Complications & Fries Again

The vacant corner lot up the road is being developed. Fences are up, dirt’s being pushed around, and a concrete platform for utility meters has gone up. A sign along the Highway 10 frontage road says that a self-storage place is going in. I’m glad to see something’s being done with the corner – the East Side needs more commerce – but I was hoping for something less prosaic. After all, the corner lot used to be the site of a place that mattered to me. Here’s a post I wrote about the place back in 2009.

Just up the road from our place, right next to U.S. Highway 10, is a vacant building. Sometime in the last year, the auctioneer came by. They sold the booths and the counters, the grill and the deep-fat fryers, the hydraulic lifts and the gas pumps, the tool cabinets and all of the things that made the little building a gas station and restaurant for as many years as I can remember.

It was called Townsedge, and that was accurate enough in a practical sense. For many years, when folks would come into St. Cloud from the Twin Cities, Townsedge was the first gas station or restaurant they saw. They’d pass by a few other places – the marine shop, the masonry place and a used car lot or two – but if folks on the road had the usual travelers’ needs, Townsedge was the first place they saw where those needs could be met: Fill your tank, check the oil, buy a pack of smokes, sit down in a booth for a few minutes and have a cheeseburger straight from the grill, with a couple of pickle slices on the plate and a basket of fries on the side.

It was the kind of place you don’t often find anymore, and that’s truly a shame. There was another place like Townsedge across Highway 10, Fred’s Cafe, a classic American truck stop, and both Fred’s and Townsedge did well for many years. When Fred’s went out of business – that happened during the years I was away, but I think it was in the early 1990s – a chain convenience store/gas station took its place, and I’m sure that took business away from Townsedge. And when a franchised burger place opened up a couple of years ago about half a block from Townsedge, that pretty much told the tale.

After Dad retired, my folks went to Townsedge for coffee a couple of times a week, and after the Texas Gal and I moved here in 2002, I’d walk over and join them every once in a while. As we sat, I’d look around the place and gauge the ages of the customers. I’d see a few single moms with kids, but not many. Most of the time, I was the youngest person in the place (except for one or two of the waitresses). Once Dad was gone and Mom moved, I had no reason to go into Townsedge anymore, and not too long after that, I saw the “Closed” sign in the window as I drove by one day. And eventually, the auctioneer came by.

Places come and go, but Townsedge – as it was in the 1970s, not as it was in its last years – was a special place for a couple of reasons. First, the fries. The French fries at Townsedge – golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside – were among the best I have ever had. I’ve been to a few other places over the years whose fries were better, but when I was in high school, Townsedge had the best fries in town, and the little cafe was frequently the last stop during an evening spent out with friends.

Then there was the evening in early December 1970, during my senior year of high school. The St. Cloud Tech High School choirs had performed in concert, and a young lady and I were going to double up with another couple for burgers and fries at Townsedge. For some reason, the other guy had to cancel, so there were only three of us, my date and me on one side of the booth and the other young lady sitting across from us.

I dropped a quarter into the jukebox terminal in our booth. I have no idea what I played, but one of the other young folks elsewhere in the cafe had cued up the week’s No. 1 record, and that’s what we heard first. My date sang along for a few moments with the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” We all laughed, and I realized that my life right then was about as complicated as it had ever been. None of us mentioned it, but all three of us – my date, the other young lady and I – knew that if I’d had my druthers, I’d have been sitting on the other side of the booth, next to the gal whose boyfriend hadn’t been able to join us.

Then the waitress brought us our burgers and fries, and life moved on.

And here’s “I Think I Love You.”

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