Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A tour of Janesville

I've previously written that the only tourist attraction in my hometown of Janesville is the famous Doll in the Window. And this is true.

But that doesn't mean it's the only thing to see in town. Oh, no. A lake. Softball fields. A Subway sandwich shop. Peace, quiet.

Thanks to the creepy ability of Google to view anything they want and to be everywhere in our lives, even when we don't want them to be, I've been taking a tour of the old town. I miss it. So come with me.

This is on the Old Highway 14. For the longest time the highway ran right through town, ensuring lots of Dairy Queen customers and gawkers at the doll. Parents who told their kids to go play on the highway had to hope their unruly children didn't take them literally.

Janesville cops also like to hang out as drivers speed into the village, snaring them in their web and helping the town earn a reputation as a "speed trap." General rule: Any town of 3,000 people or less with at least one cop will have a reputation of being a speed trap. Fathers pass on warnings to their sons about "slowing down" as they approach these towns. And the reputation is usually richly deserved. The stereotype's true: small-town cops love pulling over speeders.

Now Highway 14 bypasses Janesville. But this what the view looks like if you've come from Mankato, which is the closest "big" city to Janesville. Townsfolk drive to Mankato for the mall, Applebee's and the movies.

The white silos with blue paint that spell out Janesville are a landmark themselves, but they used to be much cooler. The old design featured a rainbow. It ended with a pot of gold on the last structure.

For decades, Highway 14 had a reputation as being an extremely dangerous road. Way too many people died on that road over the years. Whenever we heard the sirens from our house, we always wondered if there had been a bad accident on Highway 14. A police car going after a speeder is one thing. But when an ambulance followed that siren, it signaled possible tragedy.

Main Street. The Post Office sits on the end of the block to the right. Weirdly, I still remember the combination for my parents' post-office box. So if I ever need to steal any mail, I can hop on a plane, rent a car and get there before they make it uptown.

A few buildings up rests the former home of the Janesville Argus, which, like all newspapers, has seen better days. The weekly paper's offices moved to Waseca, 10 miles away. As a kid I got my picture in the paper a few times, one time when the editor found a turtle. He had me and my friend Mike pose with the lost creature. Slow news day.

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Wiste's grocery store. Best meat in southern Minnesota, and I'm not just saying that because I'm the East Coast lobbyist for the Janesville Chamber of Commerce. During the summers of 1984 and 1985, I went to Wiste's every day with my friend Brandon - we lived about a 30-second walk from the store - to buy baseball cards. I cringe when thinking about how much money we spent on cards those two years. "It's a Dave Engle card!" My parents probably cringe even more. Family friend Ron owned the store when I was a kid. In high school, I spent many hours above Wiste's, with my cousin Matt. Ron and his kids had put a weight room in that space. We lifted weights as best we could, jump-roped and competed in some of the most epic tapeball games never witnessed.

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Fury's Barbershop. Over the years, probably at least 10 people have emailed me to wonder if my dad owned Fury's Barbershop, or had memories of taking their kids to my dad's barbershop. They're very sweet letters. Except my dad didn't own it. That's Jim Fury, my dad's cousin, father to Matt. And I usually tell the writers that, unless I want to bask in some misdirected glory.

Jim - who's had the shop for more than 30 years since taking over from his late father, John - is probably the most famous Fury in the land. It owes partly to his reputation as a barber, but even more for his prominence as a comedian. A trip to the shop is only partially about getting a haircut. Mostly it's about listening to Jim's filthy jokes and stories, or his banter with barber shop supporting players who are as familiar to regulars as the cast of Cheers.

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Ah, the Dairy Queen. Two of the biggest mysteries in town each year are when will the DQ open and when will it close? If it breaks 50 degrees in March, people start getting excited. They can taste the Blizzards. They might wander out for a walk, supposedly for exercise. In reality, they'll stroll by to see if any worker waits like a bank teller in the DQ window. When a cold spell strikes in October, anxiety arrives. This time people worry that the Dairy Queen will shut down for the season.

The liquor store is next door. Blizzards and booze. Who could ask for anything more? If you're obese and an alcoholic, this is paradise.

The city park. It's a great space. I spent hundreds of hours on the basketball court, which isn't visible here but is at the back. The only problem came with a rim that was slightly higher than 10 feet, so it had the potential to throw off your shot. Also, concrete jutted out at the bottom of the hoop, causing many a basketball to strike many an unsuspecting groin. It was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

An open space to the right served as the baseball field. We could round up 14, 15 kids on a summer day for a ballgame. The legends of the park had the ability to hit a home run onto the highway. We played football in the space to the left. Again, we had no trouble calling a dozen kids to meet at the park for an afternoon of football. See that big tree to the left? During one game a player slammed his head into it while diving for a catch (he dropped it). Brandon - who was on the other team - cracked, "Way to use your head, Derek." Seemingly harmless. But the line nearly started a brawl between the two teams.

Straight ahead, just to the right of the flag, is the vault the town will open to reveal the secret to the Doll in the Window. Spoooooky.

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The town's gas station. This used to be a Cenex. When I was in ninth grade, the Cenex began stocking bizarre videos that seemingly had no place in innocent, small-town Janesville, nestled in south-central Minnesota. Not porn. But strange, creepy thrillers and horror movies that had never seen the inside of a theater. Yet somehow they'd ended up on videotape in Janesville. I went down there every week with Matt to check out the latest offerings.

How weird were they? How about Night of the Bloody Apes.

Its description:
The plot concerns a mad scientist who transplants a gorilla's heart into his dying son, saving his life but transforming him into a monstrous, ape-like creature who embarks on a rape and murder spree before being brought to justice by a luchadora (female wrestler). The plot of Night of the Bloody Apes does not concern the luchadora bringing the ape-man to justice-rather, she has a much less pronounced role.

If I remember correctly, the justice actually involved the doctor trying to replace the gorilla heart in his son with the woman wrestler's heart. (sorry for the spoiler)

Now imagine two 15-year-olds scanning videos. Christmas Vacation? A classic, but seen it. The Hunt for Red October? It'll be on HBO. An ape-like creature embarking on a killing spree, brought to justice by a luchadora? The choice was easy. Sadly, the bizarre videos began disappearing after a few years, and we were never sure why. Then again, we were never sure why they were ever there, so everything evened out. And life returned to normal in Janesville.

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That's the Catholic Church to the right. A magnificent structure, inside and out. Saw the inside of it pretty much every Sunday as a kid. We lived a block away, rendering useless any excuse I had when trying to escape services. A snowstorm could have dumped 18 inches of snow on the town, keeping the priest and Jesus from getting to the church, but the Fury clan would have been there in one of the first few pews. Always in the front.

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Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School. This was sort of the view we had in 11th grade when someone called in a bomb threat and we all evacuated for a brief time (pre-Columbine, bomb threats were taken about as seriously as a spitball in science class).

And that brings us to the end of this tour. According to Google Street View that's about all there is to see in Janesville, as it didn't venture much off of Highway 14, except to take a stroll down Main Street.

That's all right. There isn't a whole lot more to see - a few churches, the library, some bars where good fights happen at times, including ones involving people named Chicken Man. And most people probably see these views and think, "That's it?"

But growing up, what was there was plenty, even if a virtual tour makes it look like not much at all.


Brock said...

You missed Grandma and Grandpas house! That is a highlight of Janesville! But then again, we dont want stalkers reading this. And does anyone know if the DQ is still open?

Jerry said...

Okay, that is beyond scary that Google has much detail of a town like Janesville. Do they Kinbrae? Or Fury's Island? I guess Kinbrae would be a "one photo town"...

Shawn Fury said...

I'll look for Kinbrae. You can find grandma and grandpa's house by clicking around on a few of them, like the park one. Didn't want old Fulda groupies tracking them down too easily. And you can see grandpa's Intrepid parked in the driveway. It looks a little dirty, in need of a wash.

Shawn Fury said...

Kinbrae, Fulda and Dundee do not have Street View of them. Yet. I'm sure once Google's taken over the world it will all be on there.

Brock said...

yea, it may need a wash, they must have taken the space pic. on a rare day that it was dirty! And I have looked for our house on google maps and you can get pretty close, just not street views. Still, scary though that we can be watched so easily... Conspiracy! Show this to Michelle Bachman, she may get a little freaked out! Those damn leftists are spying on us!!!

Jerry said...

Michelle Bachman? Does someone have a crush on her? You better hope Grandpa Cyril never hears about that - wait, you were making fun of a Republican so you should be fine.

RainyDaySaver said...

I love how everyone has their memories from their hometown, even when they've moved away. And you have a great writing voice.

Unknown said...

Wow that was an amazing tour I just took of Jamesville.I think I am going to like the DQ very much got to make sure its open when I visit!

You are a natural born writter keep it coming we in S.A. enjoy reading your blog!