This is the story of how I ended up singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in karaoke after a conversation with a drunken Bering Sea fisherman in a dive bar filled with a raucous wedding party of total strangers in downtown Spokane.
The fisherman, crying, hugged me. Three times.
It was the final night of my Memorial Day weekend visit to see my daughter, who just finished her junior year at Washington State University.
We did the kinds of father-daughter things you’d expect when you visit your kid who’s away for college, including a shopping run to Walmart so Dad can feel comfortable that Daughter won’t run out of food.
We had dinner at the Clinkerdagger — its real name — a restaurant voted by the various college students of the region as “the best place to get your parents to take you on a splurge.” Great food, great company, great view of the Spokane River, all worth it.
And, after dinner we went to a place that has something called “duffleboard” — tabletop miniature golf. I whooped Brooke’s ass because she’s a grownup now and I don’t let her win anymore. #MercilessDad.
The next day, another wholesome activity: We went to a minor-league baseball game, the Spokane Indians vs. the Everett AquaSox. I noted that the Indians were still… the Indians. And the logo on their jerseys looked vaguely like the word “Spokane,” like this: Sp’q’n’i.
Turns out, the Spokane Indians have had a long-running partnership with the local First Nations tribe, and that unfamiliar language on the jerseys is the spelling of “Spokane” in Salish, the native language of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the area’s first inhabitants. There are displays around the ballpark describing the tribe’s culture and its relationship with the team, including cultural education initiatives and programs to benefit area youth.
I thought that was a pretty cool way to handle the whole “team name” issue. Too bad it’s not been replicated broadly, including here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
And, on our final night hanging out together, I thought we’d try something different: a stand-up comedy show.
We got tickets to the Spokane Comedy Club, which was a surprisingly large venue in an old red brick building. The headliner was the guy from “Reno 911” who wore roller skates. He was funny. But there’s something vaguely uncomfortable about being with your daughter while a comedian tells diarrhea jokes.
After the comedy show, knowing it was our last night hanging out, we decided to stop at a downtown bar and grill before catching an Uber back to Brooke’s place.
It was just this side of sketchy. I said it was a dive. Brooke contested that it was only a “semi-dive.” After all, they had a kitchen and served food.
The place was almost empty when we walked in, save for a couple of tables of people watching a ballgame and a guy trying to pick up a lady who appeared to be wearing medical scrubs.
Turns out, the guy was the Bering Sea fisherman who would soon become my new best friend and the lady wasn’t wearing scrubs, but her Walmart uniform, complete with name tag. You’d think the Walmart employee handbook would have a clause like, “Don’t wear your Walmart name tag when you go out drinking after your shift.”
Then people started to trickle in, including some twentysomethings who seemed to be REALLY dressed up for this particular joint. Turns out, they just came from a wedding, and the bride and groom soon arrived, too. They were very festive and took full advantage of the karaoke opportunity.
As business picked up, the bar got downright lively. Soon, the Walmart lady was escorted out, against her will, and the bouncer said something like, “You can’t swing at someone in here.” Not sure what that was all about.
The Bering Sea guy told me his life’s story, including the time when he was alone on a squid boat, it started to list, and he thought he was going down with the ship. He even called “Mayday,” and thought he’d never see his kids or grandkids again.
Tears were shed. Bro-hugs happened.
Brooke eyed the karaoke lady at the other end of the bar.
“Ten bucks,” Brooke said. “I’ll give you $10 if you sing karaoke.”
She clearly didn’t think I had it in me. But I gave it some thought and said, “Challenge accepted.”
I went up and put my song request in. When I got back, Brooke pestered me about which song I was going to sing. I had previously told her that, in my younger days, my go-to song was “Tainted Love.” The angsty, 1980s Soft Cell version, of course.
I wouldn’t tell her which song I was going to sing. I wanted it to be a surprise, because I had decided to sing a song that was WAY out of my range: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.
Three years ago, at her graduation from Saugus High School, Brooke was one of the featured student speakers and her speech was about how that song has crossed over and united generations.
Then and now, she’s made me so proud.
I thought it was a cool connection. Summoning all the stagemanship I could muster, I dedicated the song to my daughter and the happy couple celebrating their nuptials.
And, in my mind at least, my karaoke version was spot-on. I’m sure I didn’t hit the high notes as well as former Journey frontman Steve Perry did. But in that moment, I told myself I was absolutely KILLING it — in a good way.
Maybe it was the whiskey talking.
Regardless, I feel like my daughter and I had a special Moment right there. It was the perfect end to a memorable visit. I miss my kids, so I seize the memories whenever I have the chance. What better way than hugging a drunk crab boat deck hand and then butchering an iconic 1980s song during a strangers’ wedding afterparty in a downtown bar?
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.