Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goodbye from a Bench

I’m saying goodbye to Anoka, Minnesota today, the Halloween capitol of the world. Things begin with a couple of doughnuts at Hans’ bakery, an originally empty building I watched being renovated for months. Finally the coming soon sign came true, and today I stand before the curved glass case and choose between glazed old fashioned, chocolate iced raised, apple turnovers, apricot twists, carrot cupcakes, and some pastry sandwich thing called a bee-sting. Older women chat over coffee, two teenage boys consume a disgusting combination of chocolate doughnuts and Coke, and a mother wipes the icing off the hands of her four young boys.
Next, I take my bike to Main street and find a bench in the shade. I left the house today hoping to find a new book to read, an easy, summery tale to get lost in before we move six and a half hours north. I knew it was unlikely I would find a bookstore in Anoka, which is so full of antique stores that there’s little room for much else. 
Then a yard sale appeared with a table full of paperbacks. Under the Tuscan Sun—a movie I just watched a few nights ago. But wait, not just the inspiration for a chick flick, but a New York Times #1 bestseller written by a poet and food writer. How could I say no? Too bad I had no cash on me. I dug through my backpack to find one quarter shining from beneath my folded cardigan. 
The sign on the book box: 25¢. 
Can you believe this luck? 
In the shade, reading my fate-delivered book, I look up to glance through the windows of passing cars, wondering what everyone's up to, where everyone's going. I’m alone, but Anoka residents keep me company until my friend Richard arrives. By the time I leave my bench today, I will have been approached by five people. One young boy tries to scare me as he passes on his bike, and one guy tries to introduce me to Jesus. One man with a young, blue-haired girl approaches from the crosswalk in front of me. He asks for bus money to get home, and I worry he doesn't believe me when I say I just spent my only quarter on this book I’m holding.
“I’ll try them,” he says pointing to the two women exiting the truffle and torte shop behind me.
Back to my book. Before long, I hear “How are you doing today?” It comes from a younger guy bouncing along the red brick crosswalk, his friend at his side. He’s got an accent, English maybe, and I expect I’ll be asked for directions.
A warm breeze turns cool and pushes my hair across my face and off of my fuchsia dress.
            “I’m good. How are you?”
He confirms he’s also good as he continues walking past. He turns back to me for a moment. “You look great.”
And now I feel great.
            More reading, and soon an older gentleman makes his way through the traffic and down the crosswalk that cuts through the middle of the street. A trucker leans out his window and yells at the him. “Hey, push the button!” He hadn’t activated the lights that warn the cars of a crossing pedestrian. Without looking back, without any expression, the older man raises a middle finger into the August air.
“Some people just want to hit you,” he says, startling me from behind my bench.

I haven’t especially liked where I’ve lived this past year. Coon Rapids, a suburb of the delightful Minneapolis, is a collection of chain stores and restaurants with no real personality. Anoka, a small town that's about a five-minute bike ride away has been a nice break from that. There’s been the coffee shop where Joe and I spent our first Minnesota hours looking for an apartment, and later, where I met a new friend to talk teaching strategy. There's the truffle and torte café where I dined with other friends, the co-op where I learned to stop planning meals and just accept whatever it is they have for sale that day, and the Mexican restaurant where we took my dad because the other Anoka dining options were overtaken with bikers, their motorcycles lining the streets. We’ve always wondered how this little town, filled with brick buildings and antique shops became the gathering place for Harleys and leather jackets.  
“What are you reading,” a woman asks me as her friend presses the metal crosswalk button. I show her the cover—hoping they look past its chick-flick movie adaptation starring Diane Lane. “Is it good?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “so far.”
Whimsical. I should have said whimsical, but I’m not much for thinking on my feet—ask the eleven sets of hiring committees that interviewed me this summer. This book is perfect for our last week in Minnesota. I know this within the first few pages because she explains that in Italy they bury the old part of a grapevine to allow for new growth:
“To bury the grape tendril in such a way that it shoots out new growth I recognize easily as a metaphor for the way life must change from time to time if we are to go forward in our thinking.”
Go forward we must. And in one week, we will, trading Minnesota and the Mississippi for Michigan and Lake Superior. For hills. For a lift bridge. For our first house. For change.
Houghton, we’re on our way soon.

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