There was one week in high school-I think it was eleventh or twelfth grade- when I tried to sit alone and read during my lunch period. None of my friends were in my lunch period that term, and while there were classmates I got along with well enough whom I would have felt comfortable sitting with, I decided I would rather spend the twenty minutes of free time I had during the school day to read the Melville short story my favorite English teacher had recommended or the latest installment in the Australian fantasy series a friend had gotten me hooked on. The problem was that people didn’t realize my lunchtime loner status was voluntary. Every single time, someone from a nearby crowded table would inevitably come over and invite me to join them, sympathetically insisting, “You don’t have to sit alone!” And because I didn’t want to seem rude or antisocial, I would reluctantly shut my book and move to their table. It’s definitely a testament to my high school that so many students went out of their way to reach out to some poor, seemingly-friendless dork they didn’t even know, but at the time it was a little frustrating.
Years later, I’m repeating my “nerding in public” habit, and, hilariously enough, it’s at a bar named after my high school’s mascot: Wildcats. The whole place is decked out in the school colors of royal blue and kelly green, its wood-paneled walls plastered with framed photos of sports teams from years past. With all the EHS nostalgia decor, it’s basically like being back in the school cafeteria but with more booze and, surprisingly, fewer interruptions. While a few bar patrons might briefly approach me to ask me what I’m reading (or just to say hi), most people leave me alone with George R.R. Martin or Chuck Palahniuk or Stephen King (which generally helps me fend off the occasional obnoxious frat boy type or overly-friendly old man who doesn’t get the hint that I don’t feel like flirting; it’s easy to shut down any creeps who ask “Hey, cutie, what’s that book about?” by simply answering “MURDER” without looking up from the page).
I know it seems weird to want to be left alone when I voluntarily go to a crowded neighborhood bar. I’m not sure I can adequately explain why I go there rather than just stay at home and read there. Sometimes it’s just because I get a little stir-crazy in my apartment and need a change of scenery. Sometimes it’s because I’m having an amazing hair day and want to go out and have people see how fantastic I look but none of my friends are available to go out with me. Before I moved into my own place, I’d go there on nights when my roommate had a date over and I didn’t want to sit in the living room like an awkward third wheel or shut myself up in my room for hours. More than any of that, though, is that I feel comfortable at Wildcats. It’s the perfect place to curl up in a tall-backed booth with a good book and a strong drink. The atmosphere is warm and laid back, but it’s lively enough to provide some much-needed background noise. Everyone who works there, from the bartenders to the wait staff, are incredibly friendly and watch out for me on the rare instances when anyone does try to bother me. I’m actually more comfortable spending hours reading at Wildcats than I am at the library.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t just go to this bar to read. I’ve made some really good friends there. I’ve celebrated minor holidays and job promotions with custom-made shots created by Aaron, the sweetest bartender in the world. I’ve embarrassed myself spectacularly singing old school Britney Spears songs at karaoke. But while I can go to any hole-in-the-wall bar to grab drinks with friends or humiliate myself with a microphone, Wildcats is the only one where I feel just as comfortable on my own with my nose in a book as I do in a group of friends. I’ve tried doing it at other bars, but they’ve either been so big that I can’t ignore everything going on around me, or so small that I can’t find a corner to hide in. Wildcats is perfect for my strange, publicly-introverted ways.
I moved recently, so unfortunately I’m not within walking distance of Wildcats anymore, which means I don’t go there as frequently as I used to, but it’s still my favorite bar in Eagan. I’m always going to appreciate that they not only tolerate my geeky tendencies, but respect them.