Dan In Real Life

I first saw him walking down the main street of Hudson, swinging a ticket book, doling out parking violations for the famously greedy meters of the town. Next time was at the bar. "That's Dan," they said. "He does the meters." He was gruff, or maybe a little shy as he ordered a beer. His wife was friendly.

They were regulars, and I eventually graduated to an occasional wry chuckle from Dan. He especially got a kick out of it when I'd fill the beers too high, or leave a tap handle running by mistake. We developed our routine, me always asking what he'd like and he saying the exact same thing every time.

I went away by train for a few days, leaving the van parked on a residential, non-metered section of the Hudson main street. I came back to find a ticket on the windshield. Sent in the ticket with a letter of protest - there was no parking sign on the entire block! How was a driver supposed to know etc.

When I opened the letter from Hudson Parking Violations, it was signed by one Daniel McAlister. Dan! I felt almost honored. But he was requesting that I fill out a form giving the same information I'd already given in my letter.

Next time, when I was pouring the usual for Dan, I wondered if he knew I was Amelia Rigby, the way I knew he was Daniel McAlister. Like a priest sliding back the window of the confessional and recognizing the sinner on the other side, I wondered if Dan now thought of me as that scofflaw Rigby.

Annoyed by Dan's pedantry but accepting that he was just a man doing a job, I filled out the form and mailed it in, but the next day I received another letter from Hudson Parking Violations, stating that because I'd never responded to the ticket, they were increasing the fine. I almost couldn't sleep I felt so upset.

It's me, Dan! I wanted to say. The one who always tries to make your beer extra nice, maybe because you're gruff and taciturn. That's just your way, I realized a while ago. The neutrality of the bartender/customer relationship best maintained with a companionable silence. I respect that, admire it even , as long as you don't forget to tip us back here.

Next time I'm behind the bar, there's Dan. I slide his beer across to him. "How are you doing, Dan?" I ask, maybe a little too meaningfully.

I wrote a response to the Parking Violations letter, saying how I did respond in a timely manner, and attached a copy of my previous letter and Dan's response and my response to the Parking Violations response. I closed with "I await your response".

Was it my imagination or was Dan a little more subdued than usual next time? His wife, always so sweet, was extra-friendly: "How are you doing, Amy?" Did I detect a note of concern in her voice? Was the stress starting to show?

Couldn't I just say "Hey, what's with the letter and extra fine? And anyway, where are the parking rules signs?" Instead, I asked him what he'd like and he asked for the usual, almost as if we'd never seen each other before.

Yesterday, a "Parking Adjudication" arrived, in response to my response to their response to my initial response. It said simply "Signs at all entrances, pay in full - $15".

Entrances to what? To the town? I should stop the car, get out and read a sign on my way in to know where and when I'm allowed to park? What entrances? This is bullshit! I cried.

But I'll be behind the bar again today and tomorrow, and Friday, and I just can't handle the tension. I wrote out a check.

So Dan and I can go back to the way we were before.