Hanging Out in Rockford: The last dance—part four

What is loving someone about? (Microsoft interrupts here, but not right away. I have learned to intercept it. Or I think I have.) But back to the question. When do we love? Whom do we love? Why do we love? And who the hell can explain it? And what’s it all about, anyway? Can you love a band? I do, I think, as I wheel my old Yamaha back on the asphalt, the asphalt that leads back to Rockford; the Route 70 asphalt that turns into the Kilburn Avenue asphalt that leads to the State Street asphalt. Soon we are there.

Soon we are circling the Irish Rose; soon we are looking in; soon we are parking the old Yamaha; soon we are walking in to our little bar, and soon we are seeing Gil. Then it is all about being with the Wristers. For an hour, or maybe even for more, I am transported back to 301 E. State St. and the Old Rock River Café. I am transported by memories. I am completely swept up. I feel wonderful, wonderful that we got to be a part of this; part of the whole downtown renewal; part of what happened to Rockford that kept it from just being the same old Rockford.

I remember the day Parry and Gill talked to me about the building where they would make their business. I advised them to buy it. I remember the night Frank Schier sat on my living room floor and wanted to quit. He said he could never make it. I told him to think about it. Good thing for all of us, he did. I remember when I saw the outer ballroom in the old Elks Club building. I told everyone I knew. That was probably 10 years ago. They just uncovered it. It was in the Rockford Register Star, so you know they did.

It is the end of an era and the beginning of another. The era of the new downtown. The end of the old downtown. The era of getting noticed for what we really are. And sure, some of us are going to leave, and some of us are going to head for warmer climes, and some of us are going to continue our love affairs, our love affairs with old buildings, our love affairs with community; and our love affairs with the knowledge of who we are and where we live and what we have accomplished. Some of us will leave. Some of us will stay.

And so I sit here at the little bar, the little bar in the back of the Irish Rose, where my ex-wife Robin is working too hard. Too hard at her age, but enjoying it nonetheless. I think about the three bartenders at Boo’s, and I think that if Robin were behind the bar, everybody would have had drinks. I think about the night I made this same remark at a River District dinner, and they would have, too.

And then I am too swept up by it. I am too close to the whole thing. I need release. I decide to walk across the river. I am going to go to Serrano’s, but have a change of mind at the last possible moment and waltz into the lot behind Paragon. I sit at Rose’s bar. Lovely Rose. I sit and am content to just sit. Away from everything, away from every demand, away from any needy customer. I can really just sit and be myself.

I sit and talk to Rose, and I feel the power of the night. The power that is sometimes overwhelming when things really change, I mean when they change in a big way, and sometimes it is more than you can or are ready to deal with. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to slip away. Then it doesn’t overcome you totally. Then it isn’t as overwhelming. Then you can take it more in your stride. Especially when it is the end of an era.

All the other people at Paragon leave. I don’t notice, I just sit and talk to Rose. I am feeling old. So old to have been here from the beginning. But I don’t talk about that, I just make pleasant conversation with Rose. I am absorbed in myself and being needy. Then I look at the clock and see that it is closing time. “I had better leave,” I say. I walk back across the river. I walk all the way to Uncle Nick’s. I can still buy something, so I am not out too late. You can tell when you have stayed up too late, Uncle Nick’s is closed.

Back in my apartment, alone with an Uncle Nick’s chili dog, I make the obligatory trip to the window. The flag atop the Faust is doing absolutely nothing, it just hangs there like a rag (and I was looking for some inspiration). I think there are times like this; there are times when you think about moving to California (but never Florida).

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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