We walk down Main Street, peering in shop windows of stores as versatile as snowflakes. A coffee shop, a comic book store, the local newsstand, The Shaker Cafe, where they make delicious nachos every Friday with weekly Mexican meals. A bagel shop has just opened up in town, and I had a fresh bagel for breakfast this morning. As we walk past the old Union Hotel restaurant, we begin to hear the music.
Every other Thursday night in this small town in New Jersey, they have Music on Main. A block or two of the street is barricaded off and a stage is set up. The blacktop is spotted with tables dressed in flowing white tablecloths surrounded by folding chairs. The music has already started and the tables are full with people talking, laughing and sharing wine and food.
I'm not from here, but I feel welcome. As I sit at the table with one of the other town moms, her hug welcomes me as if I've been here forever. I don't talk much. Instead, I sit and listen to the cover band play, I watch the local kids and less shy women and men dance on the cleared out area in front of the stage. I have a hard time keeping my eyes off of her in her red sparkling halter top. She has already been pointed out to me as the heavy drinker at these events. Her shirt reminds me of an Olympic gymnastics leotard. Her eyes are partially shut as she weaves back and forth, and she claps and hollers at the end of every song.
She is joined by a woman from a few doors down. She too is drunk, perhaps forgetting the worries of how her husband left her with her children, how she doesn't have a job. Not caring where her children are - I saw her 9 year old daughter riding her scooter around town earlier by herself. Tonight she has no idea that in a few days, CPS will be called on her for leaving her daughter home alone overnight. She is dancing, oblivious. I've been here for only a week, but I've already heard these stories. Later, as the two women dance together, the one in the red shirt stumbles drunkenly and bowls over a group of pre-teen girls.
Halfway through the night it begins to rain, but it's a warm rain, something I rarely experience at home in Washington. I expect people to leave, but most of us just sit at our tables as the drops gently fall from the sky and cascade down our bare arms and legs. In minutes, it is over and the warmth of the night dries our skin. The show goes on.
Only a few songs left, I am lost in my own world, my own thoughts. The music eliminates the need to talk and I sit, observing, enjoying, breathing it all in. I notice a man on the sidewalk in a t-shirt and white backpack. He plays a harmonica along with the band, and the way he dances is childlike. Something is off, and I wonder what his story is. Does he think like a child, or an adult? Who takes care of him? As I watch, a young looking twenty-something breaks from the dancefloor to approach him with her male friend. They talk to him and invite him to dance. He declines, and they persist. After he says no again, they fade back into the dance, but my eyes tickle with tears at this act of kindness. It is a beautiful night.