Last Thursday night I could be found at a bar two blocks away from the house where I grew up. At this bar was a guy I’ve known since I was eight years old and who would be married just two days later. Also at this bar were friends who have left our home in the middle of the country for both coasts, San Francisco and South Carolina, respectively. Filling out the crew were my best friends. The ones I talk to almost every day, that put up with me week-after-week. All of these guys I have known for at least nine or ten years, some of them, much more.
Some people might say that this bar is a dive. It’s the last “townie” bar left in my real-town-turned-tourist-town-turned-outer-ring-suburb-for-the-rich-and-Republican. They’ve been remodeling the place for two years. Even though I don’t live in town anymore and I only get to this bar once every couple months, every time I get there I can see exactly what has been done since I was last in there.
This bar sits at the head of a ravine which used to be filled with garbage and a little wild stream. Across the street is a lake, behind the bar a crappy little trail maybe a half-mile long used to run along the stream. Those of us that were in this bar on this night used to ride our mountain bikes up and down that trail when we were young enough to wander around the town but not old enough to drive. I remember a particular time in the early spring when there was still ice on the streambed but water ran over it and we found out how fun it was to ride our mountain bikes downstream.
A few years ago, the city cleaned up the garbage and paved the bottom of the ravine. One of those things is good, the other is bad.
There is a jukebox in the bar. They’ve had the same meager mix of CDs in it since I started plugging my dollars into it a couple years ago. I pretend I’ve discovered all the good songs in the thing so I don’t much care to plug dollars in anymore. But this night, two of my friends with knowledge of obscure 80s rock and a desire to share it with the world situate themselves in front of the jukebox and I donate a dollar to their efforts.
It’s all smiles. I drink a PBR because that’s what I drink at this bar. The bartender gives me the Fisherman special because I’m friends with Fisherman and that pool table in back is his many nights.
Pool is played. Some of the guys from out-of-town play Fisherman and Canoeman who have been playing lots of pool the last few years and it’s nice to have some fresh tricks and some new challenges.
Around midnight Datsunman and me go for a walk. Datsunman and his twin brother Motoman have been living in San Francisco for a year or two and it’s been since my wedding maybe that we’ve seen each other. We slip out the front door and walk down into the ravine. The ravine is very dark and the surrounding neighborhood is very quiet. We smoke and talk about Minnesota, about Stillwater, about home. He tells me how just seeing some photos that I had sent him of the region earlier in the spring, when it was brown and muddy and leafless, tweaked him so bad. Pictures of landscape not beautiful to most people but that did something to him because it was home. Home in all its complexity.
We walk down into the woods and then come to where the paved trail climbs up to go over a street and the stream plunges to go under. Standing in this little hollow, I look up toward the treetops and it looks as if the stars are drifting slowly to earth. It’s just air thick with fireflies though, twinkling lazily in the dead of the night.