Nye's Polonaise

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“Looks like a dive,” the hotel doorkeep says. “But it’s been voted the best bar around for years.” Nye’s Polonaise Room is on the Mississippi, its brick edifice moistened by the pillow of cold air that rises off the river.It’s a low-ceilinged cigar box of a lounge, narrow and lit by red bulbs. The floor is made of two-inch Saltillo tiles and the bar is solid walnut, darkened by elbows and spilled drinks.

Esquire magazine has called Nye’s “The Best Bar in America,” and it’s been featured on Good Morning America and Rachel Ray, but I’m unaware of this, and arrive with no expectations.

The band kicks up. Crammed like Chuckie Cheese animatronics against the far wall, they fill the entire end of the room. And they’re good. Ten of us perch on glittery naughahyde barstools, hunched over our beers. It’s never too loud to hear each other talk.

“Special guest!” the singer yells between songs. “Dude from the other side of the bar!” A guy with a handful of brass rises from a chair and saunters past the oxblood-colored high-backed booths, their headrests slick with years of hair oil. The band has three full drum kits, a sax, an electric guitar and now a trumpet.

I motion to the bartender like hailing a cab. Old, large, broad and bland, he waddles down the gangplank of his bar toward me. White mustache. Close-cropped white hair. Black pants. White shirt. Pocket protector. He peers around the playboy game machine squatting on the

bar. “Yeah?” He says.

“Local beers?” I ask. Seems wise not to waste words in this place.

“Grainbelt Lager,” he says. “Summit.”

“What’s the difference?” I ask.

“Well one’s a light, regular beer and one’s a heavy, bitter beer,” he says. He puts his fingers to his lips and twiddles them against each other when he says bitter.

The fat lady next to me looks amused. “Do ya order much beer?” she asks.

“I have some experience ordering beer,” I say.

“Here’s the deal,” she says. “First ya gotta understand whether you like your ales or your hoppies. Cause your ales are like standard old American beer. But your hoppies are like…” She puts her fingers in front of her lips like the bartender and clicks tiny imaginary castanets. “Bitter,” shesays.

Strange mix here. Young hipsters in Carhartt hats and combat boots right alongside the good people of Minnie—middle-aged black men in simple clothes, my beer steward and her equally robust companion, both in size 40 denim pants and dark blue shirts. My walrus of a bartender. They’re all as abrasive as soapbubbles, clustered like

stuffed animals in their booths, thickened by the Minnesota winter, insulated from the cold and from self-consciousness by their Baltic earnestness.

The band wraps up a final song. “Good night mutha fuckahhhhhhs,” the singer falsettos. Someone claps, a single pair of hands like high heels on an empty stage. The lights come up. I finish my beer and settle up, step into the cold and back across the Mississippi, to bed.

For sale: A different pace of life

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This amazing truck is for sale. It’s nicknamed “El Burro” —dependable but not fast. Which is OK. There is nothing wrong with the truck mechanically. I just felt compelled to get a shiny, more powerful one, so the old Burro’s for sale.

It was built in 1988. Ronald Reagan was president. It was the year NASA scientist James Hansen testified before the House of Representatives that there was a strong “cause and effect relationship” between observed temperatures and human emissions into the atmosphere. It has a 4-cylinder 22re engine with, at the time of this writing, 299,000 miles on it.

The truck is special in the way of old, well-used machinery. Silent, solid and nearly alive. The air inside the cab smells like sun, dust and motor oil. The truck has what’s called a “60/40” bench seat. There’s a hole between the two seat pieces perfectly sized for a Nissan coffee mug. There’s also a mug holder screwed with a drywall screw into the console. There’s an old piece of teddy bear Cholla wedged between the inclinometer and the blue carpet behind the gear shift. This item reminds me of the Sonoran desert, where I became engaged to my wife.

The truck has smoker’s windows. The concept itself may leave you nonplussed, since people in Boulder don’t smoke (at least not cigarettes.) But the smoker’s window is crucial to those of us who prefer not to use air conditioning. The little swiveling triangle opens like a sail, channeling wind to cool the truck on a hot day or defog the windshield when it’s cold out.

I know every sound the truck makes. I know when it sounds wrong. A couple of years ago it was idling high as I drove through downtown Estes Park. I pulled into the Stanley Village shopping center, popped the hood, and saw that the idle arm spring had broken.

It was a gorgeous, sunny winter day. The wind was blowing 40 miles per hour and the hood fluttered on its spindly little strut. Sometimes even a windy day isn’t bad from Stanley Village. From its parking lot, the entire Continental Divide sat like an invitation on the western horizon. The village’s quiet, necessary stores stood obediently by, their shingled facades faded by the mountain weather. They were not brands but categories: pet food, groceries, liquor, bakery, hardware.

I pulled a pair of pliers out of the glove compartment and twisted the old spring loose. The hardware store charged me $4.08 for a replacement, which I twisted back on with the hood threatening to come down on my head and the mountains sloughing their snow into clouds that blew across the park, refracting the sun’s last, low rays into rainbows in the afternoon sky.

I will enjoy my new truck. But it’s a fancy six-cylinder with a complex engine that requires sensors and professional diagnosis. Comfortable as it is, it will never beat the simple pleasure of El Burro. Of replacing a spring in the cold of a February day in a parking lot in the Colorado mountains, when time was more important than money and there was no shame in being old, or beat up.

If you’d like to buy into that, drop me a line.

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