I hope the late Jim Croce will pardon my borrowing a line from his hit “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” for an opening line to this blog but it seemed rather appropriate considering my locale this last weekend.
Friday started like a normal Friday at the end of the day, this time I sent the Doctor a message to find out where he was. He was in town getting supplies so I suggested a brief stop on his way home to sup some suds to which he agreed. After giving Tucker his afternoon exercise, I changed clothes and was on my way.
I sent out a text to the crew that we were beginning the weekend at BrassTap. The Doctor was there ahead of me and had already purchased a brew. Allan and his staff were putting out good service again with some good recommendations. Most of the crew had other plans that afternoon but after a bit Rowdy joined us (sans the Cooler) and we all began catching up and philosophying.
My first craft beer of the evening was Cigar City Brewing’s Guayabera Citra Pale Ale (American Pale Ale). I wanted something lighter to start. It had strong citrus scents when you lifted the glass up, and a definite Hop flavor but not so much that it was too bitter.
My second draft was Cigar City Brewing’s Espresso Brown Ale (English Brown Ale). It had a light coffee flavor with I think a slight hint of cocoa. Actually tasted more like a Stout but didn’t have that color. It was not heavy at all and was very light tasting.
It looked like BrassTap recently had a Cigar City Tap Takeover (see a future blog on Tap Room terms and definitions if you don’t understand the phrase “Tap Takeover”), as there were a wide selection of Cigar City beers. But I decided to try a Bell’s Brewery Expedition Stout (Russian Imperial Stout). I guess the Espresso wetted my appetite for a Stout and I was determined to drink one. And they ran out of the Cigar City Caffe Americano Double Stout before I could get it (Rowdy stole the last one).
Rowdy had a dinner date with the Cooler at MOJO Hogtown Bar-B-Que, which I have yet to visit but I understand is very good. So she left and the Doctor and I finished our drafts, then we meandered down the plaza that BrassTap is located in and stopped at Pita Pit for a pita. We both ordered a Philly Steak with different toppings and I had a lemonade with mine. It was just what I needed to satisfy my hunger.
The Doctor headed home but I was in the mood to stay out a bit longer and I had been getting some invites from Main Street Bar and Billiards to stop by and practice my pool shooting skills for a little while, so I veered my truck towards downtown and about 20 minutes later I was pulling into a spot that was centrally located. I pulled my cue stick out from under the back seat and headed toward the pool hall.
I love a good pool hall. Now what I call a good pool hall and what others call a good pool hall will vary. If you have ever seen “The Hustler” with Paul Newman, or “The Color of Money” the sequel that came out 25 years later with Newman and Tom Cruise, or another film that came out in 2002 called “Pool Hall Junkies”, then you will understand what I mean by a good pool hall as those films capture the atmosphere that a good pool hall has. Rows of tables with smooth green felt on them; soul, blues or rock-n-roll playing in the background; a cloud of smoke in the air; the clacking noise as balls are bumping into each other, the sharp crack of thunder when a player who knows how to break does so; the small disagreements over how far the cue ball has to move before it counts as a shot; all of these things bring up great memories for me.
I grew up playing pool whenever I could. My dad’s youngest brother had one in his basement when we were kids and whenever we visited, my uncle, my dad and I could be found down there trying to make impossible shots in cramped quarters. They taught me the basics of the game. When I went into the Air Force there wasn’t a weekend ever that I didn’t shoot some pool at least one night. I even played in a league for a little while then. After I came home my best friend and I would go out and shoot pool almost every week, except during fishing season. When I moved to Florida, I would go out and shoot pool with my brother-in-law every weekend, or at least it seemed that way. When I moved to Gainesville, I used to frequent the Silver Cue which at the time was one of the better joints to shoot a good game. For some reason though, about a dozen years ago, I stopped playing as much as I used to. I couldn’t tell you why. I could speculate but it wouldn’t make any difference but in the end I think I lost a little love of the game. I even bought my own cue to use when I might go out, but I very rarely went out to shoot pool.
Now, I have been to Main Street Bar & Billiards a couple of times over the last couple of years. But last Friday was probably the first time in a year that I had been there. I don’t know what it was but something about that night made me want to stretch the pool cue out again. Maybe it was the invites via Twitter, maybe it was a longing for good times like there used to be in the past, maybe I was just bored out of my freakin’ skull!!! Whatever the reason I went.
If you have never been there before, the first thing you notice will depend on what kind of person you are. If you are a smoker, you will notice the tables look to be in pretty good shape and the place it fairly clean. If you are not a smoker, you will notice the smell of cigarettes in the air. Main Street is one of the few places in town where you can still smoke indoors because they don’t serve food and they have a ventilation system. Having hung out in plenty of pool halls that didn’t bother me even though I don’t smoke, and I think after a bit I didn’t even notice it any more. So I don’t count this as a detriment to the place but part of the atmosphere. Your opinion may differ.
I walked to the back and asked for a table. I handed over my Driver’s license and was given a set of balls complete with some chalk for the cues, and told table number two. Main Street uses hourly rates for their tables and I don’t think it matters how many people are playing on the table. I asked what beer they had on tap and the young lady behind the bar went down the list. I think they have 8 or 10 taps (don’t remember for certain) but I selected a local favorite, Swamp Head Brewery’s Stumpknocker. Then I headed to my table and began setting up the balls. I will say almost every time I racked a set of balls there was very little adjusting needed to keep the balls in place, which is a sign of a good table.
Now, while I have my own cue, I will usually use the one supplied by the pool hall for breaking, a habit I picked up a while back. Then I will use my own cue for shooting. That’s because I have a heavy break and while I doubt it would shatter a pool cue, over time the wear and tear will begin to take its toll on a stick. I selected a heavy stick for breaking then lined up the cue to break the 8-ball rack waiting on the table. It had been a while since I had looked down that field of green, but it still looked fairly familiar. I drew back the stick and lined up my shot, then let loose the trigger.
The guy across the way from me spun around and shouted “Sweet Jesus!” or something to that effect. I felt a grin crawl across my face. It had been a while but I still had some thunder left in the arm for breaking. Now I had to see if any skills were still in there.
I shot for a while and realized that if I don’t want to embarrass myself I needed to keep up the pool shooting. My straight game was way off and my cutting needed some work. So I shot 8 ball for a while then switched to 9-ball. I had posted one of the pics above to Untappd, which sent it to Twitter, which sent it to Facebook, so it wasn’t long before I saw Rowdy and the Cooler walking in. They were just around the corner at MOJO and decided to come over and visit after they finished.
About the time they had showed up I was ready for another beer so I ordered a Shock Top draft this time. Rowdy and the Cooler looked at their bottled beer selection, which is actually not a bad selection of craft beers. Then Rowdy spotted the Ms. Pacman machine and she was off to play that while the Cooler joined me at the table.
I was glad for that for two reasons; one – you don’t really improve unless you play against someone else; and two the Cooler is a vet like me (he’s a Navy boy but I don’t hold it against him) so that means there’s a pretty good chance he has a little skill at pool playing. One thing that most bases, no matter the branch of the service, have is a rec hall with a pool table.
The good news is the Cooler was about the same skill level as me too, so it was a good back and forth on who won and lost no matter whether we played 8 or 9 ball. I was there for well over two hours, probably closer to three, Rowdy and the Cooler were there for maybe half of that. Rowdy enjoyed herself because she knocked whoever was the top scorer on Ms. Pacman off. And the Cooler and I enjoyed several games of pool. I even was able to improve my straight shots and get some of my cutting skills back into play.
I was very glad I went and shot pool at Main Street Bar & Billiards. It was a little walk down memory lane and a re-igniting of an old passion. If you’re an old pool shooter like me, then go and remind yourself of why you liked to play. If you’re someone new to the game then go get a taste of some old school pool shooting. If I’m there then challenge me to a game as I still need the practice.
Just watch out for the thunder….
P.S. – Coming soon… Rowdy’s Road Trip and Carolina Craft Beer Extravaganza