The Beautiful Downtown Burbank Tavern is like many small-town bars in the Northwest, with its two pool tables, bearskin rug and 12th Man flag on the wall. But the people who have hung out in the bar during the years are even more interesting.
They have taught Mike Robinson lessons he carries with him.
“Basically, this is the heart and soul of the community here, has been since the 1940s,” said Robinson, 68, a Kennewick real estate broker who grew up in Burbank. “Like Kahlotus or Connell or Benton City, you’ve got your local bar.”
The bar is the inspiration for Robinson’s new book Everything I Need to Know I Learned at the Beautiful Downtown Burbank Tavern (volume 1) and/or No Animals were Sacrificed During the Writing of this Book! It is illustrated by Jay Flynn, 60, of Kennewick.
The premise of the book, which features a life lesson on each page (most of them starting with “Know, son”) is to show the value that screwing up can bring, according to its dedication. And the Burbank tavern provided real-life, real-time, on-site lessons in that.
“See that brass railing? It used to come all the way across here. Minors and families had to be on this side of it,” Robinson said, pointing to a rail that divided the seating area from the open floor and bar. “Growing up, you could watch stupid on the other side over here. You could watch all the fights and all the screwups. On a screwup, the lessons came real big and fast.”
There is a major difference between a screwup and a mistake, Robinson said. Screwups have helped define who he is.
“There’s thousands of books about self-help and learning from your mistakes, but there’s nothing about learning from your screwups,” he said. “Nobody wants to hear about your mistakes, but everybody wants to hear about your screwups because they make great stories.”
The quotes were compiled over the years. Robinson has shared some of them on Facebook in the past year.
Among the lessons the book teaches:
“Know, son, that as long as you do your best, it never will be good enough.”
“Know, son, on any given night, the question of whether you’re going to live or die has nothing to do with God’s will; it’s a solo field call by the bartender.”
“Know, son, the amazement of who your kids are and what they have become ... and the amazement that he still thinks they’re his kids.”
Robinson and Flynn have worked together off-and-on since they did a 1991 calendar called The Pre-History of the Tri-Cities. The calendar documents such events as hydroplane racing being introduced on the Columbia River in 5000 B.C., with a cartoon of a caveman floating on a log in front of a giant alligator. They have been friends even longer, meeting at a Win, Lose or Draw party, where Flynn showed off his drawing ability.
Flynn had never been in the tavern until a recent interview with the Herald, but he was able to use Robinson’s descriptions to write illustrations to go with many of the lessons in their new book.
“Mike is an interesting person,” Flynn said. “He’s got Burbank stories that fascinate me from beginning to end.”
Flynn drew editorial cartoons for the Herald years ago. He has the distinction of being the only person to win the award for best newspaper editorial cartoon in the Northwest and Trial Lawyer of the Year in Washington.
“His real heart and soul is drawing cartoons for nothing,” Robinson said.
It was fun to finally get to see the Burbank tavern after hearing Robinson talk about it for years, Flynn said.
“It looks exactly like I thought the Burbank tavern would look,” he said.
They are assembling the quote book at Print Plus in Kennewick and hope to have it out by Christmas. Next year, they would like to put together a longer book with life stories, many of them from growing up in Burbank.
They will include Robinson’s recollections of the 1959 varsity baseball team, which played on a “concrete hard, tackweed-infested, bare dirt field on the wildlife refuge.”
They plan to sell the first book at local retailers with a listed price of $49.95, but marked down to $15, Robinson said. They will donate part of the profits to the Burbank Library.
“Our ultimate goal is to be on Jon Stewart or the Colbert show,” Robinson said. “It isn’t the incredible finances we’re going to receive for this.”