Nothing should prevent keeping friendship alive

From Luther’s Dorr Step

This column was going to be about – I’m not joking, it’s a real place – Will’s Honky Tonk, a small bar tucked away on a side street of a small Florida town.

The town used to be a secret when I first came here 20 years ago but it’s not as small anymore and the tourists and snowbirds flock to the area.

You walk into Will’s and the decades-old floor boards creak as you move toward the bar, reminding you that a place doesn’t have to be fancy to be good.

Over in the corner is a working  popcorn machine from which the bartender will get you a bowl of popcorn without acting like it’s the hardest chore on earth.

Tacked on a wall, below a ceiling filled with ancient dollar bills, is a sign that reads, “Beauty is in the eye of the beerholder.”

Behind the bar are T-shirts with the bar’s tongue-in-cheek slogan, “A sunny place for shady people.” It’s a hot item, two friends from Princeton who are now Floridians buying the last one a Sunday ago.

When you walk up to the bar and order a tap beer, it comes in a chilled Mason jar And it costs only $1.75.

A couple stuffed critters adorn the walls, along with some antiques that remind you of days of old.

But the real attention-getter is the old, old electric chair that sits right inside the door.

There are still straps on the arm rests and they make me think of the unfortunate souls who ran afoul of the Florida penal system and met their demise while occupying the chair.

But, as I sat down at this balky computer Sunday night to write about Will’s Honky Tonk, the phone rang.

And on the other end, 1,700 miles away in Minnesota, was a friend of a friend, telling me that a mutual friend had been diagnosed with cancer, and that things hadn’t gone very well the past week.

I had suspected something was wrong the past few months but it was still a bombshell.

And it made me think of missed opportunities, or, at least, opportunities to try to reach out to my friend through the years.

We both had a love of baseball and we played together for a few years before he drifted off to different times and different places. For awhile he was many states away and we didn’t see each other for years.

We had run around together in the 1970s and been best of friends. I remember cruising the streets of Princeton with him one night, an 8-track of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” cranked to the max, and being stopped by a local policeman.

The patrolman laughed with us when we told him we just liked the song and wanted everyone else to hear it.

He had a bit of an edge on the baseball field, once bouncing a helmet near the mound, with the opposing pitcher there, and nearly precipitating a fight,

He was all business when he played and all for having fun once the game was over. As a teammate I thought that was OK.

We spent a couple decades talking to each other on the phone once in awhile, once while I was trapped inside a plane on the tarmac of a Texas airport because of a weather delay.

He wasn’t too many miles away and we talked for quite awhile. But it was years before we talked again and more years before we saw each other again.

Last year we picked up on a dormant friendship, went to a Twins game together and stopped for a couple beers together on the way home, reliving our fun and/or misdeeds of the past.

Now I find out he’s seriously sick and wish we hadn’t let all those years slide by so easily without seeing each other. I tried a few times but I could have tried harder.

I’ll be back to Minnesota in a couple days and will call him as soon as I get home, and hope to get together. I hope my friend, who keeps things inside a bit, will agree to that.

Meanwhile, I’m going to return to Will’s Honky Tonk tonight, a place that features signs all over the place, one of which says, “The Surgeon General has determined that it is not unhealthy to smoke your competition.”

Some might call it a redneck bar but it’s just a place where NASCAR is big, the pool tables and the dart boards are big, and when a semi-regular band called  MacDaddy’s plays, the lead singer does a nasty Janis Joplin imitation that takes you back to the ‘70s.

I’ll hoist a PBR in honor of my friend, as we did together many times.

Then I’ll hope for the best and wish, for the hundredth time since last night, that we had tried harder to see each other during those lost years.

And hope I learned a lesson.