This Saturday is Billy Balducci’s last official nightshift
bartending at Hackney’s.
Hackney’s is our local tavern, and Billy’s been tending bar there since the day it opened in November, 2001.
Longtime blog followers know Billy as the guy sitting next to me in a photo we originally published with a 2007 blog post called Cheers! — Mike and I are fortunate to know him as a dear friend. He and his wife Kathleen’s good-lookin’ boy Tommy will celebrate his first birthday next week, and Billy is leaving the bartending world for what he calls “a big boy job.” We wish him all the best, and in honor of this momentous occasion I am reblogging a post I published a few years ago, shortly after Billy and Kathleen got married.
Accompanied by Billy Balducci
When Billy heard Mike was working the night Hanni and I were scheduled to give a presentation at Prairie Trails Public Library, he offered to drive us. He doesn’t tend bar on Thursday nights, he reasoned. “Kath won’t be home that night anyway, she’s taking a class.”
Sidenote: Hate to break it to those of you who have admired Billy via the Internet, but he is a happily married man now. He and Kathleen tied the knot last Fall and are enjoying wedded bliss.
Back to the story. Billy grew up near Burbank, his family still lives near there, if Kathleen wasn’t going to be home that Thursday night anyway, why not visit his parents while I talked to the kiddies at the library, then come pick me up and drive me home?
“There’s no spots left in the parking lot!” Billy joked when he came to fetch me after our gig. “It’s standing room only in here!” It’s true there were far more people in the library auditorium than I’d expected — the kids were curious, and as always, full of terrific questions.
“Do you ever go anywhere by yourself?” one girl asked. “That was something I really worried about when I first lost my sight,” I told her. “I was afraid I might never, ever be alone again. And I like being alone sometimes.”
I told her how much I value my time alone at home now. Hanni is always in the house with me, but she’s usually sleeping. I know our apartment so well I can walk around on my own. “But you know, you’re right. when I leave the apartment, or anytime I want to go out and do anything, I either have Hanni with me or I hold onto another person’s elbow.”
“And so, you are always accompanied?” the girl asked. Loved her using that word, accompanied.
I had the best of both worlds as I was accompanied out of the Burbank Library: Hanni’s leash in my left hand, Billy’s elbow in my right. “Wanna stop at Keegan’s?” Billy asked. Keegan’s is a South Side Irish bar he and his buddies used to go to when they were teenagers. “We’d use fake i.d.s, drink a Guinness and then head over to Comiskey for a Sox game.”
I was feeling celebratory. We’d made it to Burbank. The presentation went well. “I’d love to go,” I said, but knowing about Billy’s chivalry, I made one demand. “You have to let me buy.” He reluctantly agreed.
Inside Keegan’s, Billy placed my hand on a bar stool, I climbed up and started eavesdropping. I was the only woman in the bar. Billy was by far the youngest man there, and Hanni the only dog. She napped at our feet while we sipped pints of Guinness. The jukebox played Journey and Country & Western hits, the volume so low that Billy and I could keep up a conversation. We talked about his new neighborhood, the house he and Kathleen had bought, life as a bartender, what the future might bring.
Billy bought the second round. “Beer always tastes better on the South Side,” he insisted. I had to agree.