I'm a friendly girl, in a black lab sort of way, open faced, loves a good belly scratch. One of my finer attributes, really. Like having pretty feet and well-defined clavicles. Never had much of a problem making friends until I moved to Fish Town where you are judged not by the character of your heart, but by the quality of your rain gear, the sharp edge of your clamming shovel and your ability to maneuver a pick-up truck through horizontal rain while a big fatty fills the cab with smoke and one hand steadies the cooler of beer between you and your wet dog. If I were a logger, I'd have a better chance. Or a crabber. Even a surfer. But my clothes and fast car smack of tourist, like a bad smell I just can't shake.
The first few months I was here, I sidled up to a nice couple at the pub who in so many words said, "Don't talk to us until you've survived a winter here because like everybody else, you fall in love with the Coast in the summer and then come January you'll bitch about how cold and dark and miserable it is and how you need to head back to the city before a psychotic break makes you shoot yourself or someone else because the sound of shingles flying off your roof has made you jumpy and all of us stuck here will just shake our heads and raise a beer to your sorry-ass memory but that's just fuckin' fine because more crab for us."
I stopped trying to make friends after that. I have a library card, after all. And a hunky Ranger.
But sure enough. After surviving my first winter, after an uprooted tree flew over the hood of my car and left mud and shaggy bits of root on my windshield, after I suffered a concussion trying to scramble across drift logs on the beach, and after I finally splurged on REAL rain gear and not the plastic Wal-mart kind that start to crack between your thighs from so much rub, rub, rub...then and only then did people start talking to me. Yet still, they were cautious. That waxy sheen of city life still on me. My sunny smile a bitter reminder of how nice it would be if you could open your mouth and not have sand whipped between your teeth by a relentless wind.
A nice surprise, then...when a bevy of invitations greeted my return from Hawaii -- dinner, brunch, a party, a cookout. First up to bat, a sushi party with yogis!
Let me digress a moment to say...the Ahi tuna was perfectly seared, the Asian slaw amazing.
So what makes a local? How do you know you've landed? When is it safe to reach out? For me that moment came in the spring, during the NHL playoffs when I hit a favorite sports bar for beer and chicken wings, waiting for the Ranger to get off work so we could cheer our beloved Pittsburgh Penguins. Happy at the counter, chatting with Tiffany, the waitress, a loud handful of men swaggered in wearing souvenir baseball caps and clean wind breakers. I imagine they were on the Coast for a boy's weekend, fishing the Halibut season with a local charter who was charging them $200 a head and shrugging at all the beer they could drink.
"Hey, change that channel, would you. Basketball game is on."
"Lady's watching the big screen. Why don't you fellows go down to the end and watch your game on the other TV."
"No fuckin' way. We want the big screen. Who the fuck watches hockey anyway? Come on, change the fucking channel, man. We're getting ready to spend some money here."
"Sorry, sir. It's first come, first pick."
"Oh yeah. Well, there's five of us and one of her. Do the math. Majority wins."
And that's when Mark, the owner, slid out of the kitchen, his keen ear tuned to any hint of a ruckus. A Hungarian immigrant from New Jersey, Mark's not the friendliest guy on the block and his waitresses hate his cheapness, but Jersey has honed his edge and shortened his bullshit fuse. Hands on his hips, he ended the debate, "Listen gentlemen. She's a local. Which means she can watch whatever the fuck she wants. ON THE BIG SCREEN. You got a problem with that, get the fuck out of my bar."