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Country mice in the big city

March 17, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

Three country mice recently embarked on a sojourn to the big city to hear some music, have some dinner, and, perhaps, enjoy a libation or two.

If I describe us as country mice, it does not mean that we were born in a furrowed field. It means that some years ago, we made the choice to abandon city life for the more relaxed pace and wide-open spaces of the country.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the city was the traffic.

I was amazed, as I often am when seeing a city after a long absence, that people actually live like this.

These days, rush hour to me means having to wait for half a dozen cars before I can turn onto County Road 1 when I leave the newspaper office.

By comparison, sitting in gridlock and taking an hour to go a couple of miles seems like a peculiar way to spend one’s time.

We eventually secured a beachhead in a parking lot, and set out on foot to find some grub.

Our plan was to meet up with some city mice at a restaurant recommended by a friend. It turned out to be an odd sort of place that specialized in vegan fare. This was not a promising start.

We arrived earlier than our friends, and assessed the situation.

The instructions, posted on a chalkboard near the door, indicated that one was to take note of the soup of the day, which was scrawled on the board, consult the menu (another board), and write down one’s name, choice of fare, and the prices on a slip of paper, and leave this on the counter. Then, one was to retrieve one’s food when called, and bus one’s table after dining. There may have also been something in there about facing Mecca, turning around three times and reciting the alphabet backwards, I can’t quite recall.

We chose to look for greener pastures, and settled on the Acadia Cafe.

It is comfortable, staffed by friendly people, and, as my beer-dar predicted, boasts an extensive selection of malt beverages.

My criticism of the city began to fade as I tipped back a pint of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and surveyed the scene around me.

I started to remember that, while the city is plagued by traffic, noise, and overpopulation, there are benefits as well.

The city vibrates with life, and the diversity of the people, and the variety of eclectic little shops, restaurants, and bars provide an excellent opportunity to observe the human experience. Whether one likes it or not, one soon begins to feel connected to the rest of the world.

We had a good meal and sampled some delightful potations.

After lapping up the Young’s, I moved on to a local choice, Surly Brewing Company’s Furious IPA, which offers an explosion of hoppy goodness that makes the heart sing.

After our meal, we walked down the block and across the street to the Cedar Cultural Center. People still walk in the city, where this is not only possible, but the best way to get around.

The Cedar is a non-profit venue in a former 1940s vintage movie theater that promotes a variety of global music and dance, and books more than 150 shows each year.

The air is tinged with a hint of curry and incense, and the patrons range from young freaks in funny hats to old hep cats with walking sticks.

The highlight of our evening was a sort-of pre-St. Patrick’s Day treat; a performance by the Irish band, Dervish. After 19 years together, they still managed to blow the doors down.

The Cedar is an intimate setting, and I was able to observe the 300 or so other attendees listen with rapt attention to the blend of traditional Celtic music and good old Irish storytelling.

After the show, we adjourned to another establishment for an apres-concert libation.

We passed a couple of promising spots in order to avoid the cover they were charging for live music, and settled on a bar populated by some interesting characters.

After ordering a round of drinks, we debated philosophical questions, such as, “which came first; the jacket or the hair?” (This was in response to a young lady who walked in wearing a bright orange jacket suitable for hunting season, with hair to match).

Our friend, Ellie, explained, based on the newness of the coat and the tint of the hair, given the fade rate of hair color, that the hair came first, and the jacket was an afterthought.

We noticed that ink, piercings, and body modification all seem to be a bit more popular in the metropolis than they are in the rural counties.

Stearns and I discussed music and philosophy while watching Sandy and Ellie defeat the Hat People in a couple of games of pool.

One young pup, who we dubbed “The Boy,” admitted to having escaped from our friends’ native Nebraska.

After a bit of a Cornhuskers’ reunion, the boy boasted about all of the places he has lived around the country, and expounded his theory that people are the same everywhere. If one can find one or two friends wherever he goes, he will do just fine, the boy said.

The witching hour was long past when we piled into the truck for the long ride home, but the spirited conversation continued as our driver pointed the bow westward.

We had encountered some striking individuals as we swam among the flotsam and jetsam that make up the cosmic soup of humanity that is the city.

I am not sure I could live among the concrete canyons, but I did enjoy the visit.

Hanging out on the West Bank reminded me of what it is like to be young and intense, when every experience is a new adventure.

Perhaps I will make it a point to visit the city more often. Running with the city mice, and risking the occasional brush with youth and culture, may just be good therapy for an aging curmudgeon.