Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scotland- Day 5 Ayr: An Ode to Spud

Most people who know me know that my favorite bar in Santa Monica is a dive bar called the Speak Easy. I discovered it about six years ago on a Friday night when I started drinking at 6pm and by 9pm I was begging Steve to take me home even though minutes earlier I had been begging him to join us out for a night of drinking. I woke up the next morning to find Katie on my couch, in my clothes (even though her apartment was just two blocks away), half-empty pizza boxes on the kitchen table and my bathroom rug rolled up into a trash bag on the kitchen table surrounded by every cleaning product in my house. I was bleary-eyed with my head throbbing, remembering that I asked not once, not twice, but three times for the Scottish barmaid, a lovely woman named Ruthie, to make my drink stronger. As I looked around my living room and kitchen, I realized I couldn’t safely say I did or didn’t eat the pizza or get sick all over the bathroom carpet. One thing was clear; it was an epic night based on the scene upon waking that morning.

And there began my love affair with the Speaks.

Living in Santa Monica, you have your fair share of sports bars and then trendy bars where women are dressed in ways that only make you feel bad about yourself or the guys are so smarmy, you’d rather not be in their company. I have always tended to gravitate to the divey bar scene where you’re not competing for table space and the people are fAr more interesting- people you actually want to speak to because they look like they have life experiences you want to hear all about. The Speaks is no exception.

After my first time there, I learned to chill the f out, trust that Ruthie was making my drinks with the appropriate amount of alcohol and pace myself. It became my regular and where most of our friends went out for drinks when we were meeting up for the night. Katie and I had several birthday parties there. And I started a “Drink Club” for my event production people who were scattered around a few different companies.

It was during this time that I met Spud, my favorite bartender at the Speaks. Immediately I learned that he was a warm, gentle and caring man who was a wonderful bartender. And not in that way in which he could mix a mean drink (although he certainly could), but in that way in which he was so good with and to people. He took the time to learn our names, writing them down in his little black book where he also took note of the drinks we favored. If there was someone in Drink Club he couldn’t remember, he’d quietly ask me as I approached the bar who so and so was and then be sure to call them by name the next time they ordered a drink or the next time they came into the bar.

He was generous and giving on so many levels. He looked the other way when my friend Lara showed up with her freaking newborn baby boy, Max, and propped him up on the table in his carseat. And over the years, when I’d walk into the bar, I’d go right up to the bar and say “Hi Spud” as I leaned over the counter and he’d give me a quick little kiss.

To be known and liked and loved by Spud was an affirming kind of experience. It’s like, you almost knew you had to be a pretty decent person if Spud liked you. So when he got sick, over the course of most of the three years I knew him, it was very sad to watch him have to give up his shifts at the Speaks and to lose his hair and to gain weight and lose weight and go into remission and to get sick again.

Throughout all of it, Spud maintained his positive attitude, his sense of humor, his quick wit and charm and always, always seemed genuinely happy and grateful for wherever he was in his life and whoever was in his company.

I don’t remember the exact timing, but eventually Spud, and his wife Trish (who I’d never met in all my years of knowing him and being at the Speaks) decided to move back to Scotland. It’s where they were both from, it’s where Spud’s family was, and their daughter Kelly. I didn’t get a chance to have a proper goodbye with Spud, but I remember one of his friends John Keating telling me Spud and Trish were moving back and I gave a card for Spud to John. And the night before Spud left, he somehow managed to track down my phone number and left a super sweet message on my voicemail that I had intended to keep forever.

I kept in touch with Spud very very sporadically once he moved over to Scotland exchanging just a few emails. But anytime I ran into someone who knew him at the Speaks or at one of the other bars I’d go to from time to time, I’d ask about Spud, and I knew that he wasn’t doing well health wise back in Scotland.

One night, while I was having trouble falling asleep, I was trolling Facebook and saw Scottish Susie (she covered for Spud from time to time when he first had to take a leave from the Speaks for treatment) posted a note saying that Spud had passed away the previous day, January 26th. I remember crying and crying and crying when I read this and waking Steve up to share the sad news.

It hit me hard and I instantly felt overwhelmed with sadness knowing how much it sucked that someone as wonderful as Spud had been dealt such a bum hand. He’d never see it that way, but for those of us who loved Spud and felt like better people just for having him in our lives, it felt like we had been seriously seriously jipped out of quality time with a quality man.

I wrote to his wife and daughter, sent some photos of Spud and me from parties at the Speaks, and shared how unbelievably sad I was over Spud’s death. Trish and I became friends on Facebook and traded messages back and forth every now and again. I sent her some photos from my Santa Monica daily life snapshots and it was after that point that Trish said when she was stronger emotionally, she’d like to come back to Santa Monica and would love to meet me. I let her know that I may be coming to Scotland and if that were the case, I’d look her up so we could finally meet.

As Katie and I were pulling our plans together for this trip, we built in a day to visit Trish and travel down to Ayr- the town that she and Spud lived in together (and where Spud grew up). Yesterday was that day!

Katie and I left Glasgow via bus to Central Station and then took a lovely one hour train ride down to Ayr where we met Trish just outside the turnstyles in the train terminal. We gave her quick hugs and then hopped in a taxi to head to the house she and Spud moved into less than a month before he died.

We talked easily about everything and nothing and instantly felt comfortable in Trish’s presence. I wasn’t sure if it’d be overwhelmingly sad, feeling Spud’s absence and wishing he were there with us. But it was just nice to be in the company of people who knew him and loved him and wanted to talk about him and share even more stories about his life.

Trish took us for a walk along the path along the beach in Ayr and then through the outskirts of town where we walked by the Robert Burns Cottage and Museum and then through some park and over the Brig O’Doon bridge. It was really really pretty and fun to explore and walk around somewhere new. After a few hours, and a stop on the Brig O’Doon House Hotel for a drink (note to self/reader: I’ll miss having a beer in the middle of the day), Spud and Trish’s daughter, Kelly, picked us up and took us for a drive around the area, including a pit stop at the Dunure Castle.

We ended the night back at Trish’s house where she made us a great chicken curry and naan dinner. And then Spud’s brother showed up and we talked and talked and talked for a few more hours before calling it a night.

If I closed my eyes, I could hear Spud talking, that’s how similarly the two brothers sound. It was more than comforting. And Billy’s soft eyes and warm smile and inviting demeanor made it seem like we were almost in Spud’s company.

It was a most memorable evening and I’m so glad Katie and I made the effort to include a trip to Ayr in our vacation. Meeting Trish, Kelly and Billy is a highlight and something I won't be forgetting anytime soon. They are quick friends and I’m so appreciative of their hospitality, generosity and opening their home and their life to me and Katie.

I feel closer to Spud for having been to his home, for seeing his local pub, for being in the company of his family. And I’m grateful to have had this experience. I would have loved for Spud to have been there, but I know wherever he is, he’s smiling knowing that his love and friendship has spurred this fast friendship between me and Katie with his wife, daughter and brother.

Here are the pics from our day in Ayr:


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