I had journeyed back to my home town after an absence of more than fifty years. I wanted to walk once more along the main street, which was appropriately named, Main Street. The center of town was not large, but along that street were shops, businesses and offices, where I’d had my hair cut, my teeth drilled, filled or pulled when necessary. It was where I’d puffed up my chest, acted years older than I was and went to play pool at age eleven when one had to be at least age sixteen to enter such a den of iniquity. It was a street that I’d run along in the darkness of early evening, which to me felt like the cold, fearsome darkness of late night as I scurried home from both challenging exercise and swimming lessons at the YMCA. I was always hungry as hell, since I had last eaten at 11:00 am, the standard school lunch time. Passing by the pizza parlour was both heaven and hell. Heavenly aroma to be sure, but hellishly tempting to a hungry young lad who was often too poor to partake of that freshly baked delight.
Back in my present, somehow, in my mind I judged that my journey would not be complete unless I once again laid eyes on the architectural majesty of the Waldorf Bank, which I remembered stood in proud symmetry atop a small series of plinth-like concrete steps at a place where Main Street bent slightly and veered right.
There it was! It was a gray stucco building, trapezoidal in shape, as it had always been, which, from a distance, appeared to end the street in a cul-de-sac, but roads skirted both sides of the building, allowing two-way traffic to flow to the right and one-way traffic to enter along a narrow lane from the left.
The building had seen better days. First as a bank, thereafter as the re-made, on-a-budget, SH_ ANNON INN, painted in Irish green block letters across part of the second story, the space between the SH and ANNON having been necessitated by the introduction of a drain pipe as the inept, bank-to-inn conversion tried to repair an otherwise leaky, flat roof. These days, the Irish green lettering had faded to a ghost of its former self but the navy blue drop shadow that had been attempted seemed to stay well enough that the original lettering might still be read in pale, peeling green.
The inn’s new owners, rumoured to be a regularly squabbling lesbian couple, had, after much squabbling, decided to give the inn a new name. So below the SH_ANNON INN, they had even more amateurly lettered their new name, the K_WARMA INN. The new name was thought to be a compromise of sorts between the desire to name it the Karma Inn and the other desire to suggest a Warm and Cozy Inn. Then the new owners had a flash of inspiration. They realized that if they left the SH_ANNON INN print in place on the building and a former guest came back to town looking for the SH_ANNON INN, the guest would be more certain to find what they were looking for if the former name was simply left in place and the new name added below it.
The new owners were idealists of a certain sort. They’d wanted to soften the all-concrete appearance of the front facade and entrance, so they placed large wooden rectangular planters on the walk along the face of the building and in a further nod to ecological thinking, they planted tomatoes that climbed the first floor wall on wooden trellises. The idea being that the inn’s kitchen could then use the tomatoes as a locally-grown food source in season. From a distance it looked quite pretty to have the red autumn colour of the tomatoes adorning the facade in August and September, presaging the colours of the season to come. But then the owners had had to install barrier fencing around the bases of the planters after a customer slipped and fell on an unharvested, ripe tomato that had fallen and split open. Thankfully the customer, himself, had not split open, but he had threatened to sue if his ailments did not soon subside and if they became problematic for a longer term. The new adornments of tomato trellis and pedestrian safety barriers seemed no more welcoming than the plain, simple concrete appearance of the old bank had been.
Later, slowly sipping coffee in a nearby diner that, itself, had had several remakes over the years, I sat quietly listening to local gossip that included the rumour that the new owners of the inn would remove the tomato planters at season’s end and that they were then squabbling over the possibility of painting the facade pink with the same aim of ‘softening’ the ‘hard’ appearance of the former bank building. Customers seemed to be in agreement that trying to re-make the bank into an inn had been a mistake from the get-go and that they’d wanted the bank to have a ‘hard’ look.
I finished my coffee and walked away, protecting my privacy in anonymity. I might have piped up about remembering the bank to which I once ran every Thursday evening when the bank had once-a-week extended hours of opening. I’d had a special errand back then. I was given 25¢ each week to save in my children’s Christmas Savings account. It was an account that paid no interest, but would guarantee the payment of $12.50 just a week before Christmas so that children might buy a few gifts for loved ones. But instead of blurting out my contribution to the stories being told in the diner that day, I tucked my experience into myself and kept my privacy for much later revelation as I took old man steps away from the diner, away from the inn, away from that place to which one can never return.