We live in strange times. I know I don't need to tell you that but it's particularly clear to me today. We're in a difficult place right now. We're still firmly in a pandemic but we all really want to believe we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. After a year of this, we all really need to believe that.

Yet I cannot help but wonder what life post-pandemic will be like. Certainly, some things will change. I cannot believe any of us will act just like we did before this all started. The masks will probably stop at some point, but I expect a lot of us are going to continue to wash our hands a lot more than we used to, and will carry our hand sanitizer in our cars because, well, why not? It's a small token of kindness. I'd like to believe that we've also learned to value each other more because we've all been so isolated and that we will be kinder to each other. But I've also read the comments on Facebook that seem to get meaner every day, and I wonder. We have to do better when we are all in person again. 

I worry that a lot of what makes us a community may be broken. I miss hanging out with friends at the Co-op, and at the Fleet Farm and - odd as this may seem, at the town dump. We come, we go, we may nod if we see someone we know and can recognize them behind the mask. But we don't commune. Meetings I used to really enjoy now take place on this beensy screen in front of me while I sit in my kitchen. I no longer wander around our libraries and it's been a really long time since I've been to a gallery or museum or one of my favorite restaurants (other than to roll up and bring dinner home).  I remember exactly the last time I sat and had a beer with a friend and I can taste that malty, hoppy magic pouring into my mouth between sarcastic snipes hiding how much we cared about each other.  The friendship infrastructure is starting to take big hits.

I heard today that the Duke and Dagger is closing. Sure, it's just a restaurant, but it has been so much more to many of us in Menomonie. It has been a great place to hang out with friends, have drinks, and to see some of the fun shows that just appeared like magic in front of the fireplace.  Andrew and Sifia built a business and a part of our world that I am truly going to miss. I know I am not alone. 

Some of this is personal. One of the reasons the pandemic has been hard for me is that it comes on the heels of losing my wife of almost 40 years to cancer. The house is empty and I often feel the isolation in my gut. Some of the best times we spent in the past year of her life were at the Duke and Dagger. New Year's Eve, when somehow a table was available in front of the fireplace because Lorelei was always cold as she was battling with the chemotherapy. We had a few wonderful meals and everyone always made us feel welcome (Charis, if you read this I know that you had a hand in some of that happening. I've always meant to thank you for that and the desserts and the drinks. Anyway, consider this a belated thank you for your part in making the restaurant a welcoming place along with all of the rest of the staff). After Lori died our daughters and I had dinner there. They were impressed and it really helped us get through a hard evening. 

It's that kind of place. A place you went to have fun, a place you went when you were hungry, and a place where you went to feel the comfort of friends. The owners set out not just to create a business, but also to help to build the community. It showed, even in funny things like the library book club meeting I went to where we ate and drank and talked about Radium Girls. Where else would you do this?

I expect we're just starting to see the failure of businesses in the entertainment field in the valley. Restaurants are  a tough gig in the best of times and I've been amazed that most of the restaurants in the area are still hanging in there, hoping for better times to come.

I also saw today that the 200 Main Art Gallery is closing in Eau Claire. It was another gathering spot that will be missed and also a place owned by someone I consider a friend. Times are going to continue to get tougher before they start to get better. I'm not sure what if anything will replace the businesses we're losing from the pandemic, but I know that the owners of these particular businesses will stick around and continue to do good things. For the rest of us I think all we can do is to try to support the restaurants and venues around us as best we can, and to try to spread around some of the community spirit and goodwill that flowed from The Duke and Dagger.  Join me, and I hope to see you all in person in a few months.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Consortium, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

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