Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Little Falls, Minnesota

A Sunday main street sunset serenade. Standing in the corner of Broadway and 1st Street I can feel this cold October breeze coming in. The mighty Mississippi river rolls sweetly close by. Sometimes it’s the only audible sound. Looking around I can imagine how this intersection would be bursting with people and cars if it was any other day of the week and the many businesses would be open. On Sunday I’m guessing people have taken early to their homes as soon as the sun started setting and the temperatures started dropping significantly. It’s early October and it feels like we’re deep into winter already. The sunset is spreading its vivid orange (colour) across the sky and it feels to illuminate everything in its path giving a glowing look to this street scene. I start walking around the block, not wanting to wander off too much, as the Greyhound bus has only stopped here for a 20 minute break. The sunset keeps hanging on in the air giving now a bright orange-red glow as I come to a building straight out of the old west it seems.

The Broadway Sports Bar is hardly noticeable except for a few signs on its tiny windows that advertise a game room, satellite TV and 75 cents beer specials. But what really draws my attention is the false front building that looks as old as the town itself. The kind of building I’m used to seeing further up west from here and in smaller towns or ghost towns. In fact, looking at the buildings that surround it, it’s easy to assume that this might be the oldest building still standing in this town. As I come in the smell of stale beer fills the air. Behind a big mahogany counter by the entrance, the bartender cleans beer glasses inattentively and seems to pay more attention to the three big screen TVs above him, broadcasting three different NFL games. He’s in his early fifties and can only hide his frown when he’s not self-conscious about it. I sit by the counter and wait for the bartender to notice me which takes him a few seconds. I notice a coffee pot behind the counter and when Bob, the bartender realizes I’m sitting there, he apologizes and introduces himself. I ask if the coffee is fresh and he says it’s from breakfast but he’ll be happy to make a new pot. I say it’s not necessary but he keeps insisting on it so I give in. While the coffee is brewing he asks where I’m from and I say I’m just passing through on the Greyhound heading west. At the end of the bar there are a couple of pool tables and a foosball table. Three men in their thirties play in one of the pool tables and only seem to divert their attention to the football games on TV when the announcer’s voice seem to indicate an imminent touchdown or a great defensive play. The smell of fresh coffee starts replacing the smell of stale beer and Bob serves me my coffee in a mug with the logo of the place. I ask Bob about the building and it says that it dates back to 1885, one of the oldest standing buildings in town. As far back as he can remember, this has always been the “Broadway Sports Bar”, but the people who sold him the place more than twenty years ago have told him that it used to house pretty much every business I can think of, from a whorehouse to a Chinese Laundromat to a law office. I notice an old Wurlitzer jukebox unplugged just sitting on a dark corner of the bar and wonder if it is just a reminder of better days. Bob sees me admiring the jukebox and tells me this used to be a music bar when he started running it with some live bands on weekends. Over the years the interest has waned down and the costumers started vanishing so he turned it into a sports bar which seems to pick the business side of it a little bit. Then came the no-smoking ordinance and that’s when things turned worse. I point out that it’s unusual on a Sunday afternoon with the NFL all over TV to see the bar almost empty. Bob says a few years ago business started shifting from Broadway when newer, bigger and modern bars opened across town. His wife Judy and him have been toying with the idea of selling the place but nowadays the return on the investment would be so small that it would render it almost obsolete. On the other hand, they’ve been late on paying the loan to the bank every month this year and things are not getting any better. I notice the time on the clock above the counter and rush to finish the coffee. I also notice that next to it there are lot of merchandising gathering dust on a display case. I ask Bob if they’re for sale and he says that he hasn’t sell any in ages that he almost forgot they were there. I pay for the coffee and ask if I can pay for the mug he served me coffee with. Bob takes a new clean mug from the display case and hands it to me saying it’s a gift to remember them by, hoping next time I come this way the doors will still be open. I thank him and head out the door.

Outside it has gotten dark and cold fast and a light snow is falling. A single streetlight lamp flickers just outside the bar. I hear roars from the small crowd of three inside the bar, so somebody must have scored. I run to catch the bus as it’s about to leave and take my seat upfront. I take the mug and store it safely in my backpack. The bus rolls on Broadway and passes the bar. Bob is just outside the door sweeping the first drops of snow that have gathered suddenly on the sidewalk. With just enough desperation on his face he stops sweeping and lights a cigarette and savours it like it’s the last one he’s gonna have. The bus crosses the bridge over the Mississippi river and heads into Highway 10. A big full moon hangs in the air above town and it seems to steal the crystalline bluish colour from the mighty river, illuminating the empty streets of town in such a way that it seems to be serenading it to sleep.

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