I'm just starting to peel back the label on my third Bud when Terry slides onto the stool next to me at the last great dive on Larimer Street. I'm at Star Bar (2137 Larimer) to watch the Rockies' post-season tie-breaker game against the Padres; Terry's here because he works at a game-day parking lot down the street (400 cars at thirty bucks a pop), and because pitchers are always six bucks. During a commercial, I overhear him griping to Dina, our bartendress, about how the $60 he gets paid each shift isn't worth the middle fingers and verbal harassment he receives from stingy drivers. "Got spit on twice tonight," he says matter-of-factly. "Ain't the first time."
Two nights ago, on my first trip to Star Bar, I met a whole slew of characters — some friendly, some not. There was Max, who could hardly stand without wobbling but still managed to dance by himself on the abandoned dance floor before he started a fight and was hustled out by Scott, the bar's elderly manager and de facto bouncer. There was the one-legged guy in a wheelchair who wanted to talk baseball over a smoke, and who later wheeled himself up to the table my friends and I were all sitting around to finish the conversation. My favorite, however, was the woman in sweatpants and flip-flops who bummed a dollar off me to buy a beer and proceeded to tell me her life story, a sweet-in-a-sad-kind-of-way story that ended with her smiling nervously and saying, "So, basically, I'm not happy. Sorry for unloading. Thanks for listening."
Sometime between my second and third beer tonight, I see Scott — who wears a dirty green hat embroidered with a gold star and the word "Bar" next to it — once again throwing around his grandfatherly muscle. "After the first of the year," he hollers at some drunk. "That's when you can come back. After the first of the year." This time he's not hollering at Max, who's back at a table by the dance floor, looking significantly more sober than he was on Saturday and wearing the same yellow shirt. Wheelchair Guy is also in attendance, and we again trade pleasantries and talk baseball playoffs over a cigarette. Missing is the sweet woman in the sweatpants, but I barely notice her absence because I'm too busy talking with Terry.
"Don't see too many other gringos in here," Terry says during another mid-inning commercial. I smile and nod, having noticed this before. We appear to be the only native English speakers in the room besides Scott, though I can't be sure. Almost everyone else — including the guy next to me, who never takes his eyes off the TV because he has $1,500 riding on the game — orders their drinks in Spanish and cheers like it's Mexican Independence Day every time the Rockies score.
It's not until the sixth inning or so that Terry tells me he's been living on the street for the past few months. He has one of those domino-effect self-destruction stories: First his car gave out, then he lost his job as a painter in Commerce City, then he was thrown out of his place on Walnut Street, and finally, his girl left him. But he held down a reasonably steady job all summer and hopes to paint again (his trade for twenty-plus years) once he's squirreled away enough money to get back on his feet. He doesn't use drugs or drink booze on the street, and cites his college-age daughter — who doesn't know he's homeless — as his inspiration to stay clean. He has a dog, an eighteen-month-old bulldog-mastiff mix named Buster, who snuggles with him at night and "is a household name down at Jesus Saves." And if all else fails, this winter he'll catch a bus to Florida, where he has a brother. "I won't be down for long, man," he says, eyes glowing. "And when I'm back up, I'm going to leave my pack by my door as a reminder of where I've been."
What strikes me most about Terry is not how together and responsible he seems, but how generous he is, considering how little he has. Before my fourth Bud is gone, he offers me a glass from his pitcher; before he knows that I smoke, he offers me one of his. I have to leave — Maggie's at home making dinner — but I feel bad saying no, so I accept his offers and stay for another half-inning. When my glass is empty, I order another pitcher from Dina, place it in front of him and say goodbye with a firm handshake and a warm smile.
But twenty minutes later, Maggie and I are back. We squeeze onto the still-vacant stools next to Terry and pull three plastic containers of homemade cheesy chicken and rice out of a plastic shopping bag. Then we eat. Together. This is not a handout or a display of pity; it's not a tax write-off or a karma boost. It's just three friends having dinner over beers and baseball. I buy another pitcher for the two of us while Maggie drinks Big K cola, and we talk for almost two hours. Terry tells us more about Buster and worries aloud that the pup won't make it through a harsh winter, so I scribble down my number on a cocktail napkin and make him promise to use it should Buster need a home, or he a favor. When we're all too tired or drunk to still be sitting at the bar, we gather our things, make plans to find each other soon at one of his downtown spots, and hug like brothers.
What's your favorite neighborhood bar? Spill it to Drew Bixby at [email protected], and if he meets you there for a drink, the first round's on him.