Note: My “bucket list” is to karaoke in all 50 states. This is the first of what will be many posts about singing in the different places I go.
I got off the airplane, landing in my home state of New Jersey, a.k.a., the Motherland. The airport was under construction, just as it was when I was last here nine years ago for a class reunion. Tammy, someone I knew from high school, was picking me up. Not quite a friend from high school – we travelled in different circles, on the periphery of the central coolness of our small town, but thanks to Facebook, had become closer, finding things in common that would have drawn us together back in the 80s, had I had the courage to reach out and get to know her better. I waited outside as honking horns and yelling drivers filled the air, which smelled of stale booze and urine. Tammy and I had been texting back and forth since my arrival; she was in the cell-phone waiting area, where she texted her red car was the only one in a sea of black. She was also the only one not smoking; someone took a leak in front of her Hyundai. It was easy to spot her car as she rounded the bend, we hugged, I hopped in, and we left the rudeness and filth that will always define Newark Airport.
Traffic was bad – after all, it was Friday rush hour – but not as bad as expected given the Pope was in town (Note: I tried to search for an image using the term “Pope karaoke” but nothing relevant came up). We crawled our way as west as one can go and still be in NJ. Yet NJ was not our prime destination. I was going to sing in Pennsylvania (Easton, to be exact)! Tammy and her partner set the whole thing up for me, which made me feel super special. No jet lag here, I was totally ready for the evening. Pre-karaoke dinner in a chain steakhouse where the house wine was more expensive than the margarita – which could come either rimmed with salt or sugar. My pork chop was pretty tasty, though, and I liked the added touch of tomatoes on my wedge salad (featuring blue cheese dressing AND crumbles!).
Bellies full (and lined), it was time to sing. We drove past houses that were distinctly northeast – perfectly gritty brick buildings and clapboard duplexes that showed their age. The type of neighborhood I grow nostalgic for, even though it looks nothing like the place I grew up. Tammy had warned me it was a dive bar, and it lived up to expectations. It was so dark I could barely see. Cheap, high wooden tables and old red stools. I felt comfortable as soon as we opened the door. Really, as soon as I saw the neighborhood. A part of my past I can still connect to and call home.
The somewhat flamboyant, bearded bartender was ready for us – the owners had bought a box of wine for Tammy because they knew we were coming and Tammy had requested it – such was the personal service of La Pazza. A wonderful mix of LGBT folk and those for whom it was the closest watering hole; owners officially declared it a gay bar not too long ago, and I wonder if it really changed anything there. I grew particularly fond of a glazed-eyed African American man wearing a Phillies hat who I chatted up a bit about the baseball season. People care more about sports on the east coast.
The KJ was a kick-ass woman named April who wore a poop emojii t-shirt that said “scratch and sniff,” and apparently her niece tried to. She warned me her system was “old school, which meant all the songs were pulled up on YouTube. When I kicked off with Bryan Adam’s Summer of 69, I had to pause for buffering. I loved it.
I was practically the only one singing because this bar normally doesn’t have karaoke on Fridays – Tammy, April, and the owners set this up just for me. In fact, April made a formal announcement stating that I was here all the way from Portland, “Or-e-gone” just to sing there in my quest to karaoke in all 50 states. People applauded and truly seemed happy I chose their watering hole to tick PA off my list. I was so touched.
It wasn’t a completely solo act, though. One guy sang the same song he was singing when we came in (they have an automatic karaoke machine there, which means you can sing anytime. That’s dangerous for folks like me). Two young gals sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Someone was celebrating their 50th Birthday so the bar sang in his honor, too. Tammy, Bonnie, and I even got slices of chocolate cake, even though we didn’t know the man reaching half a decade. It was that kind of place.
The rest of my song selection: They didn’t have You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oats), so I settled for Love is a Battlefield as my second selection – April’s request since Pat Benetar was her declared favorite. Also did Donna Summer’s Let’s Dance and many did. Finished with I’ll Be There (the Jackson 5 version, of course!) and the whole bar sang along with me, including my favorite Phillies fan. Warm fuzzies ensued.
The evening ended when April didn’t feel like playing KJ/DJ it anymore, and I don’t blame her. It was her night off, and yet she came anyway – all because Tammy, her, the bar owners, and the patrons, were kind. The last song was all her, Stroke It. More dancing. I didn’t really want to leave, but my goal of two states in one night (and checking off NJ too!) was driving us to move on. Hugs and pictures, and we were off.