Downtown Northfield is a delicious blend of shops, restaurants, bars, bakeries/ice cream/coffee shops, museum, bookstore, library, and much more. “Eat at Tiny’s. Save America,” says the bumper sticker available at Tiny’s Hot Dogs. “Get your guns, boys, They’re robbing the bank,” say the T-shirts available at the museum store that honors the shootout with the Jesse James gang in 1876, perhaps the most famous episode of banditry in the lore of the wild west.
A recent article by free lance writer Barbara Tuttle published in MinnPost.com conveys the essential ambiance of downtown Northfield, and I post it here in its entirety:
The first time I drove through downtown Northfield, four years ago, I noticed the funky sign: “Goodbye Blue Monday.” What a great name for a coffee shop! I learned later that it was named after a Kurt Vonnegut story. My daughter Kate was beginning college at St. Olaf. I didn’t dream what a welcome part of our routine Blue Monday would become.
When you have kids, the goodbyes fall like leaves, one after the other, from the moment you give birth. Shortly before Kate’s graduation from high school, I moved to Minneapolis in the wake of a flurry of some particular tough goodbyes: one daughter studying in California, a son in France, a collapsed marriage, which even meant goodbye to my beloved Bijou the cat. I found a bit of an anchor in a part-time job at a tech college in the far southeast metro.
Kate had a college decision to make, between St. Olaf and a liberal arts college in Oregon. Being a budding environmentalist, she hankered to go to the Pacific Northwest. But around the time of my move, Kate announced that she’d made a decision. (“The white smoke went up,” we joked, as the cardinals were simultaneously electing a Pope.) St. Olaf it was to be.
Hooray! — a reprieve on one of the most difficult goodbyes. To my delight, I learned that St. Olaf was only 30 miles from what had felt like my out-in-the-boondocks job in exurbia. In fact, Kate lived closer to my job than I did!
A reassuring routine
Every couple of weeks or so, Kate would call and suggest I take her for a Target run and dinner. It was a reassuring routine, doing the habitual mother-daughter errands in the midst of my new life. I always made the same corny joke. Depending on the day of the week, I’d tell her I’d meet her at Goodbye Blue Tuesday or Goodbye Blue Wednesday. She would groan while I re-delighted myself every time at the feigned “cleverness” of my joke.
I got off work at 1, so I’d grab lunch, then drive to Northfield, and pass a pleasant couple of hours at Goodbye Blue Monday, enjoying free wifi, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee till she was free. Then we’d hit Target to replenish her supplies and snacks, marveling at how we gravitated toward the same flavors: anything with dried cranberries, nuts, pumpkin, anything autumnal. “You’d almost think we were related,” she’d say. We’d top off the visit with a trip to the Indian restaurant for chicken tikka masala.
Blue Monday is the Un-Starbucks, for sure. Funky retro lamps adorn little laminate tables, and there are sofas, as well: garage-sale treasures.
It’s an ideal spot for the overheard conversation. Situated directly between Carleton and St. Olaf, it’s a favorite spot for both camps. One of my pastimes was trying to figure out which campus my fellow coffee-sippers came from. Were they discussing who was bringing the wine to the party? Ah, Carleton. (St. Olaf’s a dry campus.) Were they sophisticated and Eastern, or earnest and Lutheran?
Concentration only for Net surfing
On the unusually bright afternoon of Election Day 2008, I sat at my table in the storefront window overlooking Division Street, unable to read, coiled with anticipation at the outcome, like waiting for Santa Claus. Thank God for the wifi, because I had concentration only for surfing the Net, and reading news reports and chat boards like tea leaves.
And Blue Monday is where, on a wintry day, I was reading my new paperback copy of “Dreams from My Father.” I flipped it over to read the short author bio on the back: “In November 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States,” and remembered I’d been in that spot a few months before not knowing the outcome.
This year, on a perfect May day with the crabapples and lilacs in full bloom, I went to Goodbye Blue Monday for the last time. Graduation was imminent, and I was making one last trip to Northfield. No Target run would be needed, as Kate was now cleaning out her dorm room. Next week, she will head to the Dakotas for a summer internship monitoring grasslands. In August, it’s off to Senegal for two years with the Peace Corps.
One more time
My cell phone rang, and it was Kate. Class was over. Could I pick her up at the science building? When I found her, she said, “I haven’t had anything to eat. Want to go to Blue Monday?”
Back we went for more coffee, another chocolate-chip cookie. Seems I’m often blessed with one more reprieve. Of course, nothing’s stopping me from going to Northfield in the future. It’s a pleasant town. But with Kate gone, I know I won’t.
So goodbye to the friendly barista who makes a great dry cappuccino with a perfect froth. Goodbye, ceramic ’50s lamps and sofas and fellow sippers. Goodbye, Goodbye Blue Monday.