A column by JOHN ANDERSON
During my nine year run with the Olean Times Herald as a reporter, I worked for some of the brightest and creative minds in journalism.
The men and women who edited stories, designed pages and did writing, also came up with the best assignments.
One year on St. Patrick’s Day I was given the assignment to take off with a photographer and get photos that morning for the afternoon newspaper of bars and restaurants open early to start the celebration.
Village Green had the green beer flowing and another establishment had a group of friends who took work off each year and started having drinks just after breakfast.
It was a fun story, great quotes and great photos. A feature everyone read and talked about.
When I returned to the Wellsville Daily Reporter in 2003 as editor, we had an afternoon newspaper.
It was St. Patrick’s Day. The best ideas are never original ones. I grabbed a camera and asked where the best place to go to get a story on people who start day-drinking on St. Patrick’s Day in Wellsville?
The newsroom didn’t have an answer. My go-to answer machine for these such questions, Jim Sweet, was probably just waking up after a long night of putting together the high school spring sports previews.
As I made my way to the front of the building, Loni Pye and Janet Arnold were working away. Accounts receivable and accounts payable. I didn’t know which was which. It’s like importing and exporting. I just knew one group sold ads so we got a paycheck and the other group collected the money for those paychecks. And stay out of their way.
Without looking up, Loni and Janet simply said “Pastime.”
Ah. The Pastime Bar on Main Street. I was not familiar with this establishment. Maybe the closing of Hamburger Willy’s left a void in the heart. I didn’t want to go into Pastime and have that close down as well.
But I drove down the street just before 8:30 a.m., parked and went inside. I told the bartender what I was doing and he looked up for a second and said “ok’ as the cigarette balanced like a world-class gymnast on his bottom lip without falling.
As a Merle Haggard song was winding down on the jukebox and Waylon Jennings was on deck, I went over with a couple quarters.
“Son, don’t play anything,” the bartender said, as I realized a roll of quarters in the Pastime was equivalent to a “mix tape” or a playlist. You don’t mess with it.
I was a little surprised they weren’t excited to get this free publicity and front page coverage. But I was pleased there were two patrons celebrating St. Patrick’s Day before 9 a.m. to make a great story.
One gentleman to my left made it clear with his glance that the next person to talk to him would be the last person to talk to him.
But the man to my right said hi and seemed almost interested in what I was doing. For professional purposes and the photo, I ordered a Miller draft. I asked if they had green beer or anything special and I got the same look and marveled at the same balanced cigarette.
He grabbed a small glass, not quite a mixed drink glass and not quite as small as those orange juice glasses at a restaurant.
I snapped some photos of the pour and tried to coax at least a quote out of the bartender about St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t remember the question and I don’t remember the uninspired answer.
But I had my new buddy, who also had a glass with a draft in it. I didn’t mind the stains on the glass. I figured it added to the flavor like the grill at the Texas Hot. I was in a good mood now, I was going to get some quotes.
I visioned the cool front page, the draft at Pastime and a St. Patrick’s Day story people would read and smile about.
I flipped my reporter notepad open and searched for a blank page. I was ready!
I cleared my throat.
“So, can you tell me about your St. Patrick’s Day tradition of having a morning beer at the Pastime?”
He finished his last sip of his draft and with a cock of his head and a half-wink of his right eye, the bartender knew to pour the second one.
‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘here come the quotes!’
He looked over to me and said, “St. Patrick’s Day? We are here every morning by 8 a.m.”
(Have a column or story idea? John can be reached at [email protected])