I Believe in Being a Regular

Ben - Des Moines, Iowa
Entered on July 8, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: community, place

I believe in being a regular. Be it at a restaurant, bar, church, club – it doesn’t matter. Nothing gives me the satisfaction of walking in the door and being recognized, instantly picking up a conversation we know we will start again.

I first realized I was a regular at a deli in my hometown. When I walked in, the kid in the noise-rock band would ask, “italian sausage?” While he shaved the meat, the manager would tell me about his long fights with City Hall over the flag they were flying without voter approval.

Soon after, when I got to college, I was a regular at Whiskey River on Main St. I knew every bartender by name, and often found a drink in my hand before I’d even ordered it.

But I guess the first place I was ever really a regular was at St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church, when I was a boy. Looking around the pews on Sunday, or running off to the gas station during Wednesday night Religious Ed classes, there weren’t many faces I didn’t know, and they knew me. That’s what kept me going for so long, even after I didn’t believe most of what was being said. I liked being a regular.

It takes work to be a regular. You’ve got to show up until everybody knows you, then keep showing up after that. Being a regular means you keep showing up even if things aren’t perfect. There will be a day when your coffee’s bitter, or the club president forgot to book the banquet room.

I’ve moved around a lot, and the worst part is you forfeit regular status and must start from scratch. Moving out to Los Angeles was one of the loneliest times of my life. I’d just gotten married and we had almost no money. We had to follow maps through unfamiliar streets, leading to blank stares from behind deli counters. We were the people lingering in the doorway, unsure if we should seat ourselves. There were so many reasons not to become regulars. We were miserable.

After a few months of isolation, we were invited to the opening night performance by a small theater group. We resolved not just to go to that show, but to all of their shows. It was hard that first night, standing around with a drink in our hands and nobody to talk to. But we introduced ourselves, and the next time we were familiar, and before long we were regulars.

Those times when I feel like something’s just a little off, I take stock of my commitments. Often, I find that I’m browsing without making a choice; I’m a frequent guest but not a member. It’s been hard again since the birth of our son. But on Friday’s, while my sister watches Henry, I take my laptop out to the coffee shop by the University. I’m not a regular yet, but I think I noticed a familiar smile the last time I walked in.