We walked in to the Purple Cow in the middle of the afternoon, discouraged by strong head winds. It’s a purple shack on the side of the river, raised up high on stilts for when the water’s high. We thought we’d stop in for a drink in honour of Kevin’s birthday – then we figured we’d continue on paddling into the night.
The first mustache introduces himself – Charlie – he’s a retired school teacher. The third mustache, Tom, slowly smokes a cigar. Smoking is legal in bars in Missouri. All three men knock back cans of beer, one after another. They’ve each brought their own beer cozies to keep them cool.
“So how many people live in this town?” I ask.
“Well.. one” says Mark, the middle mustache, pointing to himself. “Two… Three” he adds, pointing to Charlie and Tom. They roar with laughter.
At some point Mark asks the bartender – Niky – to ‘ring the bell.’ This, as we figure out, means that he’s buying the whole bar a round. The afternoon passes and the locals get rowdier. A man that nobody seems to know comes in for food and gets Niky to ring the bell. Mark jumps up from his seat – grey hair, grey mustache, missing front tooth, and southern accent – and shouts with a big smile “I love you man!!”
“He’s a drunk” says Niky about Mark, “but he’s our drunk.” She pulls out the photo album from behind the bar and shows us photos of when the water was up over the bar.
Afternoon turns to evening and still more drinks appear in front of us – we haven’t paid for anything. It’s taco night, and the place becomes packed. We’re seemingly the local attraction, everyone talks to us. One man buys us taco salads, another offers us ‘spiked’ cherries. Everyone’s having a roaring great time. The rest of the family that runs the place arrives to serve the crowd. Travis, the owner, bought the place one night when the old owners refused to make some french fries after 10pm, or so the story goes. Travis decides that he’s got us “taken care of” – we’re not paying for anything. “Stay and hang out” he says, suggesting we can stay all night. “Hell, if ya stay all night you can jus’ camp on the floor when the place clears out!”
Then he gets one of his buddies on the phone, and it’s decided that we can stay in a cabin on an island just down the river a half mile.
When it gets late (which on our clocks is about 8pm), we paddle down river to the cabin. It’s a hunter cabin, sporting signs like “Hunters, Fishermen, and other Liars gather here” and the curtains are made out of camouflage material. The window frames are painted safety orange. It’s cozy, with bunk beds, antlers, and electricity. I make dinner and a birthday pie for Kevin in the kitchen – the most quintessential ‘man kitchen’ you could imagine. It’s bare bones, with the steak sauce right next to the peptobismol and the RAID.
We couldn’t have planned a better birthday party!