Friday, January 18, 2008

Don't Touch the Glass

Don't Touch the Glass

Bars and beers, I am a fan of beers, but it is bars that fascinate me. Across all walks of life folks head out to relax and to take a load off. Sooner or later most people will end up spending some of there time sipping a brew trading BS with their friends or strangers at bar over a jug of the house special. The last year and a half has seen me spending more time in pubs then average. This is partially a function of money and partly a response to work. It is a function of money because now I can afford to go out when I can go out, and a response to the dry nature of my camp.

The semi-enforced sobriety at work has made going out for drinks part of my routine to separate work life from life back in civilization. A beer will never taste better then after 6 weeks dry. Ironically before working in the bush I could have gone six weeks with out a drink but the choice was never removed from me. A few drinks after I land back in civilization do wonders for unwinding the stress of weeks of continuous work. These drinks have to happen somewhere and alone in a hotel room is not my choice venue. Which after my abandoning nightclubs I have confined my substance consumption to domestic environments and pubs.

Pubs are not as mystifying as Nightclubs. For a start a person can be heard over the music or the TV, which is playing in the background not blasting the floor to shreds. This opens up normal channels of communication that are blocked in noise saturated environment of a Night club, where body language is king and you won’t make it if far without the latest bling. Though bars also collect there own species of patrons, the nature of pubs is more a function of geography then night clubs as clubs tend to cluster around the center of towns, pubs are more randomly distributed. To skip past a long winding paragraph, the size of smoking rooms in bars reflects on the demographics of neighborhood where the bar is situated. Smoking rooms decrease in size in pubs located near the center of cities and expand away from urban centers. This can be examined with a truly meaningless comparison of a few joints I have visited over the last year for one reason or other. I will start in the south and move north for no real reason.

At the Southern extreme of my range I frequent one or two places in Penticton, Of those two I can not recall the floor plan well enough to recall the presence or absence of smoking rooms, of the second it has one, tucked away in a corner, It also has a large balcony. It is located on the second floor in a down office block. I can not tell if its location or marketing that result in it having a base of regulars that fall either in to the student type or business professional type, but that appears to be who ends up there. Due to Penticton's gentle climate, for the majority of the year the absence of a smoking room is made up with its large balcony. Which was not in use on my last visit, which was in early January. This being Penticton any observation made during the winter will be negated by tourist influx during the summer.

Moving north some 60 odd Km lands me in Kelowna. Where on a more then a few Friday nights I have gone out for beers. Due to the friends choice of venue I have ended up repeatedly in one of the two western themed clubs/bars that have the city as their host. The older more established centrally located and marginally classier joint has less then a quarter of its floor space devoted to smokers. The small size of the smoking room made it one of the first places I observed the terrarium like qualities of smoking rooms. When the smoking room is small and confining like that the sense of us and them is strongly apparent. In fact some of the smoking rooms have the same proportions as a standard aquarium. The general flow of people is to hang out on or more likely around the dance floor and moving into the smoking room only when the craving takes over. This pattern differs from the bottom of the market. The red neck joins.

The second Western themed bar is in neighborhood with a poorer reputation and making a good effort to maintain it. The bar was built on the empty lot that once held a grocery store, and now hosts a sad attempt at a western bar. This is the second incarnation of that building as a bar/club, I never made there in its first incarnation but my loss is less then minor. It plays at being some kind of nightclub; it has a DJ and a dance floor. The dance floor is nearly always empty and the DJ is not the cocky young type seen at flashier joints but a scruffy nearly middle-aged dude who has not been hip in 15 years at least. In this sadness is a smoking room, half the place safely behind glass packed full when the dance floor is empty. Here every one hangs out on the smoking side, coming out to get drinks and some times dragged out by the rare man there with his girl friend who has an affinity for the song and has developed the urge to dance. My most northerly venue lacks a theme or pretense, which after the mail order western effects is a refreshing change.

So there I was in a bar a small working class pub in satellite community of Kelowna known as Winfield. Foul weather had caused me to delay my departure to Nakusp by a day, which did nothing to improve the driving conditions but that is a separate issue. My only reason for being in Winfield was a hotel close to the airport and away form the city traffic. It also has the advantage of being in walking distance to a pub. The working class nature of that joint was made transparent by the presence of the glass partition which enclosed close to half the floor space. That was where this essay was born.
Unlike other places with smoking rooms, it is not a place to go when you want to have a smoke but the place to be because you smoke. Since it is likely that your friends will smoke too every one gathers in the smoking room. I found my self in the position of being more part of them then of us. I was the minority. Me and handful of others were clustered around the windows looking into the smoking room, wanting to be part of the apparent fun but not wanting to take part in fumes.

It is a function of the one constant in human civilizations. There are two groups of people in the world, Us and Them. It does not mater which group you belong to every one out side that cohort falls under the listing of them. In the case of Public Houses south Western BC, Them can be a function of nicotine addiction. This separation is mechanically enforced with glass walls. Who then falls into the Us category is then a related to nature of the neighborhood where the watering hole resides. Smokers become Them closer to town centers as 21 century norms start to dominate, if you migrate far enough from centers of civilization values start to drift closer to mid to late 20th century, and non smokers start to fall into the Them listing.

None of this changes the fact that if I could I would take off the roof from a smoking room and through in a hand full of cigarettes and watch them fight over them like so many fish in a bowl.

1 comment:

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Interesting observations! I am seriously starting to think the anti-smoking hysteria is overdone.
And it is so true that most people
who still do smoke are the ones down on their luck, who can least afford it. I remember smoking with pleasure, and will never turn into one of those unbearable reformed
purists. At least I hope not.