Hanging Out in Rockford: The last dance—part three

I wind my way into Rock City. I find a place to park my motorcycle just around the corner from the big street dance. The person at the gate collects my $3. I wind my way into Boo’s. I am tense and want a drink. The tension arises out of my downtown street being closed and not being able to earn the money necessary to keep my Rockton location open. Rockton has never earned a profit, but I don’t know how to give up. I did the same thing at the Old Rock River Café, I didn’t know when to quit. I am thinking about quitting. It is keeping me from going on to anything else.

I wander into Boo’s and find a place to stand at the far end of the bar. The bartenders, not used to the high power demand, are scurrying around trying to tend to the needs of the crowd, which fortunately is undemanding. I watch as a woman purchases a drink for $2.75 and then pushes the lone quarter forward for a tip. Signs posted on the double-door cooler state that the kitchen and pizza are closed for the day. Clear the decks, Mabil, we’re going to sell a lot of beer. I stand and wait patiently.

A local next to me strikes up a conversation. Finally, we are noticed and served. I get a Canadian Club on the rocks, my first and almost last drink of the day. The relaxation surges through my body as the lone drink takes hold. It is a big drink for only $2.75. They do that in these farmer bars. You can get really drunk on a $10 bill. I wonder how you can do that and make any money. Then I wander outside and almost instantly run into Elizabeth and Sarah.

The last time I drove up to Rock City to visit Sarah, I didn’t know where she lived. I didn’t know where her mother’s store was. I tried to call her, but my cell phone wouldn’t work. Cell phones are like that in Rock City. I just sat at the bar having a drink being glad that I was in Rock City, glad I was having a drink at Boo’s. I thought it was just as interesting to come to Rock City and not see her. To tell her later that I had come and not seen her. As I have grown older, I have learned to do that. Then she was just there, and we had a couple of drinks. She said that word gets around fast when someone strange comes into Rock City. I guess I was someone strange.

Their showing up today seems just as magic. They are in search of cheese curds, the fried kind, and they buy samples from two booths. Then we stand and talk while Sarah waits for some other kind of fried cheese stuff from another stand. She makes a remark about needing variety. We walk back to her dad’s house through backyards. Try that in Rockford. At the house, her brother is playing in a hard rock band. People sit on the wagon that was a float in the parade. Someone hands me a light beer, and I swallow a few gulps, but I am not in the mood for beer.

I meet Sarah’s dad. Surprise, he is a biologist, wonder how that happened. He shares some of his homemade wine with me. Sarah suggests that I walk down to her mother’s store and gives directions. She says that the mother of Kara, my new waitress is there, and I should meet her. I make a mental note to do this. Kara is gorgeous, and I want to see what her mom looks like; it can’t be bad. When there is a lull in the conversation, I say goodbye to Sarah’s dad and silently sneak off.

I wander down to the shop. It reminds me of my friend Tricia Davey’s shop in Rockton. Rock City itself reminds me of Galena. (Tricia Davey once had a revelation about Galena. She surmised that the unusual behavior was caused by the amount of lead in the water. I told my friend Tom at the Farmer’s Home Hotel about this, and he said rather dismissively, “Of course it is, everybody knows that.”) Rock City isn’t that far from Galena, in a number of ways. At the door to the store I am met by a man, and I ask about Kara’s mother. He introduces himself to me as Kara’s dad. I am a little taken aback.

Then he leaves and her mom shows up, and you can see immediately why Kara is so beautiful. We stand outside the shop and make light polite conversation. I tell her that I want to use Kara in my television commercial but that I haven’t asked her yet. As we talk, fireworks start bursting overhead. But I have the Wrister’s last dance to attend, and my mind is elsewhere. I abruptly excuse myself and walk back toward the street festival.

I walk along toward the crowd that is looking behind me. The fireworks are breaking overhead in the beautiful night sky. The crowd parts for me like the crowd years ago at a Jethro Tull concert did at the Stadium in Chicago, and then we laughed and laughed. I find my motorcycle and drive slowly, carefully back to Rockford. The Wristers are waiting. It is the end of an era.

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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