So a Guy Walks into a Bar

The guy was Oliver Reed and the bar was in Valletta, Malta. On May 2, 1999, Reed entered The Pub on a narrow stretch of Archbishop Street with a hankering to drink, and like the Brian Boitano of song, he made a plan and he followed through. Eight pints of beer and copious shots of whiskey, rum, and cognac later, he collapsed and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

I visited the establishment in May 2001. I only had a couple of pints because I felt no need to get trashed, despite being married at the time. It was a cozy little place, nestled in the kind of limestone building you find on most of the island. There were several photos of Oliver Reed and a message from the proprietors that called him a friend. The latter hung next to several press clippings regarding his death. For me, going there was a chance to scratch off a low-priority item on my bucket list. It was a nice place and I had a reasonably good time, but the only reason I went was that I happened to be in the neighborhood.

The Pub is still there. I verified this through Google Maps, which has everything on the planet unless it doesn’t. There were pictures of the interior that meshed with my hazy memories of the place from over 20 years ago. If I ever find myself in Malta again, I will probably want to go there. I am also content to take my trip down memory lane on my phone.

I often do that. Making an in-person pilgrimage to most places from my past is inconvenient and expensive, and likely not going to be worth it when all is said and done.

Some of these virtual visits were to places I had lived growing up. None of the houses were that noteworthy, but it is worth mentioning that the elementary school I attended on Long Island sat next to a small cemetery. My memories of the place may have been augmented by a child’s imagination. I remembered haphazardly placed gravestones and overgrown vegetation. Any kid who took a dare to run across it might be grabbed by the ankle by a hand reaching up from the ground and dragged down to a fate worse than what goes on in any windowless van.

Google Maps spoiled the fun. The grass looked like it had been cut recently and it was hard to imagine any danger from treading across it. Still, the mere existence of the cemetery provided a valuable lesson. Most grade-schoolers have no idea what the future holds in store. We were shown on no uncertain terms.

It has not been all disappointments though. I recently looked up a pub in Dublin, just north of the Liffey, that I visited in 1994. There were no interior shots but the street view made it perfectly recognizable, especially since it hadn’t had a paint job in 30 years. I remember having a lovely time there. Drinking buddies are available on demand in Ireland because the Irish are unlikely to pass up what they like most: alcohol and not shutting up.

I do a lot of reminiscing through Google Maps, especially with my travels that happened before marrying someone who carried a camera. Overall, I am happy those wanderings had no photographic record because they made me write the experiences into the spiral notebook I carried with me. I am certainly glad they happened before the advent of social media. Lack of an audience brings out the best in me, allowing me the space for thoughtful ruminations about the places I’ve seen with no chance of cringeworthy Auschwitz selfies to come back and haunt me for the rest of my days.

I would not say that my traveling days are behind me. I would like to visit some old haunts as well as new ones, but the destinations will likely be amenable to a fat, old fogey who walks with a limp. For the rest, there is Google Maps to show me city streets I’ll never see leading to cozy little bars where braver men than me can drink themselves to death.

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