Scarlet O’Hara’s is a small bar tucked into a narrow side street in St. Augustine, Florida. A narrow porch with a couple of tables overlooks the entrance and the music from the band drifts out of the open windows. I am sixteen and handing the bouncer, who looks very much like Hagrid from Harry Potter, my brother’s ID.
We had spent the previous few days listening to the truckers on the CB radio and watching the country slowly flatten out as we drove south on I-95 from Vermont. We were here to help our grandmother (Granny) purchase a new car and then take her current car, a red and white 1960s era Dodge Duster, back to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my brother was stationed at the time.
As kids, we would come down to visit Granny nearly every year. We would go to the Alligator Farm, Marine Land, The Old Fort and of course the beach. A few times we even ventured down to the Kennedy Space Center. Granny lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette on St. George Street next to the St. Francis Inn. There were large palm trees in the yard and small green lizards could often be seen scurrying across the white stucco by the front door. Because the apartment was so small my brother and I stayed at the Best Western Bay Front Inn just off of A1A. It was nothing fancy but it did have a pool and to this day I still remember the layout of the entire place, right down to the ugly maroon and palm leaf patterned bed spreads.
Skip, one of my brother’s Army buddies who happened to be from St. Augustine, was also on leave when we were there, and he was planning to help us drive the Duster back to Kentucky. Given that both Skip and my brother were in their early twenties it would have been unfathomable to think that they would meet up in a city, especially Skip’s hometown, and not go out to the bars. I resigned myself to the reality that I would be hanging out in the hotel room flipping channels for the night. However, to my surprise and bewilderment, after we had finished our Domino’s Pizza that we dipped in garlic butter, my brother asked if I wanted to come along. A short time later Skip and a friend knocked on the door and we headed into the night. On our way to the bar Skip pointed out important historical landmarks such as the bar Jimmy Buffett had been booed out of and then, after he had become famous, had come back to and pressed his bare rear to the window.
We parked in a parking lot a few blocks from the bar, and my brother and Skip went on ahead while I went to the ATM with Skip’s friend, who quizzed me on the particulars about my brother and told me to look the bouncer in the eye and give only curt answers when asked any questions. As we walked up to the bar I saw my brother and Skip sitting on the porch watching us. I assumed they were sitting so close to the bouncer so that they could make a run for it if I was caught. I took a deep breath, held my head high walked up the bouncer and handed him my ID. My brother really does not look anything like me; the main distinguishing feature is that he is three or four inches taller than I am. Though I guess when you’re an 8-foot tall bouncer, it’s hard to tell such a small difference in the height of those of average size.
“Vermont Huh?” the bouncer said.
“Yup,” I said gruffly, dropping my voice an octave.
“Have a good night,” he said handing my ID back to me and stepping aside.
When we sat down at the table, in sight of the bouncer, Tycen asked me what I wanted to drink. Having no clue, I ordered what he was having, a Jack and Coke. I took one sip and my face contorted in slight horror, my mouth burned, then my throat burned, then my stomach felt warm. I tried another sip, smaller than the first, then handed the drink to my brother.
A waitress was walking around with test tubes filled with brightly colored liquid and on the sides of the tubes in comical bubble letters, the words Sex on the Beach were written. Fascinated that drinks came in test tubes and happy that they tasted more like fruit juice than a red-hot poker, I had a couple. I pocketed one of the test tubes and a book of matches as souvenirs that I kept until they were liberated from me my senior year of college.
After Scarlet O’Hara’s we went to a dance club at a Holiday Inn and then to a house party where everyone thought it was cute that someone’s kid brother was tagging along for the night. We headed back to the motel in the wee hours of the morning.
At some point, after this adventure, I acquired a fake ID, one whose picture looked much more like me than my brother does. I never used it, however; without my big brother there to look after me I just didn’t have the gumption.