The night I wore my Red Cap into the Lake View Inn, it was not my intention to be disruptive, or to make a statement. I was just trying to cover my hair.
I checked my look in the truck mirror. I guess at my age, vanity is a waste of time, but geez, I looked rough. I’d spent the day on the water alternately sweating and running 60 mph, and my gray locks were not heroically windswept; they were scruffy. Finger-combing didn’t help. I needed a cover. But I’d left my trusty Mercury cap in the boat, and the Red Cap on the truck seat was my only coverage option. Hungry and thirsty, I popped it on.
The bar exhaled through the wood-frame screen door, the enticing sounds of happy conversation and the scent of fried food spilling into the parking lot. I knew the Red Cap would at least earn me the stink eye from bartender Wally, but I was not prepared for the instant reaction of the 20 or so patrons gathered at the bar. Conversation stopped. Heads turned.
I did not pay for this Red Cap. It was handed to me at an event, then tossed in a box when I got home. One day when I needed a fresh cap, it had rotated to the top of the box, and so I put it on. So often you get a new cap and it’s just not right for your head. The crown is either too high or too low, or you adjust the plastic strap on the back, and on this hole it’s too big but the next hole it’s too tight. Those caps go to Goodwill. The Red Cap, though, was a keeper. A perfect fit.
To maintain civility and decorum in the Lake View, Wally enforces a few basic rules. We don’t discuss politics above the county level, and we support local teams and brands. We don’t care if you just moved down from Minneapolis—please don’t wear a Vikings jersey in the Lake View.
“Did your Merc cap blow in the lake?” asked my good friend Chuck Larson when I perched on a bar stool at his elbow.
“I left it in the boat, and I look like hell.”
“Maybe better to look like hell than to walk in here wearing a Yamaha cap,” Chuck replied, shaking his head.
This is Packer territory, and it’s also Mercury country. My dentist is married to a Mercury engineer. My neighbor has a black Lab named Keef, short for Kiekhaefer. One of my daughters works at Mercury, for crying out loud. By wearing my Red Cap for another brand, I was a blatant violator.
Here’s what’s interesting about the Red Cap. When journalists get a free cap at a media event, we usually put it on. But at that Yamaha event, I noticed nobody wore the free cap. Because it’s red, and from a distance, it looks like it might be that other Red Cap, which is sort of an indictment of the national mood—any red cap these days is almost radioactive.
I tidied up in the men’s room sink and returned to the bar, sans cap. My dentist was waiting next to Chuck, with a fresh Mercury cap in her hand.
“Let’s back the home team,” she said, handing me the cap, “and I won’t mention this to your daughter.” As they say, I’m back in black.