Sunday, October 11, 2009
Vicki and I Do Minnekaunee
At a family reunion some years ago Vicki and I decided we should check out the rough and tumble bars in Minnekaunee. Vicki mentioned this to Suzy P., her local best friend, and Suzy replied, “Oh, you’re going to do the Minnekaunee Death Walk!” I said to Suzy quite sincerely, “Are we taking our lives into our own hands?” “Not really,” Suzy said, “it’s just that if you try to have a drink in every bar in Minnekaunee, you’ll probably wind up dead.”
Minnekaunee, as you know, is at the eastern end of Main Street in Marinette, nestled in with the coal docks, the lumber yard, and the fishing boat docks on the Menominee River. It has a reputation as the toughest neighborhood in the Twin Cities. The business district consists of one variety store and ten bars in a row. When I was in high school my friend Grant B’s dad had to deliver beer to the Minnekaunee bars at lunchtime, and he literally considered his life to be in peril on a daily basis.
Vicki and I set out at 10:30 on a Tuesday night. I’d had second thoughts and suggested Van’s or the Waterfront as more congenial alternatives, but Vicki had her mind made up. She was in prime shape from her weight training regimen, and my impression was that she was interested in punching somebody out.
We drove over to Marinette and parked next to Helen’s Lake Edge Inn. In my childhood days, this was the site of the Sailors Inn, which sported a huge World War II era sign on its southeast exterior wall, “No Japs Allowed – Now or Never.” The sign had disappeared some years prior, and Helen’s, in fact, was a colorful and comfortable place. Bright lights, a thirtysomething barmaid, a crowd of local characters, and a trio of bleached blond Marinette beauties holding court at the end of the bar. “I can do this,” I reassured myself. Vicki ordered a Red Hook, but that was too exotic for Helen’s limited stock, and we wound up with Miller Lites.
After a couple of beers, we moved off down the strip. Because it was a weekday night, several places had already closed: The Marriner, Mike and Jean’s, even the infamous Korn Kob. “Maybe we can do the Death Walk by just looking through the bar windows,” I suggested. “No way -- look at that guy!” Vicki said, pointing to a huge tattooed man with two women inside Cactus Joe’s. “He is so mean-looking; let’s go in there.” I grabbed her upper arm and pulled her down the street.
We settled for a place called Rey-Tech on the corner. A sign on the door read, “Abatement of the Poker Run – Freedom of the Road.” We puzzled over this for a moment, then went in. Rey-Tech lacked Helen’s ambience. It was big, dark, unadorned, and filled with loud, angry music. The bar was crowded and noisy. I didn’t see anybody I would normally hang out with. A bleached blond guy at the bar said, “Over here, I’ll make room for you and your lady.” “She’s not my lady; she’s my sister,” I thought to myself, but gave him an appreciative smile. Vicki whispered to me that the barmaid looked high on something, but I thought she was just acting dramatic. We ordered 50-cent draft beers, and I avoided eye-contact with the other clientele who were busy with their own thing anyway. When Vicki went to the john, a woman two seats over tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a grin and an up-raised thumb. I smiled and raised my thumb back to her, then feigned absorption with the foam on my beer. Vicki returned, reporting that she’d been harassed on her way to the ladies’ room, but that she’d taken care of it. I didn’t ask how. The barmaid invited us to roll five dice for a quarter and win a case of beer (if all five die came up with the same number). I invested a couple of quarters but had no luck. The barmaid refilled Vicki’s glass without asking, and I handed her some more money. We left after a couple more beers. Out on the sidewalk, two sodden characters made some remark that I didn’t hear, and Vicki made an obscene gesture at them. “Why did you do that?” I admonished as we got in the car. “I couldn’t resist,” she said. We looked around to see if the police were watching for drunk drivers, then sped off into the night.
The next morning we told our friend Mike S. about our night on the town. I said, “Minnekaunee had a really bad reputation when I was a kid.” “It still does,” Mike said, “there are some really mean people in those bars.” He described jogging by there a couple of weeks before at 7 a.m. and finding a bloodied and beaten man lying unconscious on the sidewalk. The abatement sign on Rey-Tech’s door designated it as one of a half dozen stops on the Lake Michigan circle tour for biker gangs from Milwaukee and Chicago.
We did, of course, get home intact. I told Vicki, “I don’t think I want to go back to Minnekaunee for a while.” “You don’t have to,” she said, “you’ve already had your breakthrough.” That made me happy.
G-mail Comments (Vicki L, 10-13-09)
Yesterday, I was of the opinion that you, like Jack Kerouac, have routinely carried a small spiral notebook in your jacket pocket as long as I can remember, in order to faithfully record everyday happenings. Today, I have my doubts. First of all, where did the picture come from? I don't specifically recall your whipping out your camera during our 'death walk'. And surely, this tale includes embellishments...for example, I have no memory of declaring what might possibly have been my intention to punch someone out (in my field we call this 'projection')....nor do I have any memory of throwing dice for a case of beer. But then....I suppose all the beer consumed during our 'death walk' may have compromised my memory. So good to be reminded of the good old days. I'm busy working out again...that is, working up to punching some unsuspecting character in the nose. Perhaps we could again collaborate in an adventure. Love, Vicki
I’m afraid you caught me embellishing. The picture is of a biker bar, though not one we attended. While we did toss dice, I must admit I invented your wish to punch somebody out as a dramatic device. We should collaborate in an another adventure, and I promise to be a more faithful recorder. Love, Dave