Tuesday, July 19, 2022

October 9-11

Kev, Me, Rich H.
My last stop on this nearly two-month journey was to see my old pal Kevin McNamara at his homestead in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kev is a Buffalo guy like me, but we met at Brockport State in 1980 where we were both aspiring college washouts. In fact, Kev was my main partner in failure. Together, we’d skip class, watch reruns of M.A.S.H., drink cheap beer and hang out as if the world would stand still while we got our shit together, which it didn’t, at least not at Brockport.

Once the Brockport thing ran its course, Kev and I got an apartment at Folger and Tift Street in South Buffalo. We had this stereo equipment that included a pair of Polk Audio speakers that could drown out the nine-o'clock church bells at Holy Family Church just down the block. It was a great time for music. We were leaving behind 70’s rock and discovering punk and post punk bands like The Clash, The Jam, The English Beat, REM and others. 

4 Folger

That apartment was also a hub of activity for friends that would drop by and just hang for days. Though they were mostly my South Buffalo friends—Kev grew up just outside the city in Elma—they quickly became Kev’s friends too. Our one buddy “Killer,” was unemployed at the time and would sign for his unemployment check on Tuesday, buy a bag of weed and stay at the apartment until it was gone—usually Thursday or Friday. Those were the days, as they say. Also, “Killer,” would eventually get a job, buy the company where he had the job and then retire to Florida where he now plays golf and never runs out of weed.

Back in Buffalo I got a job at an old man’s bar and Kev got a job at a warehouse. Eventually our roles would reverse. I would go back to school and get a job and work in a hospital warehouse—I sucked at the bar business. I was introverted, bookish and not great with people.

But Kev would become one of Buffalo’s best known bartenders and created the phenomenon known as “Chippewa Street.” He was and is great with people. He remembers everyone’s name and a little bit about them—a natural as they say. As such, he built a big following and when he was given the opportunity to run a bar in the early 90’s, “The Third Room,” on Chippewa Street all his groupies followed him there. 

Though the “The Third Room,” was just another dive bar in a city of dive bars, Kev’s presence was a bright new light on Chippewa, which prior to his arrival was where you could find Buffalo’s finest ladies of the night. But with Kev down there, being helped by another friend, Rich “Burbs” Hannotte, other bars started popping up all along the street. Chippewa quickly became the hub of nightlife in Buffalo and remains so to this day—I think. Nightlife to me now is dinner and drinks at five, in bed by nine. (Third Room closed in 2021)

Eventually Kev would get married and move to Charlotte because . . . I’m not quite sure, but I think his first wife was a teacher and got a job there. At any rate he did his KevMac thing at some higher end restaurant/bars in Charlotte and ended up staying. He also got married a second time and has a lovely daughter who is a sophomore in high school.

We lost track of each other through the years a little bit while we were in the thick of raising our families, but now that they’re older and don’t need us so much, Kev and I see each other a few times a year and talk on a regular basis. In fact, whenever I’m out in the yard grilling and drinking a beer I’ll give him a call and tell him what an asshole he is. And when I post some piece of writing he’ll often call me and tell me how much it sucks—how the characters have stupid names and the story stinks—he’s a true friend. As such, it is the easiest, most laugh-filled, dramaless friendship I have with anyone. 

To get to Mac’s house it was a nine plus hour drive along god-awful Rt 40E from Memphis. Rather than kill myself getting there in a day, when Kev would be working his Saturday shift I decided to pull up in Ashville, NC for the night. This would leave me a little over two hours through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the morning to make it to his house in Charlotte.

Though there was more tractor trailer traffic along 40E through Nashville and Knoxville I still had plenty of the Burt Bacharach book to occupy me as I moved along on a beautiful fall day. Originally I had targeted a Walmart in Asheville for the night but there were plenty of nice rest stops on 40E with overnight parking. I pulled into Ashville just after 5pm, poured myself a drink and finished off some store bought Resers macaroni salad, had a ham sandwich while I looked at social media nonsense and worked a bit on this blog. I shut it down around 9pm listening to the last of the Bacharach book.

It was a frosty thirty-five degree morning when I got rolling through the twisting Blue Ridge Mountains—elevation of sixty-seven hundred feet. There was a slippery sheen on the road which dictated I proceed with caution. It was ironic that my first sort of winter driving experience of the year would come shortly after the end of summer in North Carolina, no less. It worked out fine but the ride would have been nicer if I could have looked at the mountains a little more.  

I got into Charlotte just after 10am and stopped at a 7-Eleven for gas and supplies. Not wanting to show up empty handed I got an eighteen pack of Modelos and a couple of bags of kettle cooked chips. As I was getting back in the van my phone rang.
It was Kev and he said something like: “Hey, where the fuck are you . . . you asshole?”
And, I responded, “Kev, c’mon now, we can’t be using that kind of negative language with each other.” Just kidding. I said something like, “Fuck you asshole. I’ll be there in five minutes.”   

When I did arrive he asked me who was going to drink the shitty Modelos and wanted to know why I got kettle cooked chips? You know—a warm welcome.

After I took a much needed shower, Kev, his daughter Maeve and myself went to the grocery store and Starbucks. At sixteen Maeve was learning to drive. She was in control of the con with Kev next to her up front and me in the back. After a successful run to the grocery store there was some confusion leaving Starbucks. Kev told her to pull out and get in the left lane, which was the turning lane at the light. But what Maeve heard was turn left, which she did and almost caused an accident. Boy, did this bring back the pain of teaching my own kids to drive. Kev took for granted Maeve could see what she should do, but his instructions were a touch vague. Teaching kids to drive you had to be explicit with your directions, which Kev luckily learned without a collision, this time—the dumb fucking asshole.

Lean to

Maeve however was embarrassed by the close call and teared up a bit. If only she had a dad who wasn’t such an asshole.

Actually though, Kev and his wife Liz are great parents. Kev was forty-five when Maeve was born and it really centered him in the way kids often will. That sweet girl is everything to him. Once we got back to the house he was able to talk to her and smooth everything over.

With that settled we got ready for the main event of the day—the Bills vs. Steelers. We were going to watch the game in Kev’s yard, which consisted mostly of a rectangular-shaped in-ground pool surrounded by a stockade fence. At the shallow end of the pool there was an enclosure, which technically, I guess was what you would call a lean-to. The lean-to was open on three sides and covered by a shingled roof. It butted up to a stockade fence where iconic prints of Elvis and Johnny Cash hung gracefully. A flat screen was fixed to the frame of the lean-to and there was plenty of comfortable furniture around the perimeter of the enclosure and coolers packed with Labatt Blue Light. Blue Light is the beer of the McNamara backyard and my Modelos sat next to a cooler, lonely and unopened as did my kettle cooked chips on a nearby table. There was a bottle of tequila floating around along with the bourbon I brought from Memphis.   

Kev has a regular weekend crowd of neighbors stop by—Mike and Cindy, Tom and Miss Charlene, only Miss Charlene was ill that weekend. Kev’s sister Mary Pat was also down for a visit from Buffalo. The mood was festive as the Bills destroyed the Steelers 38-3 to go to 4-1 looking very much like the Super Bowl frontrunners everyone deemed them. A little sourness surfaced among the Charlotte natives in the yard as the Panthers dropped to 1-4 at the hands of the Niners, 37-15. As a Bills fan I know that pain.  

After the game Kev started to put together what was to be dinner. Besides being an asshole Kev was a pretty good, but limited cook, since his diet consists entirely of  meat. On this night it was scallops wrapped in bacon, which was delicious, but didn’t quite fill up the plate. Luckily Cindy brought a tasty pan of Mexican style cornbread and of course, there were the kettle cooked chips. Because of his meat-centric diet Kev takes a fiber-free volcanic shit once every two-weeks.    

Kev has good taste in music, but like his cooking, it’s limited. As mentioned when Kev and I shared the apartment on Folger we were getting turned on to all the punk and post punk from the late 70’s and early 80’s. That’s Kev’s wheelhouse. He also is a huge Replacements and Stones fan too. So after dinner he built a nice fire and he dialed up one of those Spotify playlist that features stuff from the aforementioned period. 

I love that stuff too, but am a little tired of it and fucking Spotify doesn’t know how to put a playlist together. They repeat the same artist over and over. Anybody who knows anything about playlists knows you don’t repeat artists in the same mix. If you want to know about making a good playlist click here or over in the margin on the “The Last Playlist”—that’s my book and you’ll find instructions for making great mixes plus a bunch of other stuff.

Blue Lights

At any rate it was a great laugh-filled night. As the last of the logs dwindled in the fire Kev said, “I only had four beers today”…what he didn’t mention was the numerous shots of tequila that were making him a little wobbly. I was a little wobbly as well when I climbed into the van for the night. Of course, I could have slept in the house but being in the van didn’t disrupt anyone's morning routine and nobody disrupted mine. 

The next  morning after Maeve left for school we had a job to do—uninstall an old light fixture in Kev and Liz’s dining room and install a new one. After some confusion on how to run the wires through the new fixture we had everything in place. Black was connected to black, white to white and the ground was secured and when we went to test it there was a small “pop” in the wall switch and then nothing. Kev went and reset the breaker and still nothing. It was at that point Kev said, “Fuck it, I’m calling an electrician.” That’s what I liked about Kev, he knew when to give up on shit. He knew it at Brockport, he knew last night when he got to his tequila limit and he knew it now.  

We went and got some barbeque for lunch and then got more Blue Lights. I said, “But we still have all those Modelos?” But, that didn’t fly. When we got back to the house we watched a repeat of “Good Morning Football,” which was nice since the Bills were so dominant against the Steelers. Then slowly eased back into the beers as the afternoon went on. Mike stopped back over and we finished off the leftover scallops, Mexican cornbread and the kettle cooked chips. Kev made another fire and we listened to more of his shitty Spotify playlists. Minus the playlist I could sit around with Kev, all nice and easy, laughing and drinking forever.

But, of course, life gets in the way. Kev had to go work and teach Maeve to drive and I had to get back to Donna in Buffalo. So in the morning after Maeve went to school, Kev, Liz and I went to breakfast and then I packed up and headed north toward Buffalo.

How we got here...
An Ode to Fire and Donna
Chronological Posts From The Road 
Going Mobile: What We Learned
Our Rig: A Pictorial Essay

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