Bar Hoppin’: American Idol Part 2

New to this blog? Read my “American Idol?” blog before reading this entry…

With eleven cd’s sold and twenty nine more to go before I could purchase a plane ticket, I readied myself to conquer the Thursday night bar scene of Jackson, MI. Before I left my kitchen, I posted my mission on Facebook and called my sister Kristin in Virginia Beach to update her on the night’s quest and ask her to pray. She automatically said, “Oh, I wish I could send you some money, but…” I cut her off with, “I’m gonna get the money, sis! Don’t worry… I’ll call you tonight to let you know how it’s goin.'” “I’ll pray,” she quickly replied.

1st Bar- Robin’s Roost: I share a house with two other guys, Gabe and Dan. Gabe, my former next door neighbor/current best friend, bought the house two years ago as an investment and rents one of the rooms out to me for an unreasonably inexpensive rate. Robin’s Roost, a local last call bar, happens to conveniently sit one block away from our house, so I decided to go there first.

The last time I had set foot in a bar was last summer in Bright Spot, Wyoming during my bike trip across America. I made the mistake of verbally noticing a rancher’s well-groomed handle-bar mustache by saying, “Hey, man! Nice ‘fu man shu!'” He turned to my buddies and asked, “Is your friend here a fruitcake?” And as he stroked his gun, which quite literally was in a holster on his hip, he added with a Western drawl, “Around here, we shoot fruitcakes.” I think my reply was a look of permanent surprise, much like the raised eyebrows of an elderly person after a face lift. The only bar I’d been to since then was a Sushi Bar in California.

“Fortune favors the bold. Fortune favors the bold.” I whispered that line over and over as I threw my backpack full of cd’s and “Gomer,” a guitar I borrowed from my housemate Dan, into the backseat of “Silver,” my grey Buick steed. After I pulled into the dingy back parking lot of Robin’s Roost, I confidently strutted across the fading yellow lines and gritty black asphalt  until I reached the door to destiny- or at least the door to Robin’s Roost. I  found the bartender leaning over the bar toward some of her male patrons and introduced myself and my cause. “Hi! I’m Rob Vischer,” I said as I conjured up a ravishingly charming smile. “I’m a local musician, and I have a dream to be a fulltime singer/songwriter.” As she listened intently, I continued, “Today at 5:30, I found out that the last American Idol auditions are being held in L.A., so I’m trying to raise the money for my plane ticket by selling some of my cd’s.” I quickly added, “Can I play a song for the bar and try to sell some cd’s?” “Yeah, sure!” she exclaimed pleasantly like a good aunt who hugs ya’ and says, “Make yourself at home!”

After an hour of making myself at home in The Roost, I sold a cd to the hospitable bartender and drank my first shot. This is how it went down. After singing “Just Like the Meteors,” my signature ballad, and receiving the bar’s applause, I sat down and apologetically mentioned that my voice was a little bit hoarse from a “cold” I’d developed earlier in the week. The guy next to me cheerfully poked my arm with his elbow and said, “I got something that’ll clear ya’ right up!” He motioned to the bartender. “Give this man a ‘limey bastard’ with a lemon- lime chaser!”

I was puzzled, but before I even had the time to ask “A limey who? with a lemon-lime what?,” a liquidy decision sat in a shot glass on the bar before me with a cup of Sprite beside it. After seeing the hospitality and the joy in everybody’s eyes at what they were offering me, I quickly chose “Bottom’s Up!” It was my first shot of anything alcoholic ever, and it rapidly burned the flem out of my throat. I chilled and conversed with my newfound friends on my barstool for a little while longer while the effect of the alcohol wore off, then I packed up and headed out like a newborn baby. Before I could reach the door, almost every person reminded me, “You gotta come back around 1. That’s when everybody’s here!” I waved, nodded and quickly replied, “I’ll see ya’ at 1!”

Summary of Bar 1: 12 cd’s down. 28 to go. & 1 free “limey bastard.”

2nd Bar, The Hunt Club: I didn’t even have to walk through the Hunt Club’s massive oak-framed glass doors to sell a cd. A cordial middle-aged gentleman outside saw my guitar case and let me play “Just Like the Meteors” for him. He showed me how impressed he was by whipping a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet as the song ended. “Is it really gonna be this easy?” I thought.

The old cliche “Easy as A,B,C” happened to take on a whole new meaning at the Hunt Club. I entered the bar, and told the waitress that I was the entertainment for the night. The manager came over, and after I explained my American Idol aspirations, she said, “I’ll tell you what. You got a half hour to do whatever you want in here.” I covertly fist-pumped while the onomatopoeia “Cha-Ching” echoed in the space between my ears.

For the next half hour, I became a verbal whirlwind of handshakes, introductions, and songs. I performed for six or seven groups of people, including a table of three easily amused married couples in their forties. After I shared my American Idol hopes and asked them to buy a cd, the most outspoken woman in the group jovially yelled, “Play us a song! If we like ya, we’ll give ya money!” But then she added with a mischevious grin, “If we don’t, forget about it!” After I played “Just Like the Meteors,” they literally started throwing money at me. The outspoken woman thrust a fistful of green bills into my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Take this!” she said. “You’re gonna do well, honey!” Her and her table bought four or five cd’s, and gave me about forty bucks in tips!

While the last minute of the half hour was ticking away, I thanked the manager and walked out with a backpack that was eight cd’s lighter and a wallet that was a hundred and fifty dollars heavier.

Summary after bar 2: 20 cd’s gone. 20 more to go. 263 bucks made.

3rd Bar: Applebee’s

After the Hunt Club experience, a mix of God-given adrenaline and thankfulness pumped through my veins like the caffeine and ginseng from a Monster Energy Drink! Each footstep hit the pavement in front of Applebee’s with an exclamation point. My handshakes grew firm, and my introductions avoided the “Umm’s” and “Ahhh’s” that so easily interrupt everyday conversation.

Applebee’s is my jam, so I was amped to go in! Gabe and I used to go there every Wednesday with a group of friends after church to visit “Philippe” and the other servers. “Philippe” is our extended nickname for Phil, our favorite understated/sarcastic waiter . We always leave Phil ridiculously good tips, and we’ve even brought him cakes to celebrate “Phil Day,” our imaginary national holiday that celebrates his grandeur. Besides loving Phil, I’ve played songs for the bar, passed out business cards to customers, and sold concert tickets to the Wednesday evening crowd. All of these reasons filled my “likely to succeed box” with tons of arguments for why I should play at Applebee’s.

After I entered, I immediately played “My Valentine” for Jordan and his brother, who I met on the right side of the bar. I started to wonder if anyone was listening. When the song ended, Jordan, exclaimed with a big grin, “That was real good!” He earnestly explained his desire to learn guitar and asked if I gave lessons. “Nope! You’re either a performer or a teacher,” I said matter-of-factly. He and his brother bought a cd, but besides that all I received were some randomly spaced hand claps from around the restaurant.

I played a few more songs, but as the response seemed to dwindle, I gave up pretty quickly and withdrew to a booth where I recognized Simeon Bowman, a friend of mine from Spring Arbor University. He asked what I was doing. I gave him the short schpiel, and we casually caught up with each other’s lives for about fifteen minutes. As I told him about my aspirations for American Idol, I didn’t realize that servers and other customers were eavesdropping. As I began to walk toward the door, three servers and one customer each bought a cd. I also got some more tips. “I hope you make it out to American Idol,” said Anna, one of my favorite servers. With even more money in my pockets, my smile grew wider, and I said with gratitude, “Thanks! I think I’m gonna get there!”

The rest of the night flew like a flock of geese headed south for winter. At Buffalo Wild Wings, I sold another cd and was tipped 10 dollars at the bar. At Subway, I met a mom and her daughter who asked me, “Who do you sound like?” “Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson at a beach party,” I quickly shot back. “Oh really?” the mom paused, “We just went to a Jason Mraz concert tonight!” They bought a cd, and so did the college-age redheaded dude behind the counter. He said, “Dude, anything to support a brotha!”

I sold one cd at Taco Bell, two at Tim Horton’s, three at Steak & Shake, and zero at the Shell Gas Station. Denny’s manager rejected me even though I’m acquainted with every server in the restaurant. As I drove back to Robin’s Roost around 1:15am, I had six cd’s left. I called Kristin and told her the good news. “Kristin, guess how much I’ve made tonight?” I asked with a huge grin on my face as I pounded the steering wheel with my left hand. “How much?” she said in a half-sedated tone. “FOUR HUNDRED and SIXTY ONE DOLLARS!” I shouted. “I’M GOIN’ TO L.A.!” That woke her up. “Wow! How many cd’s have you sold?” she asked. “Thirty four! The rest is from tips!” I said laughing hilariously. “Somebody even bought me a shot! I’ll call you again when I’m done!” I said in a joyful uproar. She answered, “Rob, call me anytime! I wanna hear how this goes!” My adrenaline reached the summit at this point.

When my fingers white knuckled the handle of the backdoor to Robin’s Roost, I was ready, and apparently, so were they. As soon as I entered, I made friends with George, the biggest and loudest guy in the joint. He’s what I like to call an “influencer.” “What you’re doin’ is f***in’ awesome, man!” he said with a slur of intoxication. “You got balls, man! You got balls! Nobody else has balls like you.” “Thanks!?” I said with a half question in my tone as I wondered how to take a compliment directed at my testicles. While he threw his arm around me and made many drunken introductions, the smell of hard liquor in his breath overwhelmed me.

Suddenly he yelled above the bar noise, “S***! I wanna hear an f***in’ song! Anybody else wanna hear a song?” He continued brazenly, “Shut off the f***in’ jukebox! Sh**, this man is gonna play an f***in’ song!” The bartender obediently paused the jukebox. Then George continued with his promotional rant, “HEY! Everyone shut the F*** up! Shut the F*** up! This man is going to play a G**damn song!” Not wanting to disappoint or anger my new friend, I played an f***in’ song.

George bought two cd’s while complimenting my music with many rounds of expletive-laced adjectives. Others gave me tips due to George’s friendly and persistent prods. “You gonna buy this f***in’ cd or give this man an f***in’ tip?” Like a good salesman, he presented it as an “either or” decision, instead of a “Yes or No.” It seemed like everyone in the bar knew George as a gentle giant, but I don’t think they were willing to take any chances.

By the time I left Robin’s Roost, George and company bought five cd’s from me, demanded that I drink a “Fireball” shot, and filled my pockets with tips of one dollar bills. At 2:30am in the morning, with two shots of liquor and no food in my system, I made a beeline back to Denny’s, the only place that rejected me. This time I strolled in with one thing on my mind: Food! After I drank some hot tea and consumed their largest Grandslam breakfast in under five minutes, I handed the last of my 40 cd’s to a random customer and said,”Jesus loves you, man!”

My final call to Kristin started with “GUESS WHAT?!!!” “How much?” was her quick reply. “FIVE HUNDRED FIFTY ONE BUCKAROOS! Yeah, What’s up, now!” I ranted as I threw a one person dance party in my Buick. I don’t remember her reply, but I do know that God blessed me with many new friends and five hundred and fifty one dollars that night. I’m not sure if the shots would be counted as blessings from God in some circles, but to me, they were welcome signs of hospitality. I’ve never went bar hoppin’ before that fateful Thursday night, but I highly recommend it if you’re a musician with a cd and a dream.

When I went to bed early Friday morning at 4 am, the adrenaline kept pumpin.’ As I finally dozed off I remember thinking, “Thankya, Lord! It doesn’t get any better than this.” But when I woke up the next morning, I found out that, with God & good friends, the story does get better… much better.

to be continued…

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