The last time I was at M’s Pub was about a month ago. It was after our work Christmas party and my friend and I had decided we were going to stretch this Sunday Fun-day out. So we hit our favorite haunts, making M’s our second stop.
After our first round of drinks, I decided to step outside for a smoke. My friend joined me, even though she doesn’t smoke. As we stood there chatting, we saw a woman bend over in the middle of the sidewalk. It took us a minute before we realized she was peeing. Right in the middle of the sidewalk.
About 30 seconds later, a large group of well-dressed business types fresh from a dinner meeting walked out of M’s. As several of them slowly realized that the small piece of paper they were stepping around had, in fact, been used for sanitary purposes, I had to laugh out loud.
“This right here is why I love the Old Market,” I thought.
I’ve often heard people complain about the Market. The parking, the panhandling, the “dirtiness” of it. And all of it set against the backdrop of small, expensive boutiques, art galleries and unique restaurants. It’s this exact kind of dichotomy that makes it so appealing to those who love it.
Being one of those lovers myself, when news of an explosion and the ensuing fire started flashing through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, my chest immediately began to ache. My friend sent me a text with a link to a story.
As I watched the video, so many thoughts bounced around in my head. Surely things would be under control in no time. M’s will have to close for a few days, a week, a month maybe. But they’ll be fine, right? Why didn’t I go down there on Monday for the buffalo chicken soup like I’d thought about doing? (https://expo.aspe.org)
Over the next few hours, I don’t think I looked up from my phone for more than two minutes.
As my boyfriend drove me to work, everything still seemed very surreal. I made him drive me up Jackson Street so I could try to see for myself if it was really that bad.
Of course, I couldn’t see anything but smoke and lights from the cop cars, ambulances and fire trucks. But still, I held out hope.
Throughout the night, the staff seemed drawn to the garage door, peering through it to try to see something, anything. All we saw was more smoke and the hazy outline of flames, sometimes flaring up, causing us to catch our collective breath, anticipating the worst, a collapse of the entire building.
At first, the customers were a comfortable distraction. Many of them peppered me with updates from their phones and asked whether I knew if everyone was safe. Later in the evening there were rumors of the whole block collapsing and several of my patrons wanted to know if they needed to hurry and leave so we could close.
As the night wore on and the fire showed no signs of dying out, the nerves of the entire staff started to fray. Every person who walked through the door had no idea that their jokes and laughter were falling on the worried, wearied ears of those serving them. I struggled to take their drink orders without freaking out and angry-crying in front of the entire restaurant.
When we finally closed, all my weariness disappeared. I suddenly needed to be around people. But I couldn’t stay in the Market. It was too hard. So we went to my old stomping grounds and visited the staff of Brother’s Lounge and Sullivan’s Bar.
There we ran into others seeking refuge from the chaos of this nightmare. There were beers and shots and hugs and kisses. We cried and reminisced and even laughed. And we declared that everything was going to be okay, because if there’s one thing the Old Market knows how to do, it’s survive.
And the next day proved us right. There were many photos floating around, including eerie ones of the outside of the structure, still standing and looking very much like an ice palace from a post-apocalyptic movie.
But that morning I also saw posts from other businesses, restaurants and bars, offering jobs to the staff of M’s Pub, promising to fit them in wherever and whenever they could. Fundraising was already in place and people were donating. There were offers for everything from clothing to housing for any displaced pets.
Reading all the prayers and offers of support and services, I once again thought, “This right here is why I love the Old Market.”
Because while the Market itself may be temporarily weakened, the community is stronger than ever. Despite this tragedy, it will carry on as it always has, with one foot in the gutter and the other on a red carpet.