Discover more from The Writing Shed with Tommy Tomlinson
Here comes a regular
What it means to have a local, plus my weekly shareables: a rare Barbie, a rare painting, and so much great music
A quick reminder: My upcoming book, DOGLAND, is now available for preorder! You can get to many of the major bookseller sites through the Simon & Schuster page … I also have a deal through Park Road Books in Charlotte where I will sign and inscribe every preorder however you like. A bunch of you have done this already (like our friend Julie Ritterskamp!) and I’m extremely grateful. If you haven’t jumped on board yet:
A few nights ago WFAE held a thank-you party for some of our supporters at Divine Barrel Brewing here in Charlotte. At one point, while I was at the bar, a guy came up and introduced himself. Once he said his name—Martin Ericson—I knew who he was right away. I was so happy to see him because of how our families are connected.
My mom spent the last 18 years of her working life as a waitress in a hotel restaurant that eventually morphed into a Denny’s. It was right off I-95 in Brunswick, Georgia, so a lot of the customers were tourists headed to Florida or coming back out. Martin’s parents drove down there every year. At some point they stopped by the Denny’s and ended up at my mom’s table. My mom never met a stranger. She hit it off with the Ericsons and they started stopping by every time they came through. It got to the point where, if she wasn’t working, they’d call the house and see if she would come by for a cup of coffee. This went on for years, even after my mom retired. She considered them dear friends.
That’s a story about a lot of things, but one of those things is the value of being a regular.
I’ve never really felt like I’ve had my own local spot. A couple of times I’ve been close. Years ago a bunch of us used to get together every Tuesday night at Lupie’s, a great chili joint here in Charlotte. We drank round after round of Busch, which at Lupie’s they call a Gee Whiz. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I’ve decided I prefer the mystery.
Before that, when I lived in Atlanta for a while, my friend Perry was a regular at a dive bar called PJ’s. It was on the second floor of an old industrial building—you had to go up a long staircase that was built so poorly every step seemed to be a different height. (This made it easier to descend after a few drinks, for some reason.) When the bartender saw Perry walk in, he’d instantly draw a couple of pitchers and drop an batch of wings in the deep fryer. That’s as close as I’ve ever been to bottle service.
I’ve had lots of chances to be a regular—there are a couple dozen of bars, restaurants and coffee shops within walking distance of our house. Part of me just likes to try new places. And part of me is a little attention-averse. If I get noticed too much somewhere, sometimes I don’t want to go back.
The other thing, I suppose, is that my schedule has always been erratic. I’ve never been able to count on being off at 5 so I can swing by the bar at 5:30. Hell, these days I don’t even have a commute.
I watched a lot of CHEERS when it was a hit, and that idea of a place where everybody knows your name has always been awfully seductive. But it’s not always great to be a regular. When I was a freshman in college, there was a joint called Express Pizza up the street from our dorm. It wasn’t great pizza but it was cheap. I would see some of the guys from the dorm trudge up the hill every day to get a slice and a beer.
Years later, one of my old friends went back to Athens with his wife. He drove by the spot but there was a new, fancier restaurant in its place. They went inside and somebody asked if they wanted a table. No, he said. I just used to come to this place a long time ago.
At which point a drunk guy lifted his head from the bar, hollered “EXPRESS!”, and put his head back down with a thump.
That was nearly 40 years ago. I don’t know what’s in that spot now. But if it has a bar, I suspect my guy is still there.
10 things I wanted to share this week:
My weekly for WFAE was about this blistering summer being a preview of things to come.
By law this week I am required to have one story about BARBIE or OPPENHEIMER or both, but this one is great: My buddy David Fleming on one family’s search for a rare NBA Barbie. (ESPN)
Another friend, Paige Williams, tells the tale of a small Oklahoma paper that uncovered big scandals—and the toll it took. (New Yorker)
A brilliant obituary from the Economist on the Mississippi boy who became the first person diagnosed with autism. (FYI, this is paywalled but the Economist, like some other publications, allows you to read paywalled stories if you use the reader mode on your browser. At least it worked for me.)
DOG NEWS: From now until DOGLAND comes out (April 2024!), I’m devoting this slot to dog stories. This week: It’s more dog-adjacent news, but I couldn’t resist the twists and turns of this story about a dog walker who might have ended up with a million-dollar painting. (NYT)
So much music to talk about this week … let’s start with two RIPs: Sinead O’Connor (The Guardian) and Randy Meisner (NYT). Meisner sang that high lead on what might be the Eagles’ best song, “Take It To the Limit,” and I wrote about him a while back as part of my essay on Etta James’ stunning cover, which you should go listen to right now.
Two of my favorites, Rhiannon Giddens and Jason Isbell—turns out they’re great together, too, on her new song “Yet To Be.”
Tyler Childers’ new song “In Your Love” is a beautiful and gritty ballad, but the video takes it to another level. I don’t want to spoil it, so watch for yourself. (I’m also writing about it for WFAE next week.)
We don’t have HBO so I’ve never seen THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES even though I know it’s right in the center of my wheelhouse. But I did see through social media that Sturgill Simpson (playing an evangelical militiaman? I think?) sang the absolute HELL out of the old Larry Gatlin hit “All the Gold In California” on the latest episode. If they guaranteed something like that every week, I’d pony up the $9.99.
We recently started back watching DEATH IN PARADISE, another of those not-too-grim British murder mysteries. This one is set in the Caribbean and the best part is the killer reggae soundtrack. The other night I heard Toots and the Maytals’ classic “54-46 Was My Number” in the background of a scene and I’ve been playing it at least twice a day ever since. I had it on the other night while I made supper and that is when my 87-year-old mother-in-law discovered she likes reggae.
”54-46” is the most joyous song you’ll ever hear about doing time. It’s about the prison sentence Toots served for a weed conviction when he was a up-and-coming singer. He always claimed he was set up, but either way he won in the end—the song he wrote sounds like Otis Redding trading shots of rum with James Brown while they listen to “96 Tears.” What a delight. There’s no better song for a summer night.
Bonus points to everyone who caught the Replacements reference in today’s newsletter title.
See y’all next week, everybody.