“Who rang the bell?”
For a long few seconds I had that same hot skittering feeling I got through most of my childhood. Because, most of the time, if something had been done that wasn’t supposed to have been done? The teacher looked at me.
Most of the time, like this time, their hunch was correct.
The bartender’s Hawaiian shirt had morphed from cheerful to menacing. I felt the heat in my hairline. The silenced room waited. I looked up at him and gave him a weak smile, “I did.”
I flashed back to grade eight, that time the bus driver screeched the school bus to a halt and demanded to know who had opened the emergency exit, the one that was clearly marked with Do Not Open Except In Emergency and that was now open beside me.
But this time, ringing the bell was not in defiance of any sign.
There was no sign.
There was just this brass bell and an easily accessible dangling rope. Also, the singer/guitarist had just asked the packed bar to please be quiet for her last song. No talking, she said, just for my last song okay? And no one was really listening to the shhh’s or the odd hand clap to assist her in her request so it seemed the bell would help.
I’d barely had to lean forward to grab the rope and give it a few yanks. And hey, I was right. It worked like a charm, the bar went dead silent.
Before the bartender could say anything else, an older man, sitting at our table, spoke up, “She didn’t know.”
I heard a woman behind me repeat his words, adding, “…she didn’t know what she was doing.”
The bartender turned to me, “Do you know what this means?” He went on without waiting for my answer, “This means that everyone in this bar is waiting for you to buy them a round.”
I didn’t dare to begin to add up the number of people stuffed into Bombay Peggy’s. Thankfully, the previously bell-silenced crowd began talking again. “Why’d you ring the bell?” he said.
“I was trying to get the people to show her some respect.” I leaned closer to the bartender to be heard over the now-singing woman and the increasing hum of the bar, “What do you want me to do?”
I turned to Kevin, “What am I going to do?” But Kevin had nothing to offer. He looked like he was waiting for a taxi to pull up to our table and whisk him out of there.
I turned back to the bartender. “Look,” he said, “you need to know this is a very big deal. I don’t control the politics of this but people can go crazy around here if you don’t follow through after ringing that bell. Luckily, I think that everyone here understands you didn’t know, but please, whatever you do, please, please, don’t touch that bell again.”
He disappeared back into the crowd. I leaned back into my chair, trying not to grin. The singer’s voice was as rich as whiskey. The other guitarist was in perfect sync with her. The music and her voice filled the room. The crowd mostly stayed quiet, though the talking increased near the end.
We waited a few beats after she finished, then Kevin leaned over. I could hear the grin in his voice, “Let’s get out of here before they change their minds.”
I thanked the man at our table for defending my ignorance. He waved me away. “It’s just wrong,” he said loudly, “That bell should be at the bar. It’s not right that it’s in the middle of the room like this.” I patted his arm and thanked him again, thankful too, that the loud noise of the room covered his observations.
We walked as casually and quickly as possible around the corner to sneak back into our adjoining hotel, giddy with our escape. “Quick,” laughed Kevin, “start the car!”
I opened the lobby door to find the bartender waiting for me.
“I’m sorry if I came off really aggressive,” he said. “It’s just that the bell is such a big thing around here. I’ve seen it go nuts when someone didn’t pay up.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m sorry too.”
“No,” he said, “I was too aggressive, I’m really sorry.”
A few more sorries changed places until we sounded like a bad Canadian skit. Finally we said good night. The bartender slipped through the back bar room door while Kevin and I laughed our way up the steep stairs to our room.
I love the Yukon. I love the people. I love the unique homes and lives. I especially loved our stay at Bombay Peggy’s. It really is one of the coolest old hotels with excellent service and amenities.
And the bar is a wonderful happening spot and just hanging out in Dawson City is crazy-cool.
But when you visit, there’s really only one thing you need to remember.
Unless you’ve recently struck it rich and have a purse full of gold nuggets, never ever ring that damned bell.