Pandemic Perspective: Missing hugs, friends and vinyl records at Friday gatherings
(Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series on how the coronavirus has impacted life locally. Send a submission to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Thom Jennings
It’s 6 p.m. on a Friday, and the regular crowd shuffles into 810 Meadworks for vinyl record night. On most nights, Steve is at his usual place at the bar with a small stack of albums sipping on a glass of his favorite mead. We usually share a hug not long after I arrive for my regular shift. Then we sift through each other’s albums, looking for something unique, and we usually find something.
By March 13, schools were already closed, and restaurants and bars were limited to 50 percent of capacity. The Monkees Greatest Hits was already spinning on the record player when I reported for my shift at 6 p.m.
The records are an important part of the evening. Some evoke memories because many of the songs provided the soundtrack to people’s lives. Other records introduce new music to people. Unlike digital tracks played through headphones, the listening experience is communal.
As important as the records are, what really makes Friday nights so special is the people. There are some nights when the music is barely audible over the talking, and that’s fine. All of us regulars have been accustomed the ebbs and flows of people. They are just as likely to get drink recommendations from the customers as they are the employees, it doesn’t get more communal than that. And whether they come in or alone, we will likely get their first name before they leave.
Friday’s vinyl nights at 810 Meadworks are a unique combination of the characters described in the Billy Joel classic “Piano Man” and the iconic television show “Cheers.” It is the antithesis of “social distancing.” The topics range from grandkids to current events, and even dating advice. We laugh together, cry together and if it’s your birthday we will sing to you at top volume. There are no topics that are taboo, but some will make you blush a little.
The list of albums spun is written on the tissue paper that is used to wrap up bottles of mead. The silver sharpie seems to be missing all night, but eventually turns up so we can keep a complete record of the records. You are as apt to find a classic Beatles album as you are an obscure progressive metal band on the list. Some of the albums smell like a musty attic, or stale cigarettes, and others have never been played. Some are black, and some have intricate patterns and beautiful colors. Some crackle and pop, others are crystal clear and warm. They all find their way to the turntable eventually.
The evening filled a void in my life by combining a love of music along with a love of people. Even our next-door neighbors over at The Shirt Factory have become an integral part of the evening. Customers often shuffle back and forth, and we have even engaged in some good-natured pranks with their bartenders. (They plowed my vehicle in one evening and we retaliated with a fake $5,000 winning lottery ticket in their tip jar. We are still waiting to see how they pay us back for that.)
It could be weeks, or even months before we reconvene. Sure, we could all listen to a stack of vinyl records at home and even write a list, it just isn’t the same.
The core group of us stay connected via text or social media, and that is the best we can do for now. We aren’t the only group facing the same dilemma. Houses of worship, sports teams, fitness communities small and large businesses are all the same boat. We all find community in unique places, and some of us have multiple groups we are detached from as this situation unfolds.
Like any challenge, there are lessons to be learned. Inasmuch much as I miss my communal experiences it gives me a greater appreciation of the need to stay connected and to be around people. There are no electronic devices that are an ample substitute for a hug, and a thumbs up on social media will never be a good substitute for a live audience. My situation, like many others, is temporary and necessary.
It reminds me of the people that can’t get out in the community or have limited human interactions due to a disability or because they don’t have family in the area. I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to making the occasional phone call to check-in, or the trips to the hospital or a nursing home. Even though there are times we all need to unwind and disconnect, humans are social creatures, and most of us long to be in the presence of other people.
Even in the direst circumstances, there are lessons to be learned. One day we will all be sitting around listening to our records and laughing and showing off pictures of kids and grandkids. The music will sound a little sweeter, and the hugs will offer a little more comfort. That day will be like music to my ears.
(Thom Jennings lives in Albion and is a music enthusiast, writing about artists and doing concert reviews for The Niagara Gazette.)