...long story. I'll sum up:
Blah blah blah...1970's high unemployment, failing factories...blah blah blah....city revitalization project...blah blah blah..."hey, let's reinvent ourselves into a retail center." blah blah blah...
Anyway, they ended up bulldozing 4 to 6 blocks of the downtown in 2004, which was about 30% of the entire downtown. On the bright side, they're rebuilding. There's a nice culinary arts school where a parking lot used to be.
Where was I? Ah yes, the Tipsy Toad Tavern.
I got there early so walked the mostly empty streets of downtown Muskegon to kill some time. Walked passed closed buildings between alternately bright spots lit by the street lights and dark spots, filled with shadows and alleys.
Folks walking in my direction invariably crossed the street before getting anywhere near me. Or maybe I was just imagining that. Either way, it was quiet and empty in the partially bulldozed downtown until I reached the local theater building where the Muskegon Civic Theater performs most of its plays. Up on the third floor in front a huge, brightly lit window were twirling heads...people dancing...people rehearsing. Somebody was singing, somebody else playing a piano, all just loud enough that the sound carried outside the window and radiated into the streets.
I stopped and watched the only sign of life around me.
I watched until I got the idea that I could just walk right in. So I did.
Nobody stopped me. I poked my head into the dark, empty theater itself, and wandered through halls toward the bigger theater, the Frauenthal center, but didn't dare go into the stage area. Not because it was dark, but because it was clearly full of life. Behind closed fire doors, on the other side of the silent hall I'd been walking I could hear something being constructed. A set, most likely. The sound of a radio, and people talking away...power tools...hammers...
I kept walking. Went up a flight of stairs where the sounds of the dancers and musicians grew louder. There on the second floor, a gallery. An art gallery. Again, I was alone but for the sound of people in another room above me.
I'd just walked into this world and didn't encounter another soul face to face. Just sounds. Creaking floorboards from dancers above me. All around me photographs, some of beaches from around the world, some of stars and galaxies taken by an eccentric man who long ago built an observatory into the roof of his small cape cod.
This is what the arts are, isn't it? Looking into another world. Reaching beyond the self. A creative act that brightens a lonely evening.
I walked the long plush carpet in the foyer, and walked down some dark steps to a trickling fountain in a darkened restaurant down below the main level...all the while in the background the distant sound of piano and singing, the hammer and banter of sets under construction.
Enough time had been killed, so I wandered out the door back into the chilled night and walked back up the street to the Tipsy Toad Tavern to meet people who chose to gather to breathe more joy and life into the city we love. To cultivate creation.