2006-03-03 / On Second Thought

It’s not a criticism, it’s an observation.

Looking for a hideout

Mike  Cox
Mike Cox Harry Hammonds was an All–State basketball player at Tuscaloosa High School in the 50s. He also starred locally for the Crimson Tide. When the big guy left college, he was well known around the West Alabama area. When he decided to take an old service station and turn it into a bar, he became a legend.

Some believe Harry spent so much of his youth in bars, he knew what creating a drinking establishment required before he was of legal age. Whatever the reason, Harry’s was popular from day one.

Sitting vacant on a busy street in a low rent neighborhood was an old style, concrete gas station. Harry turned the bathrooms inside out, enclosed the repair bay, and decorated the walls with Alabama mementos and beer signs. He put video games among old, mismatched tables, and filled the juke box with classic rock and outlaw country.

Resisting the urge to make his place trendy, Harry kept things simple. The result is a timeless establishment that serves as a perfect example of what people, especially men, are looking for when they want to escape life for a little while.

From the time we begin walking, finding a reliable hiding place is important. The search begins with blankets thrown over dining chairs, continues with large cardboard boxes, and evolves into tree houses and forts scattered around neighborhoods.

As little boys grow into adults, at least chronologically, a replacement becomes necessary. Few of us are willing to endure the ridicule of our spouses and friends by constructing a fort from the box the new refrigerator came in just to have a place to get away from everything.

Men spend their early years being told most of their instinctive behavior is unacceptable. From the time most of us can walk, we are searching for a place where we can belch, scratch, and be loud and rowdy without being chastised. The local neighborhood bar has been that place for a long time. But times are changing.

Real bars today are as scarce as honest politicians. Every place has a theme, a style, or a gimmick. Cute is in, casually male is out. The place where everybody knows your name is fading faster than Dubya’s legacy. And that is a shame, almost a criminal act.

We all need to know there is a place we depend on in emergencies. If I were to travel to Tuscaloosa and visit Harry’s, I would feel at home immediately. I’m sure someone I haven’t seen in years would be there, arguing with a friend, probably over the same unresolved subject from my last visit.

I’m looking for a place like Harry’s in Columbia. I know they still exist. I’ve found a couple that come close, then lose on a technicality. They allow children, they serve pasta dishes, they have live plants inside the place, or ABBA on the jukebox.

If anyone can help, let me know. It’s six hours to Tuscaloosa and last week my tree house blueprints were discovered. I’m getting desperate.

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