The door swung open as Bobby greeted me, the same way he did every Tuesday. Taco Tuesday happy hour was something I absolutely refused to miss. It ran from open until 5 PM and on days off there was no better place to spend my time and money. I was the first to enter and so had my pick of seats but took my usual spot at the bar across from the tv screen. The bottles stacked upon their risers all glittered in the noonday sun and the air conditioner was pumping to keep the humidity at bay.
This little place was an anomaly. The owner, Bobby, was the drummer of a local pop-punk cover band and he and his bandmates, roadies, and techs opened the place up about a year ago. It was an altar to the times, paying homage to everyone from AFI to Yellowcard. The walls were plastered with tour posters and framed tour shirts. Lacquered into the bar were printed tickets from venues all around the world. There were signed photos of Bobby with Green Day, Panic! At The Disco, Social Distortion, and even one of him on stage with the guys from Rancid.
Bobby was older now, but he used to be a sessions musician. He would play on the albums but not go out and tour with bands. He knew a lot of people and got to play music, but it also left time for him to pursue his passion, which was cooking. And so it was, that when he opened his little taco stand here on Main Street it became a ready hang-out for folks of a certain age who enjoyed music of a certain type.
I ordered my Mezcal Mule, a delightful cocktail of mezcal and birch beer in a chilled and sweating copper mug with a sprig of mint on the top, and was presented with my gratis basket of chips and salsa. That’s when I saw the news flash.
“Bobby! What the hell is that, man?” I asked, pointing at the television screen.
“I don’t know?” He shrugged and called to Stacy behind the bar. “Turn it up!”
“This is Charlotte Good from News 41 coming to you live with an exclusive story! Only moments ago we received reports of an unidentified flying object landing at Public Airport. You can see it here behind us.”
The reporter was standing in front of a black SUV emblazoned with the News 41 lightning bolt logo across the side. She and the airstrip were separated by a chain link fence and her face glowed with that mix of summer perspiration and makeup. As usual, the sound was crap and every couple of seconds it would glitch or lag. She kept talking and we could make out at least seven out of every ten words.
The shape behind her was not so different from what we might expect. Any fan of modern science fiction wouldn’t be particularly surprised by the design. It was nothing like War of the Worlds. Sleek, black, pointed nose, looking like a triangular prism with an angled back. Just then the side of the ship slid open, a telescoping ramp extending to the ground.
Down that ramp they strolled. They didn’t look so very different from us, aside from the blue skin and frilled ears, their faces looked like a face should look but their eyes were super big and their noses were fairly small. They had arms and legs, although the knees were hinged in the opposite direction from ours. They wore what looked like wet suits with a rigid oversized hood that framed their faces and joined at their shoulders. It was kind of a letdown. It looked pretty much like all those pictures you see of aliens everywhere.
“We are awaiting confirmation from local authorities that it is OK to enter the premises.” The reporter continued.
One creature noticed her, pointed to its buddy, and they ran over to the fence, lacing their fingers through the chain links. She continued to talk, the cameraman tried to get her attention but her camera-ready smile and professional composure only allowed for her to communicate her annoyance with a subtle lift of her eyebrows. The one on the left waved, which was awesome. The one on the right opened its mouth and began to talk.
On the first word, Charlotte Good screamed, spun on her heels, and promptly fainted straight away. The aliens looked at each other, and then at the cameraman, which is to say into the camera. They smiled and waved again, the one who spoke motioning to the mic which lay on the ground beside the prone Ms. Good. The camera moved awkwardly as the man bent, retrieved the mic, and tossed it to the alien over the fence.
Its words were completely incomprehensible, but it smiled as it said them. It seemed enthusiastic and friendly although impossible to understand. Its buddy said something, tapping it on the shoulder, and gesturing expansively. Raising one of its spindly fingers it motioned from its friend to the camera and back again. It raised its wrist and what looked like a predictably ordinary watch projected a perfectly cliche hologram.
It wasn’t a picture. They were symbols. The symbols were grouped in cycles of 4 sequences. There were fourteen of those cycles. Those were followed immediately by 33 additional cycles.
In the distance, great dust clouds could be seen rising off the ground as government vehicles raced across the tarmac. A human hand pointed into the view of the camera, we assumed it belonged to the cameraman, who was warning the aliens of the danger closing in. They looked at each other, one pointed to the other, they looked back into the camera and leaped the fence in one bound. One pointed to poor Charlotte, the other scooped her up.
“Put her in the car!” The cameraman shouted. “We gotta get out of here!”
The two aliens looked at each other and shrugged. The cameraman opened the door to the news van and motioned for them to place her gently into the passenger seat. He handed the camera to one of them, showing it how to keep the feed live, and then ran around the car and hopped into the driver’s seat.
“Seatbelts!” He turned, modeling for them the over-the-shoulder straps and how to buckle themselves in. They each did the same.
“That’s Dougie!” Bobby laughed, pointing to the screen.
“Classic Dougie!” Stacy laughed, her hand going to her forehead.
Dougie was their guitarist. His day job was working as a cameraman for the local news. He also ran all of their video and sound. The band’s. Not News 41’s. As previously discussed, News 41’s sound sucks. You had to be versatile when you were in a band. It paid to know how to do these things. With screeching tires, the government vehicles came skidding to a halt as they reached the fence. The camera panned to the other alien, who open mouth smiled in mock surprise as the News 41 van took off, leaving the Feds behind.
For many hours, experts of all kinds were stumped by what the strange symbols could mean. Cryptographers from all over the world provided their take on what might be the contents of that first message imparted unto humanity from these visitors from the stars. We sat there, all afternoon, watching those screens.
Dougie and aliens at the beach. Dougie and aliens at the Super Mart, getting slushies. Dougie and aliens winning twelve bucks on a scratcher at the corner store. The corner store? We ran out and saw Dougie, alien, Ash the clerk from the corner store, and a few other locals running down the street. At the end was the cameraalien who kept the live feed rolling.
“What is happening right now, Dougie?” Bobby demanded, reaching out a hand and pulling him in for a hug.
“I couldn’t leave these aliens with the Feds. I didn’t want it to end up like a Spielberg movie!” Dougie said. “They’re cool.”
“Cool?” Stacy asked. “What?” She flinched as the one behind the camera motioned to the other to get in close and he swung his long arm around her shoulders and pulled Bobby in on the other side. Once again, he vamped for the camera and they joined in.
Dougie ran towards the restrooms. There on the wall between them was a guitar signed by the great Billy Joe Armstrong. He took it down, plugged it into the amp below, strummed it once, and began to retune.
For their part, the aliens immediately responded. Apparently, air guitar is universal. Ash played along with them as Dougie finished up.
“I know what they’re saying!” He said excitedly. “Those symbols! They’re not words! They’re tablature! These dudes are here to rock!”
With the guitar tuned to his liking he motioned to the alien wristwatch. His blue-skinned friend once again raised it and activated the interface. As the patterns scrolled by, Dougie played that Billy Joe signed guitar for all it was worth. The minute it started everyone knew the words and sang along.
“They came all this way for punk!” Dougie shouted.
“All the Small Things?” I asked.
“Is that weird?” Stacy asked.
“Not at all,” Bobby replied with a shrug.
Dougie reached out and high-fived Bobby, turned and hit me, then Ash, and then the aliens joined in.
They called the band, set the stage, and played into the night. Everyone was skanking and drinking and having a blast. When Charlotte came to, she wandered in and I took the camera at her request. Not to put on heirs, but I had some experience myself.
“This is Charlotte Good from News 41 coming to you live with an exclusive story! Taco Tuesday will never be the same!”
That was the best night. Bobby, Stacy, Dougie, Ash, the locals, the band, the aliens, Charlotte Good, and me.
Tacos, mules, and punk.