Friday, October 17, 2008

On The Street Where I Live

I love life in Le Mars, Iowa. I love its small town attitude and quirkiness and the people who live here. I have learned to perfect the Iowa "farmer's wave," which is, simply, the slight finger-raise off the top of the steering wheel accompanied by a slight tilt of the head meant for oncoming motorists. It always amazes me that, even though I may be driving in some remote location miles away from anyone or anywhere I know, I am still met with a "farmer's wave" from a perfect stranger. That is Iowa and that is why I enjoy living in this state.

A little closer to home is Central Avenue. Central Avenue dissects The Ice Cream Capital of the World, from east to west, right down the middle. Fall is the best time take in the beauty of Central Avenue, with its grand Victorian homes set between oak and maple trees strategically placed a hundred years ago by our city fathers. I would believe that they were thinking of us when they planted those trees. In the summer, the trees provide ample shade for spectators along what is, now, the town's parade route. In the falls, they provide explosions of color - oranges, reds and yellows. On a clear sunny day in the fall, when the leaves are raining down upon the sidewalks of Central Avenue, I find myself celebrating that my boys and I live in such a quaint Midwestern community - a real slice of Americana.

Our downtown is full of sweet little shops – clothing, home décor, a pet shop, shoe stores a couple of banks and miscellaneous offices, and some restaurants. For a town of 9,500 people, our little downtown represents a vibrant and resilient business district. Nowhere else in the world can you get a sense of the economy’s effect on “Wall Street to Main Street” (a term often thrown out by our Presidential candidates) than in a small town shopping district. These persistent shop owners refuse to give in to the economy and find that the only way to compete with the “box stores” is to provide personal customer service. They not only know your name and all of your children’s names when you walk in the door but they also know what the last item was that you bought in their store and whether or not you attended church on Sunday.

Most of these stores have stood the test of time, but there is one little café that started out as “The Pantry Café” sometime in the 40s and the décor has remained virtually the same since then. When I first came to town and worked in one of the banks across the street from The Pantry Café, I would eat there for lunch. They had the best BLT sandwiches. Every time I ate there, I felt like I had stepped back in time about forty years. Over the past 18 years, since I came to town, that little café has changed hands a number of times. It is tough for a Main Street diner to remain competitive with the Subways, McDonalds, and finer dining establishments that line the highway in Le Mars.

The Pantry Café became Wiener’s Café, then La Potranca (a Mexican diner). In between, long vacancies took its toll on this wonderful little establishment. It is beginning to feel a little run down and, while La Potranca serves some amazing authentic chicken quesadillas, my little corner eatery just isn’t the same.

But there remains one piece of this little building that has stood the test of time. The sign attached to the building was altered from the uniquely vintage neon lettering (The Pantry Café) against a turquoise background to an embarrassing refurbishment that has never changed since it once advertised the location of Wiener’s Café. To illustrate the virtuousness of small town America, this sign was purposefully revamped with care by the then-owners of Wiener’s Café. As if the name of the eatery wasn’t funny enough (and in their defense, it was their last name and they did serve GREAT German fare), here is a picture of this curious representation that, in my opinion, defaces the quaintness of our downtown. Few people ever even notice…but the ones that do certainly appreciate its quirkiness. Maybe it is my twisted interpretation of life. Maybe it is my sick sense of humor.

BUT it does capture the innocence of life in a small town. What do you think?

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