Saturday as I was driving home, my eyelids felt like they had monkeys hanging from them. I had gotten 2 hours of broken sleep during the last 32 hours and was really looking forward to passing out on the couch with 4 dogs and the Twins second game of the year.
Before I left work, I called ahead to Golden Chow Mein and ordered a #2 with egg foo young. As I drove through downtown Saint Paul,the sun was beaming bright and my, I dunno.....(spirit?) started to hatch.
If you've ever lived in a cold climate, a land of snow and frost, you know what I'm talking about. Each year there is a day where you realize you survived another winter. Sure, there's still snow on the ground, you still choose to wear your jacket....but by your own definition... winter is over.
Each person has to make their own declaration of this moment, but Klecko is pretty observant, so even though he was close to falling asleep at the wheel, there was a smile on his face.
As I pulled up the the restaurant, I gazed up and down West 7th and tried to soak in decades of memories. My current bakery moved from this location 8 years ago, and even though this particular neighborhood is shifty, clever and unclean. It is the place I feel the most at home at.
In fact it might even be safe to say that I have yet to come to terms with me putting this small part of the globe in my rear view mirror.
So I walk into the home of the best fried rice in the world and say hi to the the white chick. She is really nice, and works the counter on Saturdays. Often times she'll tell you stories about "moments" that have transpired between her and the cook who is an affable Chinese gentleman that I have only seen 4 times in over 20 years of patronizing this joint, but if you go in during the business week, you hear a different set of "thoughts" from the Chinese counter chick who happens to be his wife...LOL - this concept would bury Jersey shore in ratings for sure.
I really could care less about the love triangle. I just know how valuable it is to find a concept where the cook works there 6 days a week for 2 decades. You know what you are going to get when you go in there and that is priceless.
Usually I will chat and listen to the Devils Radio (i.e. gossip) but like I said, Klecko was drifting.
I parked behind the raunt on this particular day, I don't know why. I almost never do, but I remember as I was pulling in, I almost felt pulled to drive around the back. I'm not "New Age" guy by any means, but when hunches cross my mind, I really like to go with there direction.
So now I walk in back and a big 18 wheel semi is parked on the side street. His trailer is pressed against my drivers door. I can't get in. so I place my food on the passengers front seat, consider climbing over the shift stick, but determine I am to old and tired. Klecko will just have to get pissy and wait.
The semi has a long metal track extended from the back and a guy as big as me comes barreling out of the trailer with a 2 wheeler full of boxes marked up with Asian writing.
He looks at me, stops and says "I got you blocked in huh? well if these "A" Holes around here (and he points up to a rusty VW)didn't park in front of the God "D" sidewalks, I wouldn't have to "F" everything up for you all."
So I asked him how many loads he had, he says 3 or 4, but then he offers to move the truck. I replied by telling him that I was willing to wait because he asked nicely, but if he hadn't.....I would have kicked his a** and moved the rig myself.
Dude looked at me all weird for a few seconds, and then realized I was joking.
So while the trucker went back to work I decided to go down the street to the Super America gas station to get some diet root beer to kill some time.
But as I journyed throughout my former stomping grounds, my mind and heart must have been in that "perfect storm" kind of mode.
I noticed every crack in the pavement, chunks of asphalt torn out of the ground. Disguarded cans that has sat through numerous snowfalls.
Then I stared at the chain of tree stumps that align West 7th.They span as far as your eyes can see, and serve as reminders to people in this neighborhood that there are places in this world that just won't receive assistance in times of trouble.
I think it was 95 or 96 when we got what the "expert" meteorologists referred to as high winds, but I think they were tornadoes. They ripped though Capitol City and pulled things out of the ground along West 7th and in my current neighborhood Highland Park.
Funny.....this was at the peak of the real estate boom and 1/2 million dollar houses on the Parkway were not selling because the shredded maples gave a post apocalyptic feel to the hood, so guess what? within weeks new trees were planted. Up and down, and all around the finer neighborhoods of Highland, but for those poor people and small business owners who eek out an existence each day....15 years have past and it's still stumps.
I walk into the gas station, set my stuff on the counter, and the register chick is looking at the kid her age in the other registers line. She is staring him straight in the eyes. There is a smirk thing going on, but as the kid finishes his transactions and starts to head out the door. This cute little white trash chick giggles hard.
I asked her to explain, and she goes on to tell me that the kid who left used to give her s*** everyday in study hall. He said she was a loser and she would never amount to anything.....and I'll finish it with her own quote.
"Yeah, but then it was him who dropped out, it was him who became a loser, but I made it through school and am now employed by Super America!"
You would have thought she landed a gig at 3M or the Taj Mahal.
I wanted to pick that blessed child up and hug the stuffing out of her. Why? Because I know what it's like, I understand with complete clarity to live within a spectrum that doesn't allow you to look around the corner, let alone to view a planet of possibilities.
When you are 47 years old, it is all to easy to look at a kid in their 20's and at least form a silhouette of who they are going to become. The times my heart breaks the most is when I meet people like this that have moxie, or a clever mind, but they have no vision into worlds outside of their 5 mile - domed jungle.
So I grab my bag, reject the offer of a Speedy Rewards card and head outside again. The weather is simply glorious. I hear people in the parking lot making reference to it being the first day of spring.
Great minds think alike.
Next I see 2 20-24ish year old chicks out in the front yard. They are surrounding a baby buggy, and for that specific moment....there is abject joy in their expressions.
This makes me feel good since I'm feeling all Tribal Leader by this point right?
I'm thinking I got a pretty good idea that the smile won't last all that long. I know the type of husbands, or more likely boyfriends that live in that battered house.One of the upstairs windows is boarded up and the paint is chipping away like in the picture of Hillbilly's huts that you'll see in Appalachia.
It mind sound as if I am pontificating, but I'm not. If that were true, there would be no reason to write about this. I just know from 1st hand experience what it's like trying to get ahead, or raise a marriage and family in a worn out neighborhood. A place that offers no hope.And if it did, would you even have the skills to know how to harness them?
The girls kept smiling and I wanted to just watch them, but that would have got me slugged or placed in the back seat of a squad car, so I kept moving on.
As I got closer to my ride, I had a rush come over my heart. Danny Klecko escaped this confinement. I am glad I did, because it strips your soul, it grinds you down into hopelessness, but you know what? I stood on the corner of West 7th and Canton and lamented my loss.
I now live in an outstanding part of the city, with wonderful neighbors and great school systems for your kids, but when life goes better than expected, it is so easy to get comfortable.
When I lived down the hill, across the interstate in what some would consider "the tainted part of town".....my heart was on fire. Every day was a battle and every second of every moment I was in contact with Polish Jesus. I lived in constant prayer.
There is something so noble and sexy about living raw. It bring a persons best and worst attributes to a boil. The key is to see whats left when the content is removed from the flame.
In closing, I think my point is that I realize every blessing that has been given to me, but now that things are so much smoother, I really don't need the Polish Christ as much as I did in the past.
So Polish Jesus.....hear the prayers of the people of West 7th, hear the prayers of people who have no hope, but most of all forgive me for complacency.