Pine Street stretches the length of what most people who have lived there for most of their lives call “town.” Even though the town has grown on three of its sides – north, south, and east, the highway keeping it fairly well contained on the west – they think of “town” as the central square mile or two. Pine Street is anchored by an older supermarket at the south and its pavement reaches all the way to the edge of the college campus at its north end, jogging once or twice to accommodate grade school playgrounds and offset city blocks.
Along its wide sidewalks, older homes gaze benignly through large windows across well-maintained lawns; downtown shops and cafes bustle invitingly; and cars travel slowly, anticipating the stop signs at nearly every intersection. It is not the oldest and finest part of town, but it is not one the new and cookie-cutter neighborhoods, either. Pine Street holds its head up high but not too high. Boutiques rub shoulders with doughnut shops and dollar stores. Established families live next door to student renters. Historic brick buildings hug low-slung cheaply built retail spaces. Young people and aging cowboys gather on corners to smoke the cigarettes not allowed indoors.
Franny liked walking the length of the street in decent weather, watching the history of the town unfold in front of her, learning where the sidewalk lost its battle with old tree roots, discovering the smells of barbecue, frying dough, roasting coffee, even lingering cigarette smoke and sour beer from the previous evening’s revelries.
In a college town, she learned, every evening except Monday was a night for students to get drunk. On Mondays they were like Quakers. On Sundays, they did their drinking at the dorms and apartments and shabby rental houses. Every other night of the week, Tuesday through Saturday, students and their friends and hangers-on gathered in the bars, playing drinking games like corn hole and beer pong, competing in trivia nights, and participating lustily in karaoke. After last call, young men and women would spill onto the sidewalks in front of the bars and the alleys between them, yelling at one another about meet ups and arguments, hurling sexual invitations and insults, and once in a while throwing a punch or two that would bring the local police cruisers with lights flashing to break up the fights.
That’s why, if Franny took her daily walk in the early morning, she could smell sweat, alcohol, cigarettes, vomit, fear, and sex – not everywhere, but in occasional bursts, and she learned they were as much a part of this town as the historic buildings, charming boutiques, and gracious homes.