Wednesday, February 27, 2019

2014 Revisited: Hope Chapel Santa Rosa

You know how you look at old photos and notice changes in yourself, in others, and in the places you're looking at? Reposting these old church and bar visits is kind of like that for us. We visited this church in mid-December, 2014 -- and we still think their way of welcoming visitors was especially thoughtful.

Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa, California
Mindy and I started visiting churches in August, 2013, though we waited more than a year before writing about them. In other words, we didn't write about some churches we really enjoyed -- churches that really impressed us. On the flip side, there are churches that had borderline heresy (or just off-key worship teams), and it's just as well we didn't have to mention them.

Three of the congregations we most enjoyed worshiping with during that year were Foursquare Gospel Churches. It would have been fun to write about the Sanctuary in Windsor or the Lighthouse in Santa Rosa or Hope Chapel in Healdsburg (pastored by our friends, Mark and Lynn Williams*). But we get to do the next best thing -- write about Hope Chapel in Santa Rosa. Not only does it share a name with the Healdsburg church, but it's also the mother church of the Sanctuary and the Lighthouse.

I don't mean to be snide about this, but a sure sign of God's grace and provision is the good health of the Foursquare Church, considering its almost soap-opera-ish origins. The denomination was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, arguably the most popular evangelist of the 1920s. She was also at the heart of a number of scandals, including a disputed kidnapping and multiple marriages. (Henry VIII and the start of the Anglican Church gives McPherson a run for the money, but...) Today, though, it's a healthy denomination with 8 million members in 60,000 churches in 144 countries -- including Fiji.

Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa meets in what looks a bit like a barn in a beautiful setting. The interior is small but comfy. Through an internet mishap (I could swear I read 9:30 am, but no, everything online actually says 9:00 am) we arrived late. I thought they had started the service five minutes early, which would have been quite a first for a church. I thought we walked in during the opening prayer, but it was a mid-service pastoral prayer. We were surprised that there were announcements and then a sermon, without music. A look at the bulletin revealed our mistake.

So after the sermon and closing song, we waited for the second service. It's kind of like when you miss the first part of a movie and you wait for the feature to start again so you can see what you missed. Being there for two services was a good reminder for us of how haphazard a one service critique can be. I believe the order of service was the same for both services, but since there were about fifty people in the first service and more than twice as many people in the second service, they felt very different.

With fewer people, a worship service often feels intimate, sometimes more contemplative. With more people, a worship service often feels more energetic and exciting. And that's with only one change -- the number of people. There are so many variables that can change Sunday to Sunday, so our finger to the calendar means our experience isn't exactly authoritative. Doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, though.

The worship team was solid with good use of harmony. At least one of the songs was, I believe, written by the worship leaders. We sang only one Christmas carol (“Angels We Have Heard on High”). We also sang the Lincoln Brewster-baptized, Christianized version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (which give us a sense of what people felt like when they heard a Lutheran hymn with a tune they recognized from the tavern).

The sermon focused on how we should live as we await the Pre-tribulation Rapture. There were many Scripture references (with which the overhead outline had a hard time keeping up with, but most were listed in the sermon notes in the bulletin). The sermon concluded with a prayer that included an invitation to salvation.

I very much enjoyed the announcements: one introducing new leadership, with an emphasis on the qualifications in I Timothy 3, followed by voting to ratify the nominated leaders. Another announcement included a video of the pastor's recent trip to Fiji for a church conference.

For those keeping score at home, the Foursquare Gospel churches in Sonoma County received an impressive 4 for 4 in our visits for encouraging worship experiences.

Service Length:            1 hour 15 minutes
Sermon Length:            25 minutes
Visitor Treatment:         Chocolate bars with church information and visitor card (we felt very welcomed), general greeting to visitors during service, greeted by pastor between services
Our Rough Count:        First service -- 50 people
                                      Second service -- 110 people (definitely skewed younger, with more kids in children's program)
Probable Ushers' Count: First service -- 65 people
                                        Second service -- 85 people (same worship team, ushers, greeters)
Snacks:                            Coffee and tea outside before, after and between services
Songs:                              Spirit Baptize Me
                                         Angels We Have Heard on High
                                         After All (Holy)
                                         We Believe
                                         Another Hallelujah

  *in 2017, we were able to talk with Mark and Lynn Williams about one of the ways Hope Chapel Healdsburg was able to serve their community. You can read about it here.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Revisiting 2016: Maria's in Santa Fe

In 2016, we embarked on a quest to visit a bar and a church in every state during that calendar year. In mid-January, we found ourselves in Santa Fe, and Mindy wanted to try authentic New Mexico sopaipillas (which she'd first eaten during college, at a Mexican restaurant in Muncie, Indiana). This seemed the perfect opportunity -- though we knew we needed to focus on the bar.

Maria's New Mexican Kitchen, Santa Fe
Some of the promotional material for Maria's New Mexican Kitchen in Santa Fe claim they wrote the book on margaritas. Since Jimmy Buffett wrote Tales from Margaritaville, I'd think he'd written "the" book on margaritas, but Maria's is talking about The Great Margarita Book: A Handbook of Recipes written by Al Lucero, former co-owner of Maria's (with a forward by Robert Redford),  so the bar certainly has expertise in the field.

To be ready to try the margaritas at Maria's bar, we ate dinner in the restaurant first. This blog isn't about food, so this is not the place to say that the Santa Fe cuisine was delicious, and my chalupas were very good but I was still jealous of Mindy's blue corn tortilla enchilada, but neither entree could compare to the sumptuous little pillow sopaipillas. No time for that, we're moving on to the bar.

The bar had only about eight seats, with two single stools unoccupied. Before we could make a request, the bartender kindly asked a couple to move down so we would have seats together. Also without out our asking, he set two glasses of water in front of us (which were appreciated), along with drink menus.

Over one hundred different margaritas are listed, so we felt rather like the proverbial person from the developing world encountering an American supermarket for the first time: abundant option paralysis ensued.
Mindy eventually went with the Margarita Seca because it was described as being very dry (she thought she might like a dry margarita more than a sweet one), but after considering several other interesting options, I went with the Grand Gold because I've seen too many economic infomercials.

The woman sitting next to us was obviously something of a regular. (I say this because someone on the staff came to greet her, not at all because she looked like someone who hung out at the bar.)

We introduced ourselves and found that Deanna does often frequent Maria's, but she usually comes with her husband, who was currently out of town on a business trip. She said she wouldn't usually seit alone at a bar (that's not what nice Southern girls like herself were raised to do), but she did know the staff at the restaurant, so she felt comfortable ordering dinner in the spot.

Deanna used to work as a hospice nurse, but now she works with indigents, street people, and other at-risk folks in Santa Fe, trying to provide them with health care. I asked her how big a problem alcohol and drugs were for her clients and, not surprisingly, she said both were a part of most if not all of her clients' lives, although as more of a root problem for most of them. Many street people use drugs, she said, to deal with their lives -- heroin to calm things down and meth to pep things up. She said she's come to respect her clients for carrying on with their incredibly difficult lives.

We asked Deanna our standard questions, "What makes for a good bar? What makes for a good church?" She said she and her husband were creatures of habit, which led to them to return to Maria's, a place they felt comfortable. Along with that, they have strong drinks at an economical price.

As for what made for a good church, Deanna modified our question to fit her Southern Baptist/Jewish background: "What makes for a good church or temple?" As an introvert, the answer for her was the smaller and more informal the better. She would look for a place where friendships would be built that helped everyone reach their full potential.

Deanna also told us not to worry about quoting her precisely. I think it was shortly after that she said something like, "You are the two most delightful people I've ever encountered and your blog sounds simply riveting."

It was time to ask our bartender, Misrahim, our questions. Not surprisingly, he noted the importance of the bartender, who he said should be someone who makes good drinks and is considerate of his customers. He said he didn't go to church, but he thought it was important that a priest not be boring and able to keep the congregation's attention.

At the other side of the bar was a group of friends obviously enjoying each other's company. We decided to crash their party and even we, the old people with the annoying questions, couldn't dampen their spirits. They happily responded to our questions.

We asked what makes a good bar, Ryan answered quickly and methodically listing four things that mattered to him, which he reordered as he spoke: 1) service 2) people 3) product and 4) price.

Danielle was looking for a place where friends could get together and relax. Jules looks for a place with great staff that could become friends. She looks for to build a community, a little family, a home away from home. Kara said that Maria's was one of her favorite bars, and it has "Cheers Syndrome" (a good thing).

Elizabeth summed up her answers to both our questions in two phrases: Bar - Loving Drink and Church - Loving Heart.

And a good church? Ryan said he'd loved church as a kid. Growing up in a Methodist church, he'd liked the singing and the music and remembers zero judgment from the people there. (He seemed to be the only one in the group with only pristine memories of the church.) Kara said she was looking for a sense of community and provision of support. Jules, a Catholic, remembered a priest at a church in her childhood who set an example she'll never forget. He was a humble man whose homilies were brief and moving. She said the worship service should be about Jesus, not the preacher. She said that she's had a hard time finding such a priest and church since then but she very much appreciated the last Christmas Eve service at the Basilica in Santa Fe. The Archbishop spoke, and he followed that example of humility.

Danielle said she hated church as a kid. She was kicked out of Sunday School when she was five years old, apparently for asking questions and expressing doubt. She's now an agnostic, but thinks a church should give room to ask questions about values and morals. For now, she looks to nature as her higher power.

Something churches and bars seem to have in common: both on occasion kick out five-year-olds. In the case of bars, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Revisiting 2014: Refuge Christian Fellowship

Back in December 2014, we visited a church that bore little resemblance to the storefront church we'd been expecting. 

Refuge Christian Fellowship, Santa Rosa, California
Two things made me happy upon entering the fellowship room just before the worship service at Refuge Christian Fellowship in downtown Santa Rosa: donuts and feeling old. My positive feeling toward free donuts probably needs no more explanation, yet I will add that I got a jelly.

Why did I feel glad to feel old? Mindy and I have been to enough churches where we, in our 50s, were the young people. At Refuge the average age was somewhere in the low thirties, which was a cool thing.

Refuge is a storefront church, with one street door leading to the worship center and another leading to the children's ministry (Refuge Kids). There's definitely a warehouse feel to the worship space with high dark ceilings and blank walls, but there is a large cross in the back of the space and candles in the front. The information area is easy to find (it's on the way to the donuts and coffee) and leads directly to a shelf with books (I noticed Tim Keller) for sale. In the fellowship room, there's a library bookshelf, adding to an academic feel to the place. The church is affiliated with The Gospel Coalition.

Most people were chatting before the service, with some gathered in the fellowship room on couches, but the only person who introduced himself was the man I asked if seats were free in the row where he was sitting. Mindy met a woman when she asked about coffee mugs (ceramic mugs are stored beneath the snack table...use one you like). 

Worship songs began without much preamble. There was a good worship band, but singing along with the choruses posed a bit of a challenge. The lyrics on the wall fell behind; usually the new verse wouldn't come up until a couple of lines in. I've learned through the years that when this kind of challenge comes up, the blame rarely is on the tech person alone. Often the worship leader hasn't properly prepped the tech crew or isn't being observant of the challenges the congregation is having singing along. (Projecting lyrics on the back wall can often be a big help.) Mindy looked around and noticed that few people were actually singing on the first couple of songs.

The woman who delivered announcements was quite personable, and it was good to hear about their Christmas giving in the community. There was going to be a gift wrapping party the next week before gifts were given to the people who had asked for special help.

The sermon was the first in an Advent series on the names of the Messiah ("And His Name Shall be Called") from Isaiah 9. Today's name: Wonderful Counselor. Good content in the sermon with practical illustrations and quotes from C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, and other intelligent folks with initials.

Christmas carols were sung after the sermon (they seemed to take the day as the first Sunday of Advent while most liturgical churches would consider it the second). During the songs, people went forward to receive communion -- the grape juice and crackers were on unattended tables with a modern candelabra that could have been a simple menorah. No instructions were given about communion, but we figured it out during the second song.

We agreed after the service that our grown kids might well like the church. We sure did.

Service Length: 1 hour 40 minutes
Sermon Length: 55 minutes
Visitor Treatment: No one greeted us, but people we talked to were friendly. Mindy found a prayer request card to leave our contact information. No acknowledgment of visitors was made during the service.
Our Rough Count: 105
Probable Ushers' Count: 125 (there weren't any ushers, actually, but the folks passing the offering might have made a count)
Snacks: coffee, water, hot water, donuts, muffins, maybe fruit? We mostly noticed the donuts, which were yummy
"Grace Alone"
"In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross"
"This Is My Father's World"
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
"What Child is This?"
"Joy to the World"

Monday, February 18, 2019

Applebee's Month: 2017 revisited

In 2016, we visited a bar in every state, and we scoffed at the idea of walking into any Applebee's because, well, it’s a national chain. We wanted to go to places that were unique to the state or the town we were visiting. Since the ‘Bee was the subject of such scorn that year, it seemed only to spend a month visiting our local Applebee's during February 2017. As we move all the bar posts here to, we're consolidating that whole month into one post. What do you think?

Applebee's Month
On our quest to visit a church and a bar in every state last year, we were amazed by how many times the name “Applebee’s” came up. At the very first bar last year (at Aureole in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas), Dave the bartender told us that his second bartending job was at Applebee's. He some praise for their good, consistent product, but he did say there wasn’t much room for self-expression.

We talked to people in other bars who praised local bars with local character but spoke disdainfully of bars in national chain restaurants, often mentioning Applebee’s specifically. We were sympathetic to that attitude. We wanted to get local flavor at the bars we visited throughout the United States.

At times while visiting churches, we asked about bars in the area. On a number of occasions, people told us, “I think there’s a bar at the Applebee’s.” We made a firm decision that we wouldn’t go to an Applebee’s bar while we traveled across the country, and we never ate at Applebee’s on the trip. (We did drive by Applebee’s headquarters in Kansas City, MO, but we weren't able to get pictures.)

We decided to give Applebee’s a break. A little research showed that there are four Applebee’s in the Fresno area (including one in nearby Clovis), so we decided to make February Applebee’s Month at Dean and Mindy Walk Into a Bar. To make things fun, we decided to order the same two drinks every time.

Applebee's on North Cedar, Fresno
This week we went to the Applebee’s on North Cedar, which is very near the Fresno State University (or more properly, California State University, Fresno) campus. Verging on irony is the fact that we avoided going to Applebee’s because we wanted to go to neighborhood bars -- and Applebee’s call themselves a “Neighborhood Grill and Bar.” Anyway, the restaurants’ decor is often customized to the location.

At the Cedar Avenue Applebee’s, there’s a sign acknowledging that we’re in Fresno over the entrance, and there are decorations throughout saluting the city and the Bulldogs (Fresno State's mascot). This is all very helpful if you're fuzzy on what city you're in.

Since we’d heard people talk about how consistent Applebee’s drinks are, we decided to order the same two drinks throughout our Applebee’s month. A friend from Healdsburg (hi Sara!) told Mindy she needed to try a Mudslide, and Mindy doesn’t need her arm twisted too hard to order chocolate. The Long Island Ice Tea was quite cheap during Happy Hour, so that’s what I chose. We plan to stick with these two drinks, which were pleasant, and we’ll let you know how consistent they are throughout the month.

We noticed people of a variety of ages in the restaurant, which wasn’t terribly busy on a Thursday evening. There were maybe half a dozen others at the bar with more at the surrounding tables. Behind us, a group of young to middle-aged women discussed the current season of The Bachelor. (“Don’t say too much, I’m a couple of episodes behind.” I could understand that. I’m way behind myself. I’ve never seen an episode.)

I usually mention that we ask two questions at bars. Actually, we ask three. Before we ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether or not you go, what do you think makes for a good church?” we ask, “What name should we use for the bar post? You can lie if you don’t want your real name used.” The bartender took us up on this and gave us an alias in honor of a relative, “Paisley Rose.”

Paisley’s answer to what makes for a good bar was initially one word, “Service.” She expanded on this, explaining when she says service she’s including such things as “how often they check on you, also how much they know, but service over everything.” Paisley said she does go to bars and she’s happy to pay more for good service. She said noticed that though Applebee’s has a Happy Hour with discounted drinks, there are people who will come in and order draft beers that aren’t discounted -- so for some people, it seems that price isn’t a deciding factor in their bar choices.

At this point, our conversation got off onto a tangent about beer, because Paisley says she hasn’t developed a taste for it. She wondered if she would sometime acquire a beer taste. We bonded with her over this, as fellow beer disdainers. We agreed that cider is a good alternative, but it is difficult, at times, to drink with others when beer is the beverage of choice for the majority.

We asked her what makes for a good church, and she admitted that she doesn’t go to church anymore, but she used to. “When I went, I felt like no matter what kind [of church] I went to, it had cliques. I’d like it if they didn’t have cliques at all, that would be good.” She told us about a church where the pastor took people skating, which she thought was nice, “but still there were cliques of who went and who didn’t go.”

Two men were sitting next to us at the bar, Anthony and Jeremy. We weren’t surprised to hear that Jeremy had worked at this Applebee’s in the past, because of the familial relationship he seemed to have with the staff. They were willing to answer our three questions (though they didn’t take up the option of the aliases).

Anthony answered first, mentioning that they had just been talking about a recent trip to San Diego and what they’d liked about places they visited down there. For him, what makes a good bar is “atmosphere and people, ambiance. An empty bar is just sad.”  He appreciates “the energy of friends.”

Jeremy said he had “a similar answer: community. I admire bars that are like Cheers. I prefer places that are chillaxed.”  

Jeremy was the first to answer about what makes for a good church, using the word he’d used for bars, “community.” He said he prefers a smaller congregation with around fifty people rather than a “super church.”  Jeremy admitted he didn’t go much to church much anymore, “I should.”

Anthony said, “I hate to cop out, but I’ll answer like him.”  He also preferred small churches and a sense of community.

We had a good time in the Applebee’s neighborhood. We’ll see how different the experience is during each of the next three weeks. Perhaps it will be so consistent we can copy and paste this same post throughout the month and just change the address and the names. But I don’t think that will happen.

Applebees on Shaw, Fresno
I was heartened to see the bartender wearing the number 16 on his jersey. Superbowl LI was about to begin, and one of the big storylines leading up to the game was whether Tom Brady would lead the Patriots to a fifth victory, cementing the title of the greatest quarterback of all time for himself. Jarred the bartender was wearing the jersey of the true greatest quarterback of all time.

Mindy and I recently moved back to Fresno after 27 years away. When we lived here before, we watched the 1990 Super Bowl when the San Francisco 49ers humiliated the Denver Broncos, with Joe Montana leading his team to an amazing victory. Our son was born a few days later, and we gave him the middle name Montana in honor of the greatest quarterback of all time. So I appreciated the bartender wearing Montana’s shirt. This was our second visit to Applebee’s, and we went to the Applebee’s on Shaw Avenue in Fresno.

We were concerned before we arrived about how crowded the place would be, what with the Superbowl and all. We wondered whether there would be room for us to sit at the bar. We were happy to find there were some people at the bar, but still plenty of seats. We sat next to Ben, who was wearing a Patriots jersey, who was cheering for the Patriots, and of course, had money on the game.

It was fun to listen to cheers and boos as the game went on. There seemed to be an equal number of Patriots and Falcons fans, but none seemed too adamant. Even though the two teams are on the other side of the country from Fresno, everyone at the bar apparently felt the need to pick a favorite for the day. The commercials occasionally got a bigger response. Frankly, I was surprised that there was any room in the world with so much enthusiasm for another Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers sequel (about Transformers: The Last Knight someone said, “Man, that looks tight!”).

We ordered the same two drinks we ordered at Applebee’s last week: a Mudslide and a Long Island Ice Tea. We’d heard from more than one bartender that there is a remarkable consistency in the preparation of drinks at Applebee’s, but though both drinks were tasty, the Long Island Ice Tea looked a lot less dark than last time. We’d heard from people to watch out for both of our drink choices for the month. We’d been told they contained deceptively large amounts of alcohol. So far this month, we haven’t found this to be true. The two Applebee’s we've visited so far don’t seem to use a heavy pour.

Since we planned on staying for the whole first half of the game, we ordered some food to go with our drinks -- Boneless Buffalo Wings and Steak Quesadillas (from New York to south of the border, North America was represented on the plates).

Ben next to us didn’t seem like the way the game was going during the first half. The Pats were losing by 25 points, and in Superbowl history no team had ever come back from more than a ten point deficit. He was willing to answer the two questions we always ask in bars, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

Ben said a good bar depends on “the bartender and how attentive they are to their people. And good company.” When asked about what made for a good church, he gave a name, “Ed Rea, write that down. He’s the pastor of Calvary Chapel. I’ve never known a man who knew better how to preach the Bible. The thing about churches is they shouldn’t be shoving the Bible down your throats but teaching the Bible verse by verse.”

Across the bar, I noticed a woman drinking a drink with technology. We were curious, so she told us she was drinking a Coronarita. It’s served in a huge margarita glass with a device for inserting a Corona bottle upside down. I asked if we could take a picture of her drink for our blog, and she agreed. We introduced ourselves and learned her name was April. She also agreed to let us ask her our questions.

I told her both questions in advance, and she quickly answered, “People and people.” People make for a good bar, and people make for a good church. But for a bar, she also stressed the importance of atmosphere and ambiance, and she does like this Applebee’s. She likes the staff at this Applebee’s, especially Jarred the bartender. She lives nearby, so this is her neighborhood bar.

She said that her church has three services, and she prefers to go to the one in the evening because there are fewer people that service, so everyone greets everyone who’s there. It’s a more casual and social time.

Half time was coming, and I can’t say we were excited about the Lady Gaga halftime show. With 25 points separating the teams, there obviously no more of a game left. We could leave knowing that crock of Tom Brady claiming to be the best quarterback of all time was dead.

Applebee’s on Friant Road, Fresno
When I worked at a hotel with a restaurant, I used to talk to the wait and kitchen staff about the best times to go out to eat. They all agreed there were two days one should not go:  Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Even in the best of establishments, the influx of diners means the quality of service will go down, the prices may well go up, and there’s even the chance of the kitchen running out of menu items. The wait staff I’ve known also complained about “amateur diners” who only go out on those special days, slowing the evening for everyone as they puzzled as if the menus were cryptograms. (And even worse in the staff’s opinion, amateur diners are lousy tippers.)

With this in mind, we went to Applebee's on Valentine’s Day.
As we drove, Mindy was getting directions to the third Applebee’s we’ve visited this month. (Having avoided Applebee’s all last year while we were visiting bars in every state, we decided to devote February to the bars at the ‘Bee’s.) Her phone was telling her there was a traffic situation we’d have to work around.

As we pulled up to the restaurant and began taking our outside photos, we noticed a television news vehicle near the front door. I wondered if they were doing a human interest story about Applebee’s on Valentine’s Day, which might be interesting to learn more about.

That was not the case. As we approached the front door, we saw police vehicles in the street and professional-looking photographers (they had tripods!) on the sidewalk, so we knew something else was up. Mindy asked one of the police officers standing in the parking lot what was happening. He said he’d heard there was a “domestic disturbance.” Inside we heard some discussion among the Applebee’s staff who'd heard stories about a stabbing across the street. (Which apparently was closer to the truth). All in all, it seemed to be an event that didn’t fit the theme of the day.

We’d expected that talking to people and asking our usual questions would probably be challenging on Valentine’s Day. Couples probably wouldn’t want to talk to us, and if there were single people, they probably wouldn’t want to talk to a married couple who, after thirty years, can still be nauseatingly gooey with each other. (As a single woman at the bar proclaimed, “It’s not Valentine’s Day, it’s Singleness Awareness Day. I saw that on Facebook.”)

Still, when we got inside, we saw tables with families and tables with couples, but the bar didn’t have many potential folks for chatting with. Right after we sat down, the other three people at the bar left.

Fortunately, the two women (Kourtney and Candis) tending bar that night were friendly. We were served our two drinks. (We’re ordering a Long Island Ice Tea and a Mudslide every week through Applebee's month.) From our unscientific observations, this week’s drinks seemed to have more alcohol in them than the past couple weeks.)

Kourtney and Candis were happy to have snagged some Hershey’s Kisses. Apparently the week before, they had missed out on candy -- and everyone knows that Valentine’s candy is tastier than ordinary candy. (By the way, two of my favorite Holidays are November 1st and February 15th, Cheap Candy Days.)

I asked Kourtney how it was to work Valentine’s. She said it was generally one of the three busiest days of the year (Mother’s Day and Veteran’s Day are the other two). I asked her about Veteran’s Day;  she explained that Applebee’s gives veterans free meals on their day. She said the day of the week a holiday falls on makes a difference (though, of course, Mother’s Day is always on Sunday, so brunch/lunch is always a nightmare...not her words). She said if Valentine’s falls on a Friday or Saturday, they get slammed. But since this Valentine’s was on a Tuesday she said, “When I came in it looked busy like a Friday. But a lot more couples, more two tops.”

We told Kourtney about our blog, and she was willing to answer our two standard questions. She said, “Friendly staff, good happy hour” makes for a good bar, and it was a real plus if there were “good sports on TV.” On the “what makes for a good church?” question, she said, “I have gone to church my entire life.” She had high praise for the current pastor of her church. She said he was very personable and knows “every single person” by name. He has a good sense of humor, calling the choir in their red robes during the weeks prior to the Super Bowl, “the Red Zone.”  He “keeps it lively, keeps your attention,” Kourtney said.  

She said she also appreciates her church’s “good sense of community.” She mentioned how the church recently bought a new refrigerator for someone in the church who needed one, and how they were helping another family in the concrete business through the rainy season. “It’s good knowing the money isn’t all going straight into the pastor’s pocket but is going to the community.”

The other bartender, Candis, said she didn’t go to bars very often (she was, in fact, pitching in behind the bar that night instead of waiting tables because someone had called in sick). She was still willing to answer our questions and said the important thing for a good bar was the “atmosphere.” She can be uncomfortable going in a bar, so she appreciates a place that is “friendly, fun, warm with a comfortable feeling.” She said she doesn’t go to church very often either, but it is important to her that a church be friendly and welcoming as well. She recalled a time that she went to a church that had a great choir that drew her (and everyone else) in, making her want to sing along.

It was nice to meet such “sweethearts” behind the bar (I’ll be interested to see whether this term will make it past Mindy’s editing, but it seemed to fit the theme of the day) [now I have to leave it, I guess -- ed], who made our evening a pleasant one. And though we didn’t eat at Applebee’s that evening, we were happy to see that there wasn’t too big of a Valentine’s crowd at Arby’s. We had a coupon.

Applebee’s, Clovis
Why do people have to work on December 6th? After all, it’s Bartender Appreciation Day. Giving people that day off makes as much sense as everyone getting President’s Day off. Understand, having the day off made sense when people were celebrating Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. Those were great men.

But does it make sense to have a day to celebrate Warren G. Harding and the Teapot Dome Scandal? William Henry Harrison might have been wonderful, if his presidency had lasted longer than 30 days -- and he gets a holiday? I’m sure if you think hard, you might be able to think of a recent (or current) President that you’d rather not celebrate.

And really, Presidents get plenty of perks as it is. The chief executive currently gets $400,000 a year for salary, a $50,000 expense account, a $100,000 travel account and $19,000 for “entertaining.” I know for some this is a pay cut, but most of us could figure out a way to squeak by on that. And when Presidents get out of office, they can charge a million for a speech.

I’d argue that a number of bartenders have brought more joy into the world than a number of Presidents. And some bartenders could really use armed guards, but they are not supplied.

I bring all this up because we went to our final Fresno-area Applebee’s on President’s Day. We had already gone to all the Applebee’s in Fresno, but Clovis is right next door -- a slightly posher Fresno, if you will. (Th terms may have a slightly different meaning in the Central Valley -- among Clovis’ claims to fame is their annual rodeo.)

As we sat down at the bar, we noticed a table of men who seemed to have already enjoyed several rounds of adult beverages, but there was still a call from someone at the table for “another round, barkeep!” People seemed to be enjoying their day off. I heard someone say, “Tomorrow will be like a Monday.”

On one of the big screen TVs, Bilbo Baggins seemed to be battling Smaug the Dragon. (I’m not sure which film in the Hobbit trilogy was playing, since I happily missed them all, though I loved the book.)

One of our goals this month was to gauge the consistency of the Applebee’s product, so we ordered our fourth Mudslide and our fourth Long Island Ice Tea of the month. For the first time, the bartender asked whether we wanted a big or a regular sized mudslide. Also for the first time, the bartender (thank you, Jamie!) made a little bit more ‘Slide than would comfortably fit in the glass, and she offered us the extra. We took it.

We were sitting near a couple enjoying their beers and each other's company, but they seemed willing to talk to us as well. I introduced Mindy and myself, and he introduced themselves as M & M. (I asked to clarify he was not saying “Eminem” but the candy was closer to what he was saying than the rapper.) He was Mike and she was Margie.

M & M seemed to be regulars of a sort at this Applebee’s -- they’d been coming since the year 2000. Mike felt that the place had lost a little through the years; it had become more and more “corporate.”

We asked them if we could ask what makes for a good bar and what makes for a good church. They jumped at the church question first. Mike said he used to go to church and that he is a Christian, but he has his own business and Sunday is the only day he has off. Margie grew up Catholic but now feels that church is just a building where people gather, and church can just as well be in your home.

As for what makes for a good bar, Mike said, “a real attentive bartender, friendly.”

Margie said, “For me, I like a full positive bar, full of people and full of energy. I don’t like a quiet bar.”

One of the employees seemed to be having a hard day, and a manager came alongside her and gave her a side hug. Melony, the manager, said that was the best part of her work, encouraging co-workers on a tough day. “There has to be fun and love when you come to work,” she said.

I guess we’re all looking for some fun and love wherever we go… Work, bars, churches. Just don’t expect it from your Presidents. You’ll too often be disappointed.

If you enjoyed this summary of February 2017's bar visits, you might also enjoy our book, Cheers and Amen. It's the story of our travels throughout the United States (visiting a church and a bar in every state) in 2016 -- during the Presidential campaign and election. Breaking our computer during our time on Long Island (chapter 8 in the book) delayed us, but we didn't have any of the island's iced tea that week. You can find the book at Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions.