Crows of a feather drink together.

A murder of crows is likely smarter than a potation of polynesiacs.

Crows outsmart children up to age eight on simple tasks. Studies have shown it. Extrapolating from this, I figure that once a group of tiki peeps get to our third or fourth drinks, we’re likely operating around the same mental age. Perhaps we should keep some crows around for cognitive support during last call?

Speaking of smart, it’s not fair that a group of crows got coined a “murder” from some fifteenth century quick-wits. Consider the other archaic group names: an ostentation of peacocks, a turn of turtles, a shiver of sharks, a smack of jellyfish, a pandemonium of parrots, or a knot of frogs. At least a potation of polynesiacs makes perfect sense.

Susan agrees that crows get a bad rap. She has loved crows as long as she’s loved tiki. When she was younger, Susan rescued injured crows from her cat. She’d doctor up their claws or immobilize their broken wings and give them time to heal. She became so good at it that she developed at-home methods to test when a crow would be ready to return to the wild. She’d set up an old bicycle pump, pull the handle up to the top position, and gingerly place the crow on it. Once there, the handle would slowly descend given the corvid’s slight weight. If the bird flew, she knew it was time to set it free. If it didn’t, the bird got some wing aerobics in for that day. It normally took about a week. During rehab, the crows didn’t seem to mind living in the garage rent-free with a steady diet of unsalted crackers, watermelon, tomatoes, or bread crumbs.

Knowing this history, it’s no surprise that Susan and Michael’s home bar is named The Crow’s Nest Lounge. It’s a place where smart birds gather to temporarily dull their wits, and Michael’s just the guy to effectively assist with this treasured transition. Our collective conversation that evening was cacophonous, much like a gathering of crows. Jim (aka Gone Tiki, an amazing tiki carver and close friend) was sharing pictures of his beautiful and bizarre moon-faced creations and his giant Ku carving at the Devil’s Reef, while Ray (aka Tiki with Ray) was asking me to find the “holy grail” of tiki mugs (it’s an inside joke…), and Susan was pointing out her Dawn Frasier Moodxotica original painting and multiple Bosko carvings. I was listening intently and asking a sporadic question while staring at the corner tiki. The carving was a beauty by Jim dubbed King Crow that holds a smaller tiki called Cameron Crow(e). As we chatted, Michael mixed his own cocktail creation, the “Crow’s Nest Mai Tai,” a blend of the classic 1944 recipe with a nod to the Hawaiian version of the same name. Using a rum combo, including Appleton 12, he added a bit of Plantation Pineapple and substituted coconut rock candy syrup to balance the sweetness. The result was delectable.

Susan is originally from Garden Grove, California. She’s always lived with tiki in her peripheral vision and polynesiacs in her family. She’s Big Al’s cousin. In addition to being a frequent patron of Sam’s Seafood (which later became a Don the Beachcomber’s location), she would often take ski trips up to Reno and visit Top of the Wheel at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe and Trader Dick’s in the Nugget. Trader Dick’s was one of only a few places that, when you bought an eight dollar drink, the mug came with. Apparently, you could even get a beachcomber hat with the Cha Cha cocktail. Later on, Susan and Michael lived right down the road in Gardnerville, Nevada for several years, and the visits became more frequent. After three decades of visits and a sizable collection of mugs, they were present on that sad, final night in February of 2014 when Trader Dick’s closed to become Gilley’s Saloon, a country-western nightclub. There is a bright spot, though. Two artifacts from Trader Dick’s now have a safe, second home at The Crow’s Nest Lounge.

I’m grateful Susan is still making friends with her backyard crows, other tiki folks, and wayfaring strangers like me. I may have not had a broken wing during my visit, but I’m thankful I got to perch on that bar stool for a night of rehab to prepare me for my flight back home.

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