nashville.

          I can’t tell if it’s hot in here, just the whiskey or the girls. Or probably the anticipation of the 6:00 am role call. But I’m not thinking about that. The girls here are beautiful, but I’m terribly shy. Always have been. Never been good at that “picking up” thing–that call and response tactic of courting. Never been good at music neither, now that I think about it.

          The band assembles completely now. Music is near.

          Another swig of the drink and a peer down the bar. I spot one, curly blonde hair, rosy cheeks, that flared dress that’s all the rage, a subtle smile playing on her lips. For a moment, I’m elevated. I’ve got nothing to lose now, so I muster the courage at the bottom of my glass and start towards her.

          She sees me advancing, about half-way down the hall, and those blue gems for eyes seem to sparkle like a star–wow, maybe I am drunk. Picking up the pace, I’m almost to her, when another white-uniform obstructs my path. He swoops in with a fancy one-liner about the countryside, followed by an eclogue glorifying the bucolic side of life. Her face is behind his, so I can’t see her eyes, let alone her expressions. I’ve been defeated, before I could even fight. I stand for a moment, then move back to the bar–play it cool now.

          Another triple whiskey neat.

          The music begins.

          Bridge-city crooners, big band–seven or eight players, suits, ties, pinstripes and ivy caps. Up-tempo, crashes of cymbals on twos and fours, chops on the great hollow-body guitars, call-and-response ululation between the players and those big brass horns.

          Suddenly the place is a war-zone. But not the kind I’ve come to expect.

          Couples have taken the battlefield-ballroom-floor, up in arms, swaying and moving, dodging and dancing, totally air-lifted by the music. Even I find it difficult to remain still. My stubborn feet can’t spurn the urge to stomp along with the kick drum.

          I had never heard music like this–a mix of dance, Harlem, country, and jazz. I find it difficult to describe and I need not try. I’m going to dance.

          I down my drink and just before I descend from my bar stool, I feel a pat on my shoulder.

          Curly blonde hair, rosy cheeks, those blue gems. Before I can even catch my breath, she asks, “Hey, wanna dance?”