The flag above King's X pub on Oakland's Piedmont Avenue flew at half-staff last Friday. Even though it wasn't quite 4:30 p.m., the small watering hole was packed shoulder to shoulder with men dressed in their best suits and women dabbing at their running mascara. It was last call for their beloved friend, Agnes Hansen.
Agnes was well known to shopkeepers and residents along the avenue and best known inside King's X, where she held court every night for fifteen years, save the occasional trip to Europe or a Prince concert, and always with a glass of Stoli vodka on the rocks -- two squeezes of lime -- nearby. One night two weeks ago, after she failed to take her normal seat at the far end of the bar, one of those dreadful phone calls arrived from a doctor at a local hospital: Agnes had died from a brain aneurysm. She was 47.
At the wake, many remembered Agnes' generosity of spirit, her innate mother-to-all warmth. The first time this reporter walked into King's X, a short woman with brown hair and a cherubic face appeared one space over at the bar. She was wearing a purple double-breasted business suit, and had a box-shaped purse dangling in the crook of her right arm. She smiled.
"Hello," she said. "I don't mean to bother you, but when I'm here, no one is allowed to drink alone."
I told her I was waiting on a friend.
"Well then, you'll wait with me," the woman said.
She made the "get-up" motion with her hand, beckoned to her station, and asked a few of her chums to make some extra room. She motioned to Jimmy the bartender to put this one's drink on her tab.
"I'm Agnes," she said. "This place is like Cheers, and I'm Norm."
The patrons assembled at her wake had similar stories. "That was Aggie," said Sylvana Occhipinti, Agnes' best friend since their days at Balboa High School in San Francisco's Mission district. "She'd make friends wherever she went."
Agnes was the daughter of Thomas Hansen, a Norwegian merchant marine who met his wife, Chung Ja, a South Korean native, while on leave in Hawaii. Agnes delighted in relating how her father, true to the times, wrote a letter to Chung Ja's family, asking for her hand in marriage.
Shortly after Agnes' birth, though, Thomas died. Mother and daughter relocated to San Francisco, where Mrs. Hansen became a popular resident in the Mission, the neighborhood mother hen who took up causes and dispensed advice. "That's where Aggie got it," recalled Donnie Aissa, another lifelong friend. "She was just like her mother, to the T."
After high school, Agnes took an accounting job at Pacific Bell, where she worked for 25 years. Along the way, she moved across the bay to just off Piedmont Avenue, following a then-boyfriend.
Along the Piedmont strip, Agnes was reputed as a skillful bargain hunter, a thrift-store diva, always picking up knickknacks and gifts for friends regardless of occasion. In one case, she bought a woman's G-string for a friend named Walter who'd recently entered into a new relationship. At last Friday's wake, Walter announced to the crowd that he'd been thinking of ways to honor Agnes, so he wore the G-string.
Agnes wove herself deeply into the King's X community over the years. In the very bar where Fantasy Football was founded in 1968, she ran her own popular betting pool for more than a decade, one that paid attention only to Raiders and 49ers games. She planned the bar's annual Halloween bash -- Agnes took to Halloween the way some take to Christmas -- and on spontaneously busy nights, it wasn't uncommon to see her collecting empty glasses and then sliding them up for the bartenders. Mostly, though, she seemed to take an interest in whatever the people around her were interested in.
On Friday, a yellow strip of tape reading "Caution Do Not Cross" was wrapped around the legs of Agnes' empty barstool. A customer who was looking for the A's game took the seat, the only one he could find. A few murmurs swirled around him until someone explained, in an easy manner, the reason for the gathering.
The man apologized and asked what Agnes liked to drink. When it arrived, he clinked the bottom of his pint to Agnes' Stoli, and raised his glass to the people standing around him.
"To Agnes," he said.
Even in death, she could make a new friend.
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