Rumblings From the Southwind
Alec WeaverSeptember 10, 2012 7:05 PM EDT
So I'm angry, big surprise huh. Why you ask? Well in order to adequately explain myself, I have to take you very, very far back into my past. I do not remember the first time I visited Lawrence, KS, but one of the earliest memories I have of this town is eating at a small college bar named Quinton's. In this particular memory, it is cold, probably late fall. Basketball season is in full swing because my grandmother is distracted from the conversation by the game that is playing on one of the TV's above the bar. I am sitting next to my mother facing the windows that open to Massachusetts Street; the sun is almost set, but it is cloudy and it may begin raining soon. To me, Quinton's and their Lorretta sandwich was Lawrence for the longest time. As I grew older, I began to become more acutely aware of the culture, or more accurately, the counter-culture of Lawrence. By the time I was in fourth grade I was going to head shops and buying incense. By the sixth grade I had started to develop a healthy angst for the "establishment" and began my crusade against franchised corporations, in particular, restaurants. Every time someone lent their ear to my pre-pubescent soap-box, I would tell them of the wonders of independent business. As you might have guessed, I would often use Quinton's as a prime example. When I made the decision to become a chef, it was on Mass Street that my hypothetical restaurant was always established. I spent countless summers living from Lawrence visit to Lawrence visit; recently however, I'm finding that the Lawrence of my youth is steadily decaying and I'm left standing between a Cold Stone and a Starbucks asking myself, "Where's the crunch?"
If I make a stretch, I think I can accredit the steady loss of Larryville's Grunge to the establishment of the Quinton's in Topeka. I could no longer sing the praises of Lawrence and their culture if my praise of Quinton's was met with the inevitable "why would I drive all the way to Lawrence when I can just eat the same thing here in Topeka?" Fuck. I was losing traction in my crusade. Up until this point Quinton's was my go-to suggestion, the ol' reliable way of breaking people out of their ticky-tacky shells and giving them just enough of a culture shock to open their eyes to a world outside of the Wanamaker corridor. I had to find another place to bring an equal amount of crunch to the table and still deliver delicious results. I found my answer in Rudy's; an earthy little pizzeria located in the basement of a local beauty store. It has since become my new standard. But to me, Quinton's and their Loretta sandwich still remained the purest of grunge in my heart.
Now, years later as I sat in the Kansas Union, I was drinking my coffee and admiring some student artwork when I noticed a small painting only 3x4 inches big. On it was painted a cartoon robot with the phrase, "Keep Lawrence Weird". In an instant, all of those old memories of Lawrence trips passed came rushing back. What was it about Lawrence now that kept it from being the whimsical town of my Holocene youth? When did Lawrence become...safe? That was it! Lawrence had lost its shock-value, its Frisco/Portland/seattle-esq je ne sais quoi. The old Full-Moon toy store has been replaced by an office building, Penny Annie's Sweet Shoppe is on its way to becoming some type of law-firm, and I'm sure Local Burger will meet a similar fate now that they are out of commission. The comic book shop a little down the way from Jock's Nitch? It's now a Garry Gribbles running store. And when the fuck did Mass get a Starbucks? What happened to my Lawrence? Where's the Lawrence I once brought my youth group to for the expressed purpose of giving them a much needed culture-shock? On a t-shirt in the window of ACME T-Shirt Company it says, "Bring back dirty Dillon's". I couldn't agree more.
So who's to blame? I really don't know. I wish I did so that I could drag them out of their starch-pressed ivory tower and curb-stomp them, but alas I don't think such a force exists. I can still see glimmers of my Lawrence. In a coffee shop tucked into a dirty alleyway, in the dreadlocked waitresses at Rudy's pizzeria, and in the shitty angst filled bands that still sometimes drift through the Granada from time to time. There is a man here who I've taken to calling "The Last Hippie" but more accurately he might as well be the spirit of Lawrence. Often times I'll see his tall, bony frame striding down Lawrence in his maroon Tam and matching maroon peace-sign shirt and wearing dirty black jeans. He wears circular glasses above his flowing beard, and every time I see him he looks a little frailer and his stride is a little less confident.
So why am I angry? I mean change is inevitable, and Lawrence will never lose all of its crunch, right? A few weekends ago I went back to Quinton's for the first time in years. Now in the past, every time I've gone to Quinton's I've been fascinated with a mural that was painted (presumably) by a local artist. The three panels of the mural contain various figures: a business-man in a suit, a migrant woman, and a boy in a red cap; they are all uncomfortably positioned in boxes looking confused and claustrophobic. As a child, I wondered only one thing: how did they get put in those boxes and will they ever get out? As I grew up I realized that they weren't trapped, but that I as the viewer was their means of escape; there were only five walls to their cells and the fourth wall was how these characters were liberated. It was my universal constant; it was what set Quinton's apart, what made it weird and grungy and granola. As I walked in for the first time in years however, I realized the powers that be enclosed the cells with a layer of tan paint and sealed them with a neon beer sign.