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Lunch with ol’ man river

By Chad Hobbs

Since beginning my employment with the Messenger, one of my favorite lunchtime destinations quickly became the riverfront, especially once the pandemic forced many restaurants to close their seating areas. When all you could order was carryout, why not go find a beautiful corner of tranquility to enjoy the meal break?

 The downtown area was devastated by the 1974 tornado, and for decades, struggled to recover to the hub of the city it once was, giving way to the commercial expansion of the By-Pass corridor of town. The hard work and financial investments that have gone into restoring that long-neglected part of town in recent years by the city, businesses, and the community has been a resounding success.

 Outside of teenagers cruising after school and a handful of boaters, traffic was pretty limited for years. That has all changed, however. Despite the coronavirus causing many of the events and concerts to be canceled at the riverfront, it didn’t stop people from heading to the area. In fact, in many ways, it acted more as a magnet for people wanting an escape the lockdown.

 Just last week, I headed down there to have lunch. The first boat dock parking lot was full of cars. People were eating in their vehicles and the tables were all full. As I drove down to the bigger of the two boat dock lots, people were sitting in the grass, sitting by the bronze statues, and walking the sidewalk along the river. The parking area at the entrance of the Buttermilk Falls walking trails was packed, as well.

 As I looked for a parking spot in the big lot to share my meal with ol’ man river, that area was bustling as well. There were people sitting by the gazebo and under both pavilions. The campground had several campers set up. People were walking. Some were sitting in their cars with empty boat trailers intermingled around them.

 Then there was Donald and Linda Blair. Donald was born and raised in Midway, and Linda ran Linda’s Barber Shop next to Big O for years until a tornado tore the roof off the building a little over a decade ago. Though she cut my hair many times in the past, I didn’t realize her and her husband were the ones that caught my attention to the point I had to talk to them before I ended my break. It was their form of locomotion that made it impossible for me to leave without knowing more.

 The Blairs own the blue apartments below Jail House Pizza. They split time between living there and their condo at Daytona Beach, Florida.

 They had rode their surrey down to the gazebo that day. With bicycle-style tires, two rows of bench seats, a canopy top and bike pedals and a battery driven cheater wheel in the back working as its engine, it was hard to miss. Not to mention, it was the most unique vehicle on the lot.

 Donald said it was a conversation starter, and I couldn’t agree more. It opened a wonderful conversation with the couple, along with some reminiscing with my former barber, which would have never happened that day, if it were not for their surrey.

 After some good laughs, I watched the Blairs pedal away with their American flag waving in the breeze. It was just one more reason why the riverfront has become my favorite place to be on my lunch break, during the week. On a Wednesday at noon, downtown was alive again, and what a beautiful thing it was to see.