When my friend Aaron contacted me recently to say he was in Ventura for a few days, we knew just what we had to do.
Aaron and I are part of a quintet of friends who have remained close since high school. Astute readers may recall that they last met Aaron, as well as another friend, Jake, in my descriptions last summer of a journey to West Africa (see “Hail, lightning and pigs’ legs,” Feature, 7/5/07).
Whenever anyone in this group crosses paths, we pick up where we left off, whether our encounters are separated by days or years. We all share an innate sense of adventure. Our paths have brought each of us far from Ventura, but when we’re together geography isn’t as important as our shared wandering spirits. It is conversation and exploration that captures our shared attention.
On a rainy December evening — admittedly out of practicality more than anything else — Aaron and I created a new adventure. We decided to meet for drinks, but he was staying at a house near Ventura College, I live Downtown, and neither of us wanted to spend any money on a cab. So we chose to meet in the middle — sort of — and agreed to both walk to the Benchwarmer at 1855 E. Main St. The walk was further for Aaron, but I needed to take a shower before I could leave, so we thought it would balance it out.
It was an auspicious start to the evening. Neither of us had been to the Benchwarmer in quite some time, and, although neither of us are really sports bar fans (despite our love of the Los Angeles Dodgers), it seemed a more comfortable choice than the biker crowd at the nearby Red Cove (at 1809 E. Main St.). Besides, the Benchwarmer is more of a traditional neighborhood watering hole than a sports bar.
As luck would have it I showed up at the Benchwarmer first, thanks to the fact that my mother happened to pass as I strolled up Santa Clara Street and gave me a ride. In true excellent mother fashion she furnished me with a few empanadas she snagged from a holiday party. I mention that not as a shameless plug for my mother, but because I was thrilled that when I got to the Benchwarmer they didn’t mind that I ate my dinner at the bar. In fact, bartender Rick offered to microwave the dinner for me, and I felt like the worldly nerd as curious patrons asked me what strange dish I was eating.
Eventually Aaron arrived, drenched. Despite the hospitality of our fellow bargoers, after catching up over a few scotch and sodas we got restless and went on to our next destination. Fortunately the rain had subsided a bit. Our journey to the bar at the Ventura Bowling Center (at 1888 E. Thompson Blvd.) was uneventful, although it did stir up memories from a walk we once took from my mom’s house to Corrales (1951 E. Thompson Blvd.) during a visit home from our respective colleges (that story will remain one only for our friends).
Visiting the bowling alley — where we were shocked by the number of young locals who apparently crawled out of the woodworks to play a few frames — I had the opportunity to regale Aaron with a tale about my encounter with the “Five Hot Blondes” (See “Bowling for Ventura,” Art & Culture, 8/30/07). It also gave me a chance to catch up with Kathy Higgins, the bowling alley owner, and ask about the status of the reality show filmed at herbusiness, as well as the business’ fate in the face of possible demolition (the show seems quite iffy, but there is some hope for the business … but that’s for another time).
Our final stop was just down the road at Pangaea Lounge (1644 E. Thompson Blvd.). We weren’t sure we wanted to visit and pay a $5 cover, especially since we already had a few drinks in us. Aaron had never been, though, and it had been nearly a year since my last foray, so we decided to amuse ourselves with the sight of a nightclub trying to be far more slick than Ventura will likely ever be.
Jokes aside, Pangaea brings an atmosphere that, while cheesy, is a refreshing change of pace from the rest of Midtown’s bar scene if one can take it with a grain of salt. It also has a far more diverse demographic than most other bars in this still rather unofficially segregated city. On this visit, Bartender Erik Myles and his compatriots provided genuinely friendly service. Even when the power went out for 15 minutes the crew didn’t miss a beat, and the crowd shared the somewhat giddy amusement that stormy weather often brings.
While the downpour meant each of us could probably have used a canoe on our respective walks home, I don’t think either of us minded. We may have been just two friends meeting for drinks, but in just a few hours we revisited past memories and began weaving new tales to tell.