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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall in the Upper Mississippi, and Mitch the Ice Cream Guy

It hs been unseasonably warm in the midwest - over 80 degrees on October 10. We decided to leave Chicagoland and head out to the country to see some fall colors. With teenagers in the back and wife by my side, I pointed the Volvo northwest. After about five hours, we arrived in Ferryville WI. Our cabin was a few miles from the Mississippi River and it was blessedly quiet there. But we wanted to see the mighty Mississippi and the river towns. River towns always have been slightly disreputable - transients have rolled through for generations, looking for food, alcohol and hanky-panky. Ferryville is really small, but across the river is a somewhat larger town - Lansing, Iowa. The locals have almost scrubbed away the river town sleaze (except for a few grungy bars down by the riverfront). We saw an interesting establishment in a very old small commercial building. It was called "Wall-Marks Deli, Ice Cream and Antiques." We had to stop in, and we encountered a gentleman named Mitch - His handsome face is pictured above. Mitch served up cones to the teenagers and a chocolate milkshake for me - thick and rich.

I had a conversation with Mitch, which is recounted below. I am operating from memory here - did not tape his comments (or mine):

"This deli stuff is a new experience for me. I am a welder and a machinist; been working in the factories around here for over 25 years. I worked for a long stretch for a chemical company up in LaCrosse. I got laid off last year; the whole plant shut down and the production was moved to Juarez, Mexico. There were 850 people let go. Now I heard that the plant in Juarez is shutting down. They can't get skilled workers and the drug violence is beginning to screw things up. The plant might come back to the U.S. or maybe to China. I could care less, at this point.

So I got together with a couple of buddies and we opened Wall-Marks. You can see that there are marks on the brick wall outside from one of the floods that happened over a hundred year ago, so we used that to come up with a name. The WalMart people haven't sued us yet.

We opened in April, and like I said, I am new to the restaurant game. We had a good season; lotsa traffic. doncha know. With the boaters and the bikers, we did okay. I thought it would die off after Labor Day, but we have had a big rush of leaf-peepers, like you - I have met a few folks that live near you in Chicago. This is the peak weekend for colors. The bikers did a big charity ride yesterday, cancer charity of some kind. I ran out of a lotta stuff, we were totally slammed with hungry bikers.

We get flocks of Harley people all the time in this town; I really don't know why. They like the Sandbar down by the river. They do drink specials there pretty much every night. Sometimes it gets a little hairy. But most of the bikers are as old as I am and know how to behave. They like to stop in here for lunch and dessert. I think they like the meatball sandwich the best - "Mitch's Magnificent Meatball." Oh, sure, its the best meatball sandwich you'll find in the Upper Mississippi Valley.

I heard that some biker hit a deer last night. Killed the dear, but he walked away unhurt. Motorcycles and deer don't mix. We had another collision about a week ago - guy had his wife on the back of his Fatboy, hit a buck, his wife flew off and got run over by another Harley. Broke her pelvis, messed her up pretty good. I got rid of my bike about 10 years ago. Woke up one day and said to myself "What the hell are ya doin'?" Too much risk, man.

The missus and I moved up here a few years ago. We used to live in Prairie du Chien, about 30 miles south on the Wisconsin side. I was doing independent welding stuff for machine shops and such. We had a chunk of land up in Victory; its an unincorporated village about 15 minutes from here in Wisconsin. We had a trailer on the land and a utility hook-up. It was quiet and beautiful, a stream runs through it. Pretty soon, we were up here every weekend. I had a hard time going back to Prairie du Chien on Sundays. So a few years back, we sold the house, built a new place in Victory and came up here. I am really glad I sold my place when I did - couldn't have got the price now that I got then.

So I am scaping out a living here. We are going to close for the season on November 1. I will try to get some welding work to carry me through the winter. This isn't the life I expected. It could be a helluva lot worse, though. As long as the bikers and the boaters show up and buy stuff from Wall-Marks, I should be OK. I might have to work until I fall over dead, though - tough to save money with this type of working life.

I visited Chicago once; I ain't ever goin' back. I don't understand how people can live like that, so much noise and the crowds, traffic jams and such. Great meatball sandwiches, though."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Top Ten Reasons that the Harmonica is an Awesome Instrument

10. When played in a particularly shrill fashion, the harmonica will induce all dogs within earshot to howl lustily.

9. You can buy a good quality diatonic harmonica for well under $50 - this is the cheapskate's favorite instrument.

8. You can practice your harmonica while driving your car. Try THAT with a trombone!

7. A harmonica provides you with something to do while riding the elevator (although you might not want to play it when you have fellow passengers in the elevator).

6. The harmonica is almost as flexible and interesting as the human voice.

5. You can front a blues band if you can play the harmonica and sing a little.

4. Harmonica players can say that they play the same instrument as Howard Levy - although Howard plays the harmonica like no one else in the universe (he is a very scary monster of the harp).

3. Harmonica + a bullet microphone + a vintage tube amplifier = world's best contemporary musical sound.

2. The harmonica is a wind instrument that plays chords!!! Try THAT with a trombone!

And the Number 1 reason why the harmonica is an awesome instrument:

1. It fits in your pocket, so you can express yourself musically at any time. My trombone most certainly does NOT fit in my pocket.