Trying to quiet my anxiety and overthinking, I repeated “YOLO!” inside my mind as I entered the notorious Temple Bar District in Dublin, Ireland. The exterior was painted an alluring green, like a beacon for tourists looking for an Irish night replete with beer drinking, the cacophony of music, clinking glasses, and the laughter of drunken regulars.
The pub’s interior, decorated to match the dark oaken floors and walls, was illuminated only by the bar light and the green and purple party lights directed at a small stage in a window corner. Trinkets of 1930s leather shoes, posters of old cigarette ads, and framed autographs by Irish celebrities I didn’t recognize, wrapped the walls. A redolent concoction of sweat, teenage male body odor, and endlessly flowing beer drifted through the room. Walking through those doors, I immediately felt, almost at a primal level, that I was home. I wondered if some of my Irish ancestors could have crossed the same threshold many years ago.
The room was packed shoulder to shoulder with loud, joyful people. The floors were sticky from spilled drinks and sweat. Finding no place to sit, I headed to the bar. A deep ancestral craving for the bitter taste of beer made my mouth dry. It felt like the perfect movie scene as the bartender glanced at me, using a towel to clean out a pint glass, then throwing it over his shoulder as he asked with a strong Irish accent, “Wat’ll it be?”
Elevating onto my tiptoes, I managed to lean over the bar. “Your finest beer!” I squeaked out. He smiled, winked at me for my efforts, and poured me a tall one.
The “PFT PFT” sound of tapping on a microphone came from my right, an excited hush overcame the pub as the second “PFT PFT” silenced all other sounds in the room. This is what the Temple Bar District was famous for. What we had all waited for. “Now who’s ready for sum music?”
A stout older gentleman with rosy cheeks and a Santa-like belly lightly strummed the strings of his vintage guitar as he looked out onto the crowd with a glowing smile. I took my beer and squeezed through the crowd to come to a self-assembled dance floor in front of the stage he was on. I wish I could precisely remember the jokes he said, but even if I could, I couldn’t come close to doing them justice. He was a crafty, funny wordsmith with whip-like witticisms and naughty jokes. Intellectual in a way where if you weren’t paying close enough attention to what he said, it would go right over your head. It was a combination of that and his accent that kept you constantly alert so as not to miss what he was saying. He was crass without being boorish, and even at his most inappropriate, his charm soothed any offense and made the jokes even better. If only I could be a fly on the wall for the holidays at his house, I thought to myself.
“You there! Yes, you!” I looked around, making sure he was talking to me. “Where are you from?” He pointed the tip of the guitar in my direction.
“United States!” I yelled in return.
“Well well, we have an American here!” He said as a cheer arose from the crowd with beer flung through the air. “Now… Rapunzel!” he said with a stretch as he arched his shoulder back to reach something hidden behind him. Blonde with long hair, I was not, but I kept my attention on him as if he called me by name.
“Mind help’n me keep pace as we play a little song? I’ll even pay ya for it.” I thought he was kidding until he dug a crumpled dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to me on top of a tambourine. With a quick guitar strum and an accordion player to his left, they jumped into song.
I didn’t recognize the song, but as the crowd slid into perfect unison, I let the rhythm and music take over and let the tambourine connect me to the tempo. The joyous guitar and folkloric music took hold of everyone. Every foot was tapping, hips swaying, and perfectly timed hollering. Before I knew it, I was twirling, vigorously tapping the tambourine to my hip like I was at a medieval festival. For the first time, I didn’t care who was watching as I danced around with a group of complete strangers. An older gentleman and his wife even began to loop arms and swing themselves around each other and ended up coming towards me to link arms.
I was linked together with strangers that I had met an hour ago, yet for some reason, I felt like I had known them for an eternity. I may have been alone on this trip, but at that moment, linked and dancing with strangers, I didn’t feel lonely at all.