El Porton, Bogotá, Colombia

3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Foreign animal head (oxen?), canteen, horseshoe and bull fighting paraphernalia above bar.

Describing a dive bar to someone living outside of the U.S. is difficult. Not because class division doesn’t exist – it does – but because independent retailers and restaurants are the norm, not the exception. A dive bar in the U.S. is a neighborhood bar everywhere else. Like our dive bars, they tend to be dark, lack windows and fill with interesting characters but they’re not competing with chain restaurants and flashy facades so they don’t slide into the category of slightly sketchy.

It’s no secret that Americans fear Colombia. The only thing we know of it is drugs and violence. Thanks to U.S. intervention, again, in Colombian policy and the acceleration of Mexican cartels, Americans view Colombia more favorably than before but when compared to what we’re comfortable with – large, shiny, safe, new things – it remains a dive country.

I wasn’t afraid to travel to Colombia but I didn’t want to go to a dive bar alone. I could handle the unknown city, but feared the unknown bar. I thought I might get kidnapped, which is not only stupid but extremely egotistical as there’s nothing about me or my life that would be of any value to a kidnapper in Colombia or anywhere else.

I planned to travel to the south side of the city, an expansive mass exiled from all tourist maps, with some natives to check out some dives as described by me and interpreted by them, but those plans fell through. I almost used this, two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have that.

Toe First

I walk past El Porton, a small white building with a large door blocking the crooked hole serving as an entrance, and grab a safe lunch special at an American looking French sounding restaurant. When I leave, I give myself a pep talk. I’m on a side street in the middle of the city. I’m tired of being on guard 24/7 and weighing my commitment to church and alcohol. Is it more important to follow through on the blog or remain sober for the three mile walk home?

El Porton is across the street from an old bull fighting stadium, one I wouldn’t have gotten into if I hadn’t poked my head through a crack in the door and grabbed the attention of a police officer. One I wouldn’t have had to myself if I’d snubbed my curiosity. I remind myself Bogota is a city, that as long as I respect it I’ll be OK. I walk into El Porton.

I fall into the bar because like the rest of the country, the steps are surprising and uneven. The tables are white, plastic, covered with red and white checked table cloths. The table numbers are written on the white wall in black marker or crayon. The room is long. A young woman comes from the back to take my order. I assume it’s a family business. Mom follows the girl and yells to dad when I ask if I can take pictures. For some reason I obtain manners in foreign countries that I don’t have at home.

The walls are sparse, signed bullfighting photographs with curled edges huddle near the door and behind the bar. The family doesn’t understand why I’m here but we don’t talk so it doesn’t matter anyway. I stare at a poster. Looks like a harmonica man is coming to town. I watch the military or the police or some other protective force patrol the street outside the bar. These protectors are everywhere, including the parks where drugs are sold. I wonder what, exactly, makes people feel safe.

Fear is necessary response, but a wasted emotion. I wish more people would challenge fear of the unknown. It would be great if we examined what we fear before moving onto what we know. It’s interesting to think what would happen if church goers and administrators had to talk to atheists, Buddhists, etc. before studying the Bible.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes, Bogota, Colombia

10:30 a.m. to 11:00ish a.m.

Chosen because…easier to find than the grocery store.

Bums. Old women. Volunteers. Pigeons, thousands of pigeons. Shoe shiners. Teenagers. Assholes. The Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes in Bogota, Colombia sits in the middle of the city and people and animals, including the rat fink pigeons, move around it. If religion is supposed to be a life fixture, this is exactly what it should look like – a quiet, stable entity a person walks through when she needs it and past when she doesn’t.

I was in Bogota and am now in London because I’m interested in Bogota. And London. Respectively. Bogota was there and so was I. This type of collision is endemic of my life. I’m also fascinated with Central and South America though Colombians don’t consider my favorite country – Argentina – part of South America. Apparently it’s too European. Do dogs releive themselves on sidewalks in Paris?

I wander to mass after two unsuccessful trips to the grocery store. It’s around the corner but I don’t undersand directions in any language so I walk around the neighborhood until I tire of right turns and venture left outside my door, find the grocery store (needed cash) and Lourdes square (pastry, chronic coffee, people watching). Traveling is wonderful if not exhausting and overwhelming.

Bogota is fairly easy to navigate once you accept the fact that one in four streets are marked. Though tired and annoyed, I don’t turn to the Big Guy for help. I eat a pastry instead, accidently elbow the waitress in the crotch. Though embarrassing, this dislodges my mental block and I start seeing Bogota. The toothless trashman; the rows of shoe shiners polishing wing tips, heels and workboots; the seemingly headless homeless man on a bench; the teenagers vacuuming eachother’s necks with their mouths; the man on an ice cream cart in the middle of the square dinging a bell he’ll tap for the next eight hours; the man using a fruit vendor’s macheette to trim his belt. These things. All marvelous and so much more appealing than the dirty streets and broken cobble stones I saw before, the grocery story I didn’t.

A man hands me a brochure. Shiny. The paper equivalent of the tacky shrines constructed in random places all over the city – bus stops, street corners, malls. I don’t understand a word he says, walk into the church. He follows, whistles at me, tries to jam a crucifix in my hand. I refuse, hope he’ll quiet since mass is occurring. He rips the paper out of my hand, yells at me and leaves.

I can’t focus on mass. I’m overstimulated, which is one of the most distracting, besutiful things about traveling. I could focus on the church but that’s not the way my mind works. I can’t pull my eyes from the woman in front of me. She dressed herself according to color completely disregarding texture, content to let corduroy, plaid and striped beiges crisscross her body.

Even though concentration is impossible, I feel everything. I stand. I repeat the Lord’s prayer, something I learned when I was a child. I watch faces, feel memories, loath the contact point between butt bone and pew.

When I leave the trashman is gone. The ice cream man remains. The pigeons crapping along the right side of the church are now on the left, ceding to the “Done sangre regale esperanza de vida” blood donation tent. I consider released my blood into a bag but I’ve had the foreign needle experience and decide against it. Besides, if religion is like the churches in which it’s preached, the opportunity will always be there. Right?

Help Us Go to Brazil

April 1, 2011

My good friend and I want to volunteer in Brazil. In order to get to Brazil, we need to snag this grant. If you want to help us out, please check out the video. You can vote every single day for a month or so and we really need it. Feel free to share this on Facebook, Twitter, etc. We can’t wait!

Here’s the video but please click here to vote.

Bogota posts coming Monday and Wednesday. It’s a great place. Book a ticket and if we get to Brazil, we’ll pop over and say hey.

Posts from Colombia

March 29, 2011

Despite the many satellites outside my window, I’m having tech issues. I always tell my dad most of his computer problems are user error related. I think the same is true here. Either way, I have a Bible post and a bar post but getting them on the web from Columbia will be dicey.

There’s probably some reason for all of this. Perhaps God’s intervening in order to get me to the Brokeback Mountain bar, which was closed earlier today. I can take a hint. Giddy up!

Silver Spur, San Francisco, Calif.

Since I can’t justify traveling all over the country specifically to run in and out of dive bars, I’ve had to pull in some reinforcements. Last week Amber Shinn took us to L Capitan in Holly, Mich. This week, an unnamed San Francisco-based lush (no offense Lady X) who recently called me from a Norwegian cocktail party, opens the door of San Fran’s Sliver Spur.

Thank you ladies — oops, I mean Amber and maybe a man — for shedding some light on some dank U.S. corners.

I’ll be in Columbia, several U.S. airports and England for three-to-four weeks so these from afar posts will continue through mid-April. And now, impressions from Lady X…

For some reason I felt compelled to research the “diviest bar” in San Francisco.  Not like I couldn’t find one on my own.  Having lived in small Colorado towns my whole life, my 20s have been defined by dive bars.  However, the Silver Spur received a four star review on Yelp as a San Fran dive bar, so I thought I’d head over.

Once I got there I realized I had been once before, of course.

A hand written sign out front bar read, “Hot Bartenders, Cold Beers.”  I almost have to compete with a woman?, man?, wo-man named Bonnie with a mustache for the front door handle.

Once in I notice a mirage of motorcycle images moving around behind the bar.  Is that a curtain leading to the back of the bar?  Nope, it’s the bartender’s Harley Davidson moo moo. She slowly moves in my direction. Several red snap barrettes hold her red hair in place.

I order a vodka soda with lots of lime. What a fool. I get a sneer at “lots of lime.”  Limes are precious. Do I think I live on a tropical island?

After she places the drink in front of me I realize my cardinal sin, I have $1 in cash.  I have to run down the block in work high heels to an ATM.  I ask her if she trusts me to come back, she says, “I don’t care, I can give the drink to someone else to drink if you don’t.”

I come back, pay my $3.50 and the bartend decides I’m okay.  She motions to her left to a plastic cake box.  “Help yourself to some tuna sandwiches if you want.”  If I hadn’t inhaled a burger and fries two hours previous I would have seriously loved a homemade tuna sandwich, even if it meant food poisoning. I think I might have fit in a bit more with a white bread delight in my hand.

I can’t help but ignore the blaring TV to my left.  A middle aged Asian gentleman is leaning against the end of the bar, feet propped up on a stool, empty whiskey coffee behind him, watching Westerns at full blast with his sunglasses on.  A second bartender, perhaps the manager or owner, walks out of from behind the bar with fresh bottles of cheap hard alcohol.  He sets them down on the counter and says to the Asian gentleman, “I knew you were here, I could smell your BENGAY.”

He slowly turns around, un-props his feet from the neighboring stool and smiles slowly.  I think he’s been here all afternoon.  “Hey Mr. Wang,” the manager says and walks away.

I turn my gaze to the left of Mr. Wang where there is an electrical box on the wall next to a bowling arcade game.  A handwritten sign on the bow states “300 N Multivolts, Experts Only. “ From this point on people either named themselves experts or were nominated as experts, as the sign now reads, “300 N Multivolts, Experts Only, + Mike + Ed, NO SUE.

I sit there sipping my drink, order another and watch the dog movie on the center television in the bar.  Probably a Disney flick. People have taken a group of dogs, made them talk, and put them into a birthday party scene where they are shooting silly string at each other.  No wonder Mr. Wang is at the end of the bar with his own personal TV.

The corner of the Spur holds a small shelf against the wall where about 25 ragged paperbacks sit.  Novel idea, a bar library.  Everything from Westerns — of course — to steamy romances to dictionaries lean on that narrow shelf.

Finally another gentleman joins us. In his Hispanic accent, he orders a Bud, greets Mr. Wang.  Another regular walks in, takes a seat and pulls out a crossword while the bartender pours his usual red wine from a jug of Gallo.

Mr. Wang becomes inpatient with the Western and flips through the channels from Westerns to Chinese TV to SPIKE TV for men to models learning how to pose on the beach.  He settles back on another Western.  This one has an amazing heavy metal soundtrack.  I think about how awesome it would be if the “Native Americans” jumped off their horses and started wailing solos on their handmade guitars, when the bartender comments on the music and starts quoting lines from the film.

I am finishing my second drink, but look up in time to see a Jesus statue and a Tiger Woods bobble head on a small shelf looking over, maybe blessing the bar.  Below is a sign inviting me to the St. Patty’s Day feast in a couple of weeks.  Free corned beef hash.  I think I’ll be back.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…went for Pentecostal but service times didn’t suit my needs so swapped it with another “al” denomination.

Well I Never

I’ll never stay in Colorado. I’ll never read the Bible. I’ll never go to church. I’ll never get married. I’ll never get divorced. Never say never. Lesson learned.

Since the Redeemer Lutheran experience, I’ve put my pissy pants on every Sunday morning, bitched and moaned all the way to church and resisted pre-service temper tantrums. But when I left St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, I was calm. Like abnormally, once-in-a-lifetime kind of calm. Why? Because it turns out that I’m getting dumber, not smarter and for that I’m grateful. I’m so sick of thinking.

Age: The Great Eraser

I don’t know anything about Episcopalians and that’s fine as knowledge taints experience. I love the church interior. Basic. A few stained glass windows. A cross draped in white cloth hanging from the ceiling. This is the first church I’ve been to with organ music, which I love. Very traditional. Love that too.

Service starts. A choir cloaked in white, wooden crosses hanging from necks, floats down the aisles. Priests or whatever take the stage. There are many. They have hoods on the back of their white robes. I’m not in the deep south or Michigan. I wipe KKK from the brain. During meet your neighbor the preachers step into the aisles, shaking hands as they go. I like this but am trapped between an old woman in a powder blue suit and a crabby note taker who nearly clips my toes every time she pulls down the prayer bar.

Most of the congregation will be chillin’ with God soon. Perhaps that’s why the preacher chose John 3:1 – 17. Here’s the story. This arrogant dude, Nicodemus, meets with Jesus at night because he’s ashamed to be seeking advice from a lowly country boy but he needs counsel so he does it anyway. Nicodemus thinks he knows everything but in his later years, after Jesus dies, he doesn’t say anything. He kicks his know-it-all attitude, which suggests that as we age we either lose our minds or realize we don’t know a damn thing about anything.

I believe it’s the latter. I’ve realized this in my own life, particularly within the last few months. I’ve ripped the blanket off some of my more gregarious opinions and stereotypes, but I still use “you’re wrong, you’re just wrong” when backed in a corner during arguments. Turns out I’m usually wrong, which I hate especially when my mom hauls out the dictionary as backup. You can’t argue with Merriam.

Never Say Never

I didn’t want to go to church, assumed it would suck, thought “I’ll never enjoy this” but like I said, it really chilled me out. I liked the sermon but I also didn’t feel any pressure to share my non-existent relationship with God with other people. I’m not sure I’ve gotten that from any other church.

Example. Rather than harping on Bible studies, the pastor focused on Foyer Groups, groups of eight-to-10 people who meet for dinner etc. to get to know each other. I like that. I need friends but I don’t want the Bible getting between us.

I never thought I’d use the prayer bar or reply to the preacher as outlined by the bolded text in the leaflet, but I did it. I kind of want to get baptized so I can receive communion. But I’ll never do it. I’ll never stick with organized religion. And I’ll never say things I don’t mean. Ever.

L Capitan, Walden’s Lounge, Holly, Mich.

Guest blogger and dive bar lover Amber Shinn takes us on a hatch ride through the seedy spots of Holly, Mich. Though El Capitan was a disappointment, when it comes to dive bars, the Midwest always delivers. When one dive bar closes, another opens.

Turning to the oracle Google with loose bar search terms, the divine inspiration that bubbled up in the http tea leaves was a definition of dive bars from Playboy:

“A church for down-and-outers and those who romanticize them, a rare place where high and low rub elbows — bums and poets, thieves and slumming celebrities. It’s a place that wears its history proudly.”

Sufficient a nudge to barhop in my old hometown, the “historic” Village of Holly.

Growing up, Holly was bipolar on booze: In the early 1900s, Holly was graced with a visit from Carry A. Nation, a pre-prohibitionist who traveled around the country with a hatchet to chop up bars and rescue folks from their sinful boozy ways. After the bang-up bar tour from Nation, Holly toasted the visit with a historic marker and an annual festival. Eventually, participants dressed up as barmaid harlots, activists and gangsters to reenact the smashing spectacle. The festival’s most popular attraction: A beer tent.

I’ve got a soft spot for dive bars. They’re a sanctuary where people go to shut the cabin door on the wolves in the heart’s wilderness. I imagine a safe watering hole in the savannah for animals with bumps and bruises, a quiet home where the buffa-low roam to sip silently and reflect, without being asked to smile so everyone else feels comfortable.

Be it oppressive boredom of factory work, the instability of a changing economy, loss, fear, shame, the need for connection, a quest to find the grace of human kindness amid strangers—to me, the inevitable tough cards everyone is dealt at some point in life feel easier to hold in a dive.

Oh Captain, My Captain

I braced myself for the roughest Holly bar I knew: L Capitan. ElleCappeyTan.

Known as the “El Cap,” stories of long coke rails snorted off the bartop and Harleys snarling in the back door and roaring out the front made it a perfect dive bar. Wearing boots I hoped made me look taller and tougher, I practiced my cold-fish pout-sneer in the rearview mirror. Parking by the railroad tracks on a Friday afternoon while it was still light out, I came early to reduce the likelihood that I’d get beaten up, robbed or shot.

I kinda hoped I’d get just a little bit beaten up, robbed or shot.

Deep breath. Around the corner, out of the icy alley, squint in the bright snowlight at the bar window. I found the sign and my heart sunk. There was no toasting surly sea captain. The fearsome El Cap had become Broadstreet Station. I was looking at a railroad-themed café bar with tidy awnings and board touting some mayo-slick white bread nightmare.

Feeling jilted, I stomped back to my car, but realized in eyeshot of my bumper that I still wanted a drink. Besides, me and my danger blueballs wanted a salve and an explanation on the castration of El Capitan.

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, But it Takes a Train to Cry

Dark tunnel, deep fryer, snowy stomp on damp musty carpet to Walk Like An Egyptian. The perky whistle of the Bangles high-hoed me along the brass bar to my seat. TVs cycled bouncing Keno numbers as my eyes adjusted to the dark and found trains and station memorabilia on every wall.

No patrons, just a ponytailed bartender.

Slumping into a barstool, I ordered a draft PBR as the prospect of meeting a big bearded biker or wise grey-haired bikeress with a vest full of stories from the road faded.

I leaned in: “Didn’t this used to be the El Cap?”

He leaned in as well, too close: “It was.”

I leaned way back for effect, silently blaming him for the empty bar: “Huh. This place isn’t as…rough.”

Ponytail then shared vague rumors of the rowdy Neverland I’d missed. Nothing I hadn’t heard. When a new owner bought it a few years ago, the old crowd moved on. It was safer and tidier now. Benign.

Over his shoulder was a hand-painted mural on the back wall. In it, I saw the face of the reformed Capitan, who swapped the sea to be a train conductor. Neutered and chained to a life of peddling O-bombs and lotto, he was leaning with his head in his hands, waiting, watching. Dying a slow bored death.

Two bucks on the never-been-snorted-or-danced-on bar top, I left with the same dread that bustled me out of town when I left for college. Fearing I’d have nothing to write about, I called my brother for a recommendation.

Girl Scout Cookies

I peeked into Walden’s Lounge, a squat cinder-block bar. Exploits of Charlie Sheen hummed over a waft of Windex, and up at the bar sat the cast of characters I’d been looking for: Bearded bikers, wheezy old men and even my lanky, pierced brother. The bar was tended by a goth-ish woman in pigtails, selling beer and Girl Scout cookies for her kid. Success.

I sat in the middle, watching the grey hairs nudge each other whenever the bartendress bent over. Which was often. Maybe intentional.

Moving in a slow indoor-outdoor orbit, the bikers brought back a comet tail of cigarette vapor, grousing over the smoking ban. When the grumbling arc of the conversation swung past sin taxes, the bikers campaigned loud on the equality platform of “shit taxes:” taxing toilet paper. We seven at the bar chimed in with toasts, votes and poo-puns before simmering back into silence.

Hard to tell the age of the woman behind bar. As we talked about jobs, I guessed she was younger than me, but looked older. After receiving emancipation at 16, turns out she was forced to leave her spot as a server (“not a dancer,” she clarified) at Déjà Vu Showgirls — per the request of an uncle who spent time there. The exasperation in her voice came from her 16-year-old self, I heard her go back in time. In an unexpected twist, that uncle was an undercover FBI agent, investigating illegal gun-running in Flint strip clubs on prostitute-heavy Dort Highway, and feared his cover would be blown.

With a one-armed hug, my brother headed back to work. I stayed behind, and signed on for a box of Thin Mints.

When kids stop believing the “you came from a stork” bit, parents are forced into the dreaded sex talk. I remember mine. It involved a picture book with a skinny male cartoon grinning on top of a lying on top of a fat female cartoon. I can’t remember if she was smiling. Both were naked. Traumatizing.

Dad was conspicuously absent for this conversation, but both of my parents discussed kids and religion, how they would handle it, etc. I knew dad attended Catholic school  — he has the scares to prove it — but before I started this project, I had no idea mom had faith in God. She doesn’t anymore.

To better understand my disconnect to religion, I interviewed both about their experiences with organized religion as well as their hands off approach to helping us find it.

Here’s what my mom had to say. (She said I misquoted her in a past blog. Bad journalist I suppose. We’ll see what she has to say about this one.)

Me: Did your parents raise you with religion?

Mom: For part of my life but it wasn’t the whole household. My mom was the one who started going to church when I was probably eight-to-10. I believe it was a Lutheran church. I kind of feel like this was an out-of-the-blue decision but I’m not sure. I went with her but I can’t remember if my siblings went.

My dad wasn’t ever interested in any religion. I feel like he was raised Italian Catholic and probably went to Catholic Church as a kid but I’m not for sure. I feel like he was neutral about church.

I don’t remember religion being a part of my life before that but I went to a Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and I also went to Catechism class.

Q: You went to Bible camp with that Lutheran church and got saved. Can you talk about that?

A: I was saved at camp, which means you accept Jesus Christ. It was the most exhilarating emotional experience I’ve ever had in my life to this day.

The camp counselor, who was a teenage girl, asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. We were by ourselves and whatever words were said. I agreed to do it and it was like a rush of beauty that ran from my head to my toes.

I always had a very strong faith back from when I went to Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and had a very strong belief in the whole Christian thing. I should have died then! I would have been guaranteed a place in heaven!

Q: What were your first thoughts of Jesus? Did you ever fear religion?

A: I don’t remember but I remember that at times I felt like I had a holy presence at the foot of my bed but they looked like the pictures that are on Catholic funeral cards (laughs) so I don’t know if it was spiritual or an overactive imagination.

I wasn’t fearful of Jesus, but I was fearful of going to hell.

After we stopped going to church, I held onto my beliefs. I said nightly prayers and for extra brownie points I would always pray to God to bless everyone I cared for and everyone in the world and I’d put myself last because I thought that was good manners.

Q: Did you feel faith had a positive impact on you?

A: Yes. I liked being a good girl and I’m sure it kept me out of trouble. One of my dad’s favorite expressions, as we all know, was Goddamn and I literally cringed whenever he took the Lord’s name in vain. All I know is that it (faith) personally made me feel good.

Q: What happened?

A: I had a strong belief until I went into high school and then our family started falling apart, started splitting, which in turn made other bad things happen in the family. It was dark and chaotic and I think I just quit saying my prayers and thought, what’s the point?

Q: So that’s it? No more religion?

A: I don’t know. I feel like I’m not an atheist or an agnostic. I’m a confusiest. I’m confused because I do believe it (faith) works for a lot of people and sometimes I do believe there’s got to be this greater something but there’s so many unanswered questions in the Bible that I just can’t really go by that.

Q: Did you and dad talk about religion before you had kids?

A: Yes. You know dad is a wounded former Catholic schoolboy so you know he had a pretty tainted view of religion but we both agreed that religion was a choice our kids should be able to make when they were mature enough to fully understand it.

I think when you start taking kids from birth and going to any kind of church, they’re just raised to believe something because their parents believe it. We wanted our kids to understand the different choices.

Q: I don’t remember you taking us to church so how did I have the opportunity to see the church side of things?

A: I think you were all asked at a certain age if you wanted to go. I think you and Taryn (sister) experienced some churchiness with friends.

I didn’t feel like going to church because I was unsure what my beliefs were and I thought, ‘How can I guide my children one way or the other?” I felt that would be extremely hypocritical on my part.

Q: What impact did this decision have on your kids/family?

A: I really feel horrible about the times I saw my kids have embarrassment over their lack of knowledge over really basic things like who is Jesus (laughs) and why do we celebrate Christmas.

Q: Are you serious or messing around?

A:  I’m serious. I do regret not exposing you guys to more but if I still had that opportunity now and was raising you kids, I still don’t know how I would do that. You don’t just dump your kids into church and say have fun. It would still be a slippery slope for me. I regret exposing you to more of it but I don’t know how I’d do that without believing myself. Besides, I always wanted a trio of heathens to join me.

Q: So how do you deal with things when life is challenging? Specifically as it relates to your kids?

A: Heavy drinking (laughs).

Q: What if one of us kids died tomorrow? What would happen to us?

A: Boy I really wrestle with this one. I want to believe there’s a forever after so we can all be there together someday. I just don’t know.

Q: What if I become a nun? Will you still love me?

A: That will never happen. They won’t have you.

Q: That never crossed your mind?

A: Yeah like it crossed my mind that I’d be an astronaut.

Scotty O’Brian’s, Loveland, Colo.

12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Notable Matter: Sponsored bar seats, each with an embroidered logo/namesake representing the donor.

I’m in la-di-da land and am therefore losing patience with Colorado dive bars. Dive bars should not include microbrews on tap. They should lack decor, serve characters and stick to bottles and cans like the Long Branch Bar in Laporte, Colo. But most of the Colorado dives have microbrews. I need to go back to the Midwest where there’s an abundance of good old fashioned dive bars, places where people go to get drunk off of $1 canned PBR beer. I yearn for blue-collar America.

I don’t believe the middle class is disappearing, it’s just become invisible. I’ve thought of this well before the whole national union uprising. I have my own opinions about that but I’ll keep them to myself.

America’s Struggling Middle Class

I love the middle class — blue-collar workers — which is why I love neighborhood bars, dive bars. But do I have to go to the Rustbelt, a region continually blamed for the nation’s economic meltdown, to find it? Until I head back to Michigan in May, I’ll keep trudging along to these Colorado “dives.” Colorado natives can’t even point me to dives because they don’t know what they are.

That being said, Scotty O’Brian’s is as divey as I’ve seen in a few weeks. Wooden façade, one window, long bar, narrow structure. It’s dark, six people watching basketball on two TVs. I’m relieved to see a race car event on one of the TVs, very middle America.

I walk in pissed off by my experience with the money mongering Redeemer Lutheran Church. (I invited Redeemer to respond to my scalding review of the church, but haven’t received a response.)

I’m a little testy with the young bartender. I’m not offended by his request for ID, but his delivery is off putting.

“You got your little thingy on you?” He makes a motion with his wrist indicating that by “thingy,” he means the little plastic card in my wallet. He justifies himself. “I have to ask. Otherwise my boss will get me in trouble.”

Me: “Or you could just say I look young.” My four second tutorial on women.

“You do look young.” He’s nervous.

I loosen up. Smile in the mirror at an older man in a blue work jacket and mesh hat. He’s drinking a beer and a shot, orders them together. He sees me and looks away.

The experience is dull until a younger man and woman walk in. They sit next to me. They’re new to the area and interesting, which is a fabulous find. I enjoy our conversation, it’s refreshing to speak with people that have imagination, passion, interesting things to say.

As much as I enjoy their company and hope to see them again, they are not blue collar workers, Middle America. Where do I find this in northern Colorado? What am I missing?

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

11 a.m. to ?

Chosen because…late service

Biggest church I’ve been to.  It sits in a giant field surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods. Not only does it have a welcome center, which gives makes me feel like I’m walking through an airport rather than a church, it also has a worship center, life/center gym, preschool, student center, etc.

I’m grateful for the coffee/donut room. Guilt kicks in so I donate $1 to the coffee collection. This is the only donation I’ve made to a church thus far. After service I feel duped, used and wish I could take my money back.

Love Money, Then Jesus

Remember this scene from Jerry Maguire? This is Redeemer Lutheran Church.


The preachers or whatever are dressed in white, red sashes resting on either side of their chests. Huge choir. Massive movie screen. Many people wearing buttons purporting their love for Jesus. At least I think that’s what they’re for.

It’s “commitment weekend,” a time for parishioners to place donation envelopes they received via mail in Pottery Barn-like donation baskets. Before they do, the preacher fills them with artificial love, hiding the church’s need for greed behind Bible passages such as “whoever does not love God does not know love.”

When the preacher quiets, this message is conveyed, falsely — though song — and soundtrack as people in the sound booth add thunder and other such nonsense to the melody.

After guilt by love, the preacher gets down to business. This whole love B.S. will continue for 36 months because the church is on a mission to a) Raise up stewards b) Pay down debt c) Further the mission.

So learn about God, pay down the Redeemer Lutheran‘s $2 million debt during the next 36 months and then spread God’s word through costly missions. Appalling.

Need for Greed

He uses the following mantras to encouraging giving…and love.

“Love is not really love until it’s given away.”

“I hope you get to learn during this season we get to give love away.”

“We don’t want to whore the message of God.”

Then we watch a clip from Schindler’s List. It’s at the end when Schindler realizes the money he spent on material excess could have saved thousands of Jews.

People sniffle. It’s an emotional scene and a cleaver way for the preacher to beg for money. After the clip, he invites everyone to bring up envelopes of money, encouraging them to “woo hoo” when they dump it in Pottery Barn-like baskets.

I’m sick to my stomach. This place of worship is an infomercial, not a church. I leave and head to a dive bar in Loveland of all places, to cleanse my soul.

The leaders of this church should be ashamed of themselves for their unabashed call to greed. Redeemer Lutheran Church is antithetical to Jesus’ message. It’s disgusting.

%d bloggers like this: