I was a gangly, myopic, 19 or 20 year old.
I happened on a strange 'townie' type tavern, aptly named the Longbranch Saloon. This watering hole was located on the outskirts of Carbondale Illinois. It was not too far from campus at S.I.U. where I was a student. It must have been around 1969.
None of the students ever took the chance of hanging out in a place like this. The townspeople didn't take too kindly to the student population. To them, we were the uppity spawn of Jews, intellectuals, Democrats, Communists, revolutionaries, eccentrics, and damned liberals...you get the idea. To them we were the spoiled children of rich people, living in Chicago or New York.
Little did these farmers, strip miners, and blue collar, good-old boys know that I actually came from poverty, and had to work hard with my hands, to get to the university. I had a pretty good working knowledge of machines and tools...and did some heavy laboring myself.
The bar had spitoons interspersed along the foot rails of the bar. Most of the men tried to spit in the receptacles, but the drunker they became, the less careful they were at hitting the bulls eye. Tobacco juice ended up on their jeans, boots, and floor. I ordered a scotch on the rocks, with a water back. Then I asked the bar keep for some Redman Leaf, chewing tobacco. This is lightweight 'chaw', compared to the cut, Copenhagen tin-tobacco I used on Chicago construction crews. The hicks looked at me, expecting I would turn all kinds of shades of green. I chewed the Redman, like a cow chews her cud, and got my nicotine buzz. It must have seemed forever to them, until I let loose with a big 'hocker' of spit, aimed dead center for one of the spitoons. I spit into the same spitoon occasionally, and even showed these local yokels that I had the ability to drink my drink, and keep the chew in my mouth at the same time.
After a while, when I was accepted, we engaged in conversation. I didn't talk about school. Instead, I queried them about their lives in the mines and in the fields of their farms. Of course I had to tell them about my working life with bulldozers and jack hammers. They were hard-working, humble men, who had a long line of family, living for generations in Southern Illinois. Some of their kin were buried in small cemetaries...others were buried, right in back of their houses. Some of the tombstones I found had dates going back to the the late 1700's. These little graveyards are all over the Southern Illinois area. The tombstones were barely readable, due to erosion and age. These kind men I met in the Longbranch Saloon possessed a strange kind of country mindset. They were definitely in a time warp.
They were angry and confused by all the social change we were going through...after all it was 1969. I wasn't all too sure about where the hell the world was going myself.
I really liked these guys. I think they liked me too, because I never talked about anything that would disturb them from their old world values. God, America, apple pie, family, women, and work was the extent of our conversation. I liked the Longbranch, because I could chew tobacco with the 'townies', and go back to an era where life was less complicated. Sometimes, I wish I could still go back there. Complications have seemed to have gotten worse over the last forty years. I guess a fellow is always alright if he looks at both sides of the coin...