April 22, 2011
Last night Karen and I went to the Wabasha Street Caves, in St. Paul. Created by miners harvesting the sandstone found in the surrounding cliffs, they aren’t really caves at all, just big holes; the results of 19th century industry building needs, entrepreneurial zest, and a total lack of eco-consciousness. But they are big. And heck, you put a bunch of holes like that into a cliff and they’re bound to attract the attention of folks who like to hang out in, well… holes. Gangsters, thieves, pimps, prostitutes; they all enjoyed the illegal liquor and shady company to be found in the speakeasy that made it’s home there in the 1920’s and 30’s. Ma Barker and John Dillinger are said to have frequented the place. Why, you can see their pictures right there on the walls of the current establishment, scattered among a handful of other portraits of low life types that you would not want your daughter to bring home. Or even text with.
Between prohibition and now the caves served as storage for the flotsam of river floods, and as an ideal location for growing (what else?) mushrooms. It’s been years since the names Baby Faced Nelson (he’s there on the wall) and Scar Face Capone (he’s not) struck terror and grim fascination into the hearts of Americans everywhere. Nowadays nothing is left but the (considerably less grim) fascination. The contemporary establishment likes to play up it’s sordid history. Like it’s predecessor it serves up liberal doses of (now legal) booze and hot music. The clientele has changed. The gangsters have been replaced by throngs of restless college students hungry for a place to cut loose and practice their newest, coolest… swing dance moves. Yep. Each and every Thursday an eighteen piece big band lays down the groove and everybody starts shimmying to the music and moves that their great grandparents invented. Take away the tattoos and the smart phones (OK, and some of the hairstyles and clothes (well, better leave the clothes)) and you’d have thought you’d traveled back in time. We had a blast.
The caves are said to be haunted by the ghosts of old and malevolent gangsters, anxious to refill your drinks when you turn your head. Regrettably, none visited our table.
But dancing was a lot of fun and the perfect way to spend the night before my flight, which, OMG I’d better get out of here to catch.
I keep thinking about the great heroes of the epic journeys. Beowulf and Ulysses, who fought armies, and monsters and mono-ocular cannibals. The heroes in the Jack stories who set off to make their fortunes with nothing but their wits and a modest, fiber filled lunch which they inevitably share with a grateful hag/helpless animal/stunning enchanted princess – take your pick. None of them had to deal with flight delays.
My particular Circe is a thunderstorm over Chicago which, while not turning me into a pig, has made hash of my connecting flight schedule. So here I am sipping a hot chocolate as slowly as possible in the breathtakingly expensive Caribou coffee café at the Minneapolis airport while I wait for a flight, not to Chicago and then Miami and then Santiago (no!), but to Dallas Fort Worth and then Santiago. At least it’s the same end destination and one less change over. One can only hope that one’s baggage is headed in the same general direction. My fiber filled lunch has been a bag of peanuts and a pumpkin muffin, which I would have been happy to share. Alas I’ve seen nary a hag/helpless animal/stunning enchanted princess – take your pick. My alleged, revised flight time approacheth. I goeth.