10 20 22

I think I found my place.  It’s an old hardware store with lots of windows, plenty of light, plenty of mismatched tables, wide open spaces, and the band “Yes” plays quietly in the background.  I can hear people talking, but it’s a dull and welcoming hum and no one seems to care that I am sitting in the corner with my laptop and an untouched beer.  I could sit here all day.

You do have to get out of the house sometimes.  Especially when the house is your office.  That was one of today’s goals:  to find a free office outside the home that meets the criteria.  I thought I was going to have to take up eating Danishes only because I do not like donuts.  Prior to finding this place the Norwegian bakery was looking like the only game in town and I was adjusting to the idea of eating pastries even though I don’t like them.  That’s called compromise.  You win some you lose some. 

But then, the Norwegian Bakery only had cookies available by the time I got there, and that wasn’t part of the deal, so I went on a walk in the fog on a local pathway called ‘the slew.’  The thick fog made it somewhat cozy and eerie and Halloween-ish. While walking I was texting a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and she said “stay safe!  The air is horrible today!”  Well alrightythen.  This isn’t fog, it’s air pollution from the forest fires and PurpleAir confirmed that I might die.  I should have had a cookie for all the good this is doing me. 

Back in my car I consider my options.  Across the street is a glory days 1980 shopping strip with a Staples, JC Pennys, and RiteAid.  I could park next to the only car in the parking lot and go into JC Pennys.  On the surface, this might be one of life’s bleakest adventures:  fluorescent lights spotlighting untouched racks, plus sizes in patterns unfit for napkins.  And should we go in, although we are the only customer’s in there, it will take us 18 minutes to find help.

This story seems to be going from bad, to worse.

You might need more information about me to understand why I would make such a bizarre next move.  I am a person who can find almost the same thing in a retail has-been as a walk in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  The only guarantee in life is that you learn more by going in, than not going in at all. Once you recognize that a day is shot, or has come off the rails, or is not going to meet expectations, you might as well lean into it. 

Someone tried to steal my dog this morning.  That’s another story.  The point is, the day started off weird, it remained weird, and I did not give up.  Back at home I dropped off the dog, safely inside, and I went back out.  Because that’s what winners do; we look stupid, we don’t have a plan, and we head out anyway. 

Where I live, at least at the moment, the ‘downtown’ area leaves A LOT to be desired.  There is not a single street or block that screams come over here!  Hey, we’re cool!  Come hang out with us!  Nothing looks cute, nothing looks penetrable, nothing looks organized.  This town screams what did I do to piss off the street cleaners and maybe I should open a business so people have somewhere to go?

That’s when it hits me.  Earlier in the day on my mission to case out the Norwegian Bakery, I parked my car in front of a Hardware store that clearly no one goes to because not a soul ventured in or out the whole time I was parked out front talking with my brother on the phone.  A) this downtown is not inviting and B) Home Depot, Walmart and Loews are all within a 5-minute driving radius. Yet another business bites the dust I think to myself before heading out on a walk that almost killed me.  That’s when my mind serves up a memory of a menu taped to the Hardware store window, and I remember thinking what? Why is there a menu in the Hardware store?

The only guarantee in life:  if you don’t go in, you’ll never know what’s there.

Based on this fleeting scrap of information, I drive back down. Now I am inside. There’s a feel about this place that’s indescribable.  It’s the thing I’m looking for, a criteria I can feel, a je ne sais quoi that I can’t find at Starbucks. I do a quick search…I knew it! In 1923 Milford Carr, a local blacksmith, built the building as an investment.  When he couldn’t secure a tenant, he bought a bunch of stuff from another store closing shop and opened Carr’s Hardware.  For 93 years the same family owned the Norman Rockwell-esque store that served as a one stop shop for all your needs, including local gossip, feel good, human connection, and coffee out back.  When the family announced closing, a celebratory and grieving line down the sidewalk and around the corner helped clear the shelves.  They weren’t forced out by the big stores; business was booming.  It was just simply time. 

And now I’m sitting where the paint was.  That’s just my guess.  Paint is the perfect item for the front corner near a window. I can see where the cash register would have been, the soda counter, and all the nuts and bolts.  The new owners, 5 Rights Brewing Company, changed the product and none of the effect.  One wall is as-is, using the small, square, wooden cubbies to sell T-shirts and sweatshirts. In the time that I have been here, an easy 2 hours, the place went from almost empty to full.  Like the tables, nobody matches.  Small groups of human beings gather and tell tall tales.  Everybody is smiling.  The two gentlemen across from me appear to be childhood friends. They are talking furiously, gleefully, full body language and comparing photos on their phones.  One of them just said something about 1976 and holds up his phone as if displaying a golden nugget. A father and son sit drinking their beers in silence and watching the screen.  I wonder if they realize that each drains his glass exactly the same way at the same time and at the same pace? 3 men with the same dark beard and dark mustache wear orange shirts and baseball caps, sitting in a huddle.  A group of women just walked in and created something of a vortex shift. And now there is a line at the beer counter and it’s almost dark outside.

We all need someplace to go.  Especially when our houses feel like chore-factories and a deadly fog threatens to consume us.  We all still need each other, as this quiet, unassuming, hidden place attests. 

The moral of the story is:  don’t steal my dog.