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Ireland circa 1995?

Bouncing in the back seat of the little cab. From airport to downtown Dublin. Big Irish face of the Cabby watching me with the rearview mirror. Talking. Talking. It’s a myth that the Irish speak English. I’m catching every 4th or 5th word. He might as well be reciting passages from Finnegan’s Wake. I’m jet lagged as all hell. I don’t sleep at 30,000 feet. Ever. I nod and smile in response to the Cabby smile. He could be calling a mother fucking son of a bitch for all I know.

The tiny hotel. Old school. My signature in the book on the desk. I surrender my passport. Big key on a fob. Up one flight of stairs. A small room just as I expected. I throw my single bag on the bed. I always travel light. Against my better judgement, immediately back downstairs, I drop my key at the front desk as required and head out into the Temple Bar District in search of a pint. Finding a beer in Dublin is as hard as finding a tree in a forest.

I learn several things quickly. One is to order a second Guinness as soon as the first one arrives. They come slowly, parked in order and moving along a shelf above the backbar. Nitrogen cascading through the brown liquid. The Guinness tastes better in Dublin than in the States. I don’t know why. Lesson number two. Pay fucking attention when you’re in a country where the cars travel opposite your expectations. A young lady saves me as I set to step out onto the street looking the wrong way. Grabs my collar and pulls me back to the curb as the the car whooshes by.

A bowl of Irish stew. Lamb based, as it should be. I’d never had lamb until my twenties thinking that it must taste of mutton, which I despise. The stew is delicious. Bear in mind that I had recently suffered the indignity of airplane food. I ask the bartender what makes the stew so good. He says Guinness. I look at my half full pint. I have another one on the pour. Then I realize that he is talking about the stew. The Guinness is the secret to the stew.

Friendly, accommodating Ireland. I meet dozens of people on my first night out. I will remember none of their names and little, in detail, about the evening. Late. Time for rest. I hadn’t taken note of the exact address of my hotel or any of the milestones along my journey. All of my travel documentation is back in the room. I have a vague recollection of the hotel facade and general streets-cape. That’s it. All I know is that I am over-pubbed. Pubbed-out. Pubfull. I need sleep.

I wander the Temple Bar streets sure I will encounter my hotel if only by accident. After an hour or so my mental fog has lifted. I can handle a few more pints while I ask the denizens of these fine establishments about the hotels in the area. Nothing clicks. Locals don’t spend a lot of time in hotels. I track down one of the more promising mentions. It isn’t the right one but it has a bar. I am prepared to check in, if I can – remember I have no passport in my possession. I explain my predicament to the proprietor. He gives me a list of lodging in the vicinity. One sounds right.

I can’t find it. It is very, very late or, rather very, very early depending on your perspective. I sit on a stoop to plan. Traffic is light in the wee morn. If I can manage to hail a cab and hand him the address it might all work out. The fog I had shaken earlier has rolled in again, angry and vengeful. It’s at this moment that I look up.

Across the street. Precisely across the street. How many times had I walked by it? It was beyond the hours to which access would be granted but I ring the bell anyway fully expecting to spend an few hour more on the street. Surprisingly. the door opens. I enter sheepishly. Lambishly. The desk clerk has a drink in his hand. That’s a job I want.

Thinking I’m Irish, tourists stop me often. Ask directions. They realize their error by my midwestern American lack of accent. I once had an accent but I shed it. I molted my accent. I help the tourists where I can and depending on my mood. I knew the direction to the River Liffey. Or to Trinity College. I try to joke with an asker by saying that I thought the Book of Kells had been checked out but could I recommend something by J.P. Donleavy who is just as colorful. Tourists are a serious lot. They try to cram a lifetime into a week or two. They work so hard having fun that it does’t seem like fun at all.

It’s time to move on.

I have no car. Don’t want a car. I board a train to Belfast with no plan except to work my way to the North Irish Sea. A layover in the Belfast train station. Enough time for a nap. I want to check my bag. I can see the outlines of the baggage lockers but they have been replaced by signs. “Unattended bags will be confiscated”. There aren’t any trash cans either. The Troubles.

Many train stops along the way. Colerain, for example. The tiny town of Port Rush, the end of the line, with a meal of fresh salmon pulled from the sea that very morning. Tears and free beer from old men who remember the big war and Nazi subs surfacing off the coast. They can’t remember the last time they talked to an American. A young man parked on the stool to my left is talking to me in a thick brogue. In the mishmash he keeps saying the word bird and staring past me. I follow his gaze and see a pretty, young woman at the other end of the bar. The Bird.

Another night in another small hotel room. Smelling pleasantly of the sea. Map spread on my lap the next morning. I see a Bushmills designation a short distance east of Port Rush. It takes a minute for my brain to connect the dots on the map. Jesus. H. Christ! I’m next door to a distillery.

I’m in search of a ride. An unoccupied cab sits in front of a butcher’s shop. I wait by the cab. Wait. Wait. Go into the shop. A fat man with a bloody apron is passing wrapped packages across the counter to an old woman. I ask about the cab. He holds up a finger to pause. Wait my turn. The lady pays and collects her meat. The butcher pulls off his apron. “Where to?”, he asks.

The Old Bushmill’s Distillery is as thrilled by my presence as the pub the night before. I have no concept of my sudden celebrity. After a sampling, dusty bottles brought up from the cellar. Bottles so old they have no labels. I’m charged a token of what I’ve drank. I had asked the fat butcher cabby to retrieve me in two hours. Two hours is waaay toooo long in a distillery.

Staff and driver pour me into the car.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 22, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Tailing you would be a trip of its own. . .

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