[When I heard that Porky's in St. Paul was closing, I knew I had to post something about it on the blog. And I also knew that it was the perfect topic for my first Guest Blogger on Proper Noun Blog: local stay-at-home dad, Chad Rhiger. You may know him as the bass player for HighTV. I know him as my husband.]
I was the only child of a single mother. In an attempt to look after “widows and fatherless boys,” a family in our congregation took my mother and me under their wing. The patriarch in this household was a man we kids called Papa Ron. Papa Ron was as keen and observant as he was silly and gregarious, quick with a self-deprecating joke or a playful insult. And he was a great lover of cars. Especially classics. He would take us boys to car shows out at the MN State Fair grounds. Being 5 years younger than his youngest son, I was not yet learned in the nuances of car identification. Papa Ron would frequently quiz me, asking the year, make, and model of a particular car, and then follow my answers with a tutorial, saying something to the effect of “Ya see, in ’65 they switched to two side-by-side square headlights. Otherwise they’re almost identical.”
Anytime we were in St. Paul, we’d stop by Porky’s. Sometimes he’d pile a few of us into his ’65 Ford Galaxy 500 and cruise up to Porky’s on Friday or Saturday nights to park and canoodle with the other car owners and afficionados. Papa Ron would show off his tutelage by quizzing me in front of the owner of whatever car. He’d ask how I knew. The owner would flash Ron an impressed look, and I’d bask in the only sense of fatherly pride I’d ever known.
A week ago I learned that Porky’s was going to be closing shop after 58 years. My patronage had slowed to maybe once or twice a year, but I was always grateful that a few of the important things from my youth were still around. I was grateful that I might be able to share these things with my daughter as well.
Yesterday was closing day. Mindy and I decided to take Ladybug to get dinner and take in the festive farewell. We stood for almost two hours in a line that snaked around the parking lot, rendering it almost useless for parking. Ironically, the road construction making way for the new Light Rail – the very Light Rail that was cited as a major contributing factor for Porky’s closing down – made an impromptu extended parking lot for the entire block in from of the restaurant. While in line we made “line buddies” with the family of four ahead of us, their five-year-old daughter being roughly the same size as our three-and-a-half-year-old. Making quips about selling our increasingly favorable place in line to the “poor suckas all the way back there” (I got on this joke good and early when the “poor suckas” in question were within earshot), we passed the time telling our kids to stay out of puddles, discussing Minnesota-isms, and talking about the institution we were there to bid farewell to.
When we finally got our food, we took a table close to our new friends. Ladybug and her new friend were excitedly making sleep-over plans. I complained that they had forgotten to give us a burger I ordered and that our order of onion rings was insultingly meager. Mindy nodded thoughtfully, understanding my annoyance after such a long line wait, but also seeming a bit disappointed that I would choose to vocalize my negativity in what had otherwise been a glowingly appreciative and sentimental wake. I smiled at her and said quietly “Bitching about the service and value is part of the experience, my love” and shot her a knowing wink. Her disappointment melted, she squeezed my arm, and continued contently munching on her pulled pork sandwich.
By the time we finished, the sun was low enough to no longer offer the warmth of early on, so we made for our car. We walked along the avenue, looking at cars to our right, hoods propped up and admirers leaning over the engines, and watching the procession on the road to our left. People in all manner of cars and motorcycles were revving engines, blasting loud and/or unique horns, and, of course, doing burn-outs in front of the gathered crowd. At the cheers and chants of the assembly, the drivers would wind up their engines, then you’d hear an unholy screech followed by gigantic plumes of rubber smoke. Yes, none of these things are good for the environment or any sense of tranquility. But they are exciting. A unifying focal point of reckless ruckus and homage. And these things, like Porky’s, will be gone sooner than we imagine.
On our way out of the make-shift carnival, I jokingly revved up the engine to our ’02 Hyundai Accent. Economy transport at it’s least sexy or impressive. The crowd lining the street roared in approval. Tracking the length of the street with my eyes, I realized that all of the chants and cheers were directed at me. “Light ‘em up! Light ‘em up! C’mon!” The sincerity and joy on the faces of my well-meaning taunters won me over. I braked to allow space ahead of me. Winding that little bastard up to 6 or 7 thousand RPM’s, I popped the clutch. The tires let out a slight chirp, and my little car accelerated impressively, gloriously, for maybe 50 feet. My audience erupted in whistles, laughter, and cheers. With the silhouette of the giant Porky’s sign in my rearview, I pulled on to a road leading to the freeway.
I haven’t seen Papa Ron in years. But I imagine – had he been there – he would have laughed his ass off.