Ed Goldman: Secrets of the after-work cocktail hour revealed!
I think the concept of the cocktail hour, like coffee breaks and even lunchtimes, exists because — in addition to our fondness for alcohol, caffeine and Cobb salads — as a species, we need our transitions.
We can’t just merge from one activity into another, like workplace to home, without a convenient buffer or layover. Even the people who make those thrill-packed car-chase movies know we need a quiet scene wedged in between the pulse-racing mayhem — like, maybe when the guy pulls into a gas station, refills his tank and gets Safeway reward points. They won’t show him also popping into the station’s mini-mart because, God knows, there’ll be a robbery in progress and then it’s right back to squealing tires and rock music (unless the film has a rural setting, in which case we can expect plucky banjo music to accompany the action).
Whenever I make plans to meet someone for an after-work cocktail, my mind first goes to the “Mad Men” era when harried executives imbibed “ti many martoonies” in the commuter train’s bar car on their way home to Connecticut from their jobs in Manhattan.
Since I work at home, I can’t stop on my way there from my job because I’m already there. The result is that some days, if I’ve been working at home all day, I have to pull on my Big Boy clothes just to go out and unwind with a drink — which I could just as easily have done by walking into the next room of my home and not having to change clothes.
There’s a certain ritual that comes with the after-work cocktail. You need to show up slightly out of breath, maybe blowing imaginary bangs off your forehead. (The late President John F. Kennedy started this with his nagging forelock, which he frequently fidgeted with. It became part of his aspect or mien or charisma, whichever word works for you and allows me to not write “his thing.”)
When the waiter/bartender asks you if you’re ready to order a drink, you’re practically mandated to reply, “Am I ever!” And, convinced that everyone in the place is watching you (hint: they may be, but only if it’s still early), you then take that first sip and react as though you were just granted eternal life. It can have the effect of making us seem like alcoholics, even if we’re not. And of making our workplace, the one we’ve just left behind to get this cocktail, seem as though it was an unnumbered Circle of Hell — one, albeit, with major medical, a Roth-IRA and paid mental health days.
Everyone has a favorite “watering hole,” as we quaintly call our preferred saloon. I have several, which probably gives the impression that I’m at one every night. My major criteria for choosing one is that the bartender can make a decent vodka martini and that the barroom is freeway close, though I never jump onto the freeway after having even one cocktail. Because I now live in what I call Far East Sacramento, at American River Drive and Howe Avenue, I find myself most often at Piatti and the about-to-reopen Wildwood in the Pavilions Shopping Mall. Or I head back down J Street to my former nabe and honor 33rd Street Bistro or Hawks Public House with my aspect or mien or charisma. Sometimes I even have my forelock nag me. And now you’ll know how to not run into me.