The tension wasn’t over! After landing we took a bus from Scranton to Binghamton. That ride was equally perilous. But as dangerous as snowy roads can be, ground is better than air. Needless to say, since I am writing this account, I made it to Binghamton. There my two brothers-in-law, Mike and Joe, waited. And despite the hour, they drove me to the Union Hotel to drown my fears. At the Union Dicky was behind the bar. He always made me feel at home.
“Hey Denny, how’s Kathi and the kids. I haven’t seen the girls in ages. Good to see you back. Working hard in California, I’ll bet.”
The Union was one of several pubs the guys would take me to when I visited. It could have been The Bears Den or Speedies or a number of others. Binghamton was a blue collar city and bars offered a camaraderie that I never had on my route to a busy life. To add to the picture, Kathi’s family had a storied image in Binghamton, going back to her father and uncle who both played pro ball. The Chaneckas were a family of basketball stars in a city that treasured basketball.
Bar life pulled people together and I was happy to indulge. No one I knew had the time.
There is a process drinking in Binghamton. I sit at the bar with Mike or Joe or both, talking small talk. They order drinks, beer and maybe the specialty of the month – like an accompanying shot of Blackberry Brandy. Through experience I take it easy and sip. There’s a reason. “Hey Dicky,” some guy at the end of the bar yells; “Give big Mike’s brother-in-law one on me.” Now I’m staring at a shot glass, right side up, a single marker. Upside down is a two drink marker. Before long there are two right side up and two upside down shot glasses, 6 drinks waiting. There is etiquette to consider. How I handle the markers reflects on my in-laws. Last thing I want is to be an asshole brother-in-law.
For as long as I can remember, I always left Binghamton wasted. There is not a lot else to do in a city going downhill. The first time I visited, just before Kathi and I got married, her grandfather trudged upstairs to our room in their dated split-level house in the 6th ward. It was a Sunday. As we lay in bed the old Slavic man first chastised Kathi for not going to mass; then looked at me and gave me the hook. I came to dred the hook, a come with me motion of the index finger. I got out of bed, threw something on, and followed him, very slowly, downstairs to his kitchen where aged flowered wallpaper resided. He deliberately and leisurely opened the refrigerator to pull out a brown quart bottle of beer. Then, in slow motion, he opened a cupboard door removing a half-full quart of Three Feathers whiskey, two glasses for beer and two shot glasses. Mind you, this was 8:30 in the morning. Then ever so slowly he poured: first the beer, then shots. When all four glasses were filled to the rim, he motioned to down the whiskey. A healthy swig of beer followed. Three sequences later I was a goner. Thus a tradition was born. But the next time I was prepared. I stood by the sink and when he wasn’t looking … down the drain! I had to be careful not to drain all the alcohol or drain too quickly. Otherwise a smile would appear and glasses would refill.
This particular visit I had to leave with my brain intact – the core of the storm was out there, approaching. I would be driving to my home town, so I visited, managed the markers, kissed my mother-in-law, Mary, chatted, and said my goodbyes.