Oregon Tavern Age: Silver Dollar Kindness

February rain deluged Coos Bay, record rain, rivers on the roadways, lakes in the parking lots.

I needed a break from the hairy drive south down Highway 101 and stopped in front of the Silver Dollar Tavern in Coos Bay. Why not? I’d never visited before.

It was 9:47 on a Sunday morning. I walked inside, and found a stool at the bar, a long wooden bar, inlaid with silver dollars minted before World War I. I noticed a “Cash Only” sign hanging near jars of pickled grotesqueries the size of RV propane tanks.

An elderly woman came up to take my order. She was not OTA. I hesitated for a second, then…ordered a coffee. I looked left down the bar and saw three OTAs drinking coffee and watching golf on television.

The bartender brought the coffee and asked my name. She shook my hand and introduced herself as Jessie. In short order, I learned Jessie had owned the Silver Dollar for 42 years! We discussed the many changes to the Oregon Coast the past couple of decades. She just couldn’t understand the exponential rise of the homeless and the shifting of their habits and manners. A lot of Oregonians don’t. Have we given up trying to understand? I haven’t.

Jessie had to work on the books and crack open the first Hamm’s can of the morning so she excused herself. She told me she’d return. I watched her retrieve a can from the cooler, watched her exquisite technique, heard the crack, and thought about the half million cans of Hamm’s she must have opened inside the Silver Dollar. It had to be some kind of record.

I looked around at the dimly lit rectangular interior. Somnolence reigned so supreme I almost fell asleep. The chairs were still on the tables and an OTA man in coveralls mopped the floor. I saw four blue-felt pool tables and hundreds of pool trophies locked up in cases. I marveled at a deep fryer that must have have fried its first meal 75 years ago.

Jessie returned and asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was a writer. I asked for the most memorable story of owning and tending bar at the Silver Dollar. I wanted murder, mayhem or a man with a leashed cougar who limped in and order a beer. She paused, scratched her chin, and then told me the following:

Decades ago, a big man, a really big man, barged into Silver Dollar and saw a little man, a really little man. He towered over the little man and started insulting him because of his size. It continued for some time and ratcheted up. Jessie observed, patiently from the shadows, thinking the big man might stop. He didn’t. She instructed the big man to meet over by the video lottery machines for a private conversation. The man seemed surprised but complied. Jessie told the man she couldn’t have that kind of cruelty in her bar. He was 86’d forever as a result and perhaps should consider changing his ways and becoming someone kinder. The world needs more of that, not what you have to offer, Jessie said, quietly. The man left the bar. Fifteen or so minutes later, Jessie got a call on the bar’s landline. It was the man. He thanked Jessie for her advice and giving him something important to think about: kindness.

Jessie finished the story and moseyed away to the books and deep fryer. I sipped my coffee. I had never heard a story like that in OTA country before. I extracted a pen and notepad from my pea coat to take a few notes. A few minutes later, Jessie appeared in front of me, holding something in her right hand.

“This is for you,” she said, extending her hand. I reached out and took possession of a tiny black velvet sheath. Inside the sheath was a pen. I pulled out the pen and it was silver, shiny and had a black rubber grip near the point. The pen read, “Silver Dollar Tavern.”

I held the pen aloft and tested its balance. It felt good. I made a few marks on the notepad. The pen wrote well.

Jessie explained that she gave away 4000-5000 pens away annually at the Silver Dollar! I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen such a thing in OTA country. I just knew stories and poems and love letters were being written with these fine pens. Yes! The pen is mightier than the sword (or text message). Kindness is mightier than judgment and wrath.

I told Jessie I would cherish the pen and write well with it. She said to stop in my next time through town. She might have more stories for me. I told her I’d be back in a month and would want another pen. She laughed and then came out from behind the bar, and gave me a mighty hug! A hug in OTA country! She told me to drive safe. I took a last sip of coffee, walked out into Ali-like jabs of stinging rain, and hit the road.