Small towns are often thought of as bucolic places with wide open spaces and a slow pace of life that brings one closer to nature and nurtures down to earth values. And to a certain extent, that's true. But the flip side of the slow pace and open spaces is that there's not a whole lot to do. High school football games end at 9:00. Parades need an occasion. And finding pictures in clouds only takes you so far. There's still a whole lot of time to fill. With no movie theaters, limited restaurant choices and no work out gyms, what's a person to do?
In my small hometown, the answer was easy--taverns. Tucked along Main Street between the Public Library, State Farm and Dr. Geroge's office, taverns were just about as common as chewing tobacco.
Which is why I was surprised to read on Facebook a while back that, for the first time anyone can remember, there were no taverns in my homeotwn.
I couldn't believe it. I remember when we had more taverns than churches. It seemed like a perfectly okay balance all the years I was growing up. One that worked and that no one seemed upset about.
Although I do remember as a kid being a little intimidated by them. I would always peek inside when I was walking to the dime store or the library, and they were dark, mysterious, and a little loud. And occasionally a man, slightly tipsy, would walk out just as I walked by and I would run. But overall, they were fine. Because I was a fast runner.
The taverns were a part of our landscape. Almost as much as the corn fields. And certainly as much as the porch lights that the town liked to brag about. We were known as the town "where the highways cross and the porch lights burn all night." In my mind, this was a tag line unlikely to bring people running. Why not add, "where taverns outnumber churches." I thought it would set us apart. Although maybe it wouldn't. Maybe it wasn't an uncommon ratio in small town U.S.A.
Because taverns are fun, which I discovered when I got old enough to go in, or at least to have a fake ID. Not near as dingy as I thought. Better yet, beer was cheap and it was kind of fun to chug them down next to my high school teachers and the county judge. It didn't even bother me that they always put ice in my wine.
I don't understand what happened to them. The town hadn't much liked the adult bookstore that set up shop and ran it right out of town. But the taverns seemed safe. The town left them alone. It's hard to believe that the whole town might have quit drinking or found something better to do.
And in all fairness, I guess I should note that the American Legion and the VFW are still there and still serving drinks. Maybe even bringing out those illegal slot machines from the back room on occasion. I'm guessing they're both going strong these days. Maybe even thriving. It's probably not a bad idea to get there early, because the competition from taverns is apparently gone.
Times they are a changin, Dylan sang. And I guess he's right. Still, it all has me a little worried about what's happening in my little town. What's going to go next? Could we lose the State Farm office? Is Jerry's Cafe going to quit serving biscuits and gravy?
Last year a winery opened up on the outskirts of town, right in the heart of corn fields, and, as far as I know, not having grown any grapes. Wal-Mart moved across the highway and supersized, leaving their old building vacant. I hear the empty building is going to be turned into a mega-church. A get saved at aisle three type of place, I guess.
I can't help but rue the loss of charm of my old hometown. Although there may be reason for hope. I read on Facebook last week about a new place that's opening up on Main Street right where the Corner Tavern used to be. I'm thinking it might actually be a tavern.
Even though it's called a Bistro.