When I say that Superior, Wisconsin is the Vegas of the Northland, I mean it lovingly. I mean it as a person who’s favorite color is neon, who’s favorite food is whatever is being sold out of the back of a truck, and who has never gone to bed early without a fight.
Superior caters to all of these needs. And during the holiday season, these things are as important as pretzels covered in almond bark and 28 consecutive viewings of "A Christmas Story."
I moved to Duluth in November 2000 and didn’t quite make it home for a traditional Christmas. My options for Christmas Eve were to stare glumly at the CW Chips sign visible from my dingy third-street apartment, or to go with my other Duluth-locked friends to Superior, Wisconsin, which knows no holiday closings. Those days I was traveling in a pack that included T, a stocky Bulldogish sort with a sixth sense for sale-priced pitchers and H, a hairy fellow who dexterously aped dance moves invented by Prince. Both were exceptionally fun, so I velcro’d myself to their carousel. [This all fell apart after a road trip to Nashville years later.]
The Log Cabin Tavern, located in South Range, was perfect. Busy and festive. Lots of scarves and hugging. I felt like we were crashing the high school reunion of people who didn’t realize we were not one of their own. We made friends. We danced. We made promises in the bathroom to return the next year and the next.
We closed the night at the Hammond Spur station, lapping up the grease from a handful of jalapino poppers at the single table in the store. The only ham in the building was a can of Spam on the shelf, loaf-shaped and covered in that same glop that covered little Carol Anne Freeling in the closing scenes of Poltergeist. The closest thing to figgy pudding would have to be the mashed potatoes tanning under the heat lamp.
It wasn’t Christmas, per se, at the Hammond Spur; it was bar close.
We stayed long enough that the food-line thinned, and the Superior Police Department’s nightly Hammond Spur parking lot vigil ended. A woman behind the counter scraped up the remaining fried food and asked if I wanted the leftovers.
Cheese sticks, potato wedges, poppers.
Mini tacos, tater tots, chicken.
Um … yes?
She loaded two white bags with the food. Bags that would quickly become translucent with grease. A loot that ended up in T’s freezer for less than 24 hours before he binged on the mess. I’m assuming alone, at 4 a.m., in the blue glow of the History channel.
We all agreed it was a very Superior Christmas.
In later years, we would try to match the events of that night in 2000. But the Log Cabin was too busy in 2001 and we were unable to integrate the mass. Another year we ended up at Champs with about four other strangers and played pool. Our last very Superior Christmas was spent at Jack’s. By now it was just T and me. I scribbled notes about other patrons on a napkin, but quickly grew bored. There wasn’t much to report.
Not every Christmas is a Superior Christmas.