In the northeast corner of Linn County, Iowa sits the tiny community of Waubeek. Established in 1859, Waubeek resides along the Wapsipinicon River and is home to a handful of souls.
However the true number of residents is a mystery. The unincorporated community was apparently not included in the latest census.
But the heart of the village is quite clearly the F.B. & Co. bar and restaurant. Housed in a 100-year old Stone City brick building, the F.B. is a curious combination of the bar Cheers (from the television sitcom) and The Three Broomsticks which hails from the fictitious town of Hogsmeade (of Harry Potter fame).
The thin edge to another world begins before you step foot inside. The front of the building is hugged by a rough stone wall pocked and marked with time. As you climb the wooden stairs to the front door the muted screams of laughter and the hum of a dozen conversations catch your ear.
Which hits you full blast when the door opens.
It’s warm inside. The heat emanating from a central wood burning furnace that’s surrounded with cords of wood waiting to be fed into the maw.
We are strangers walking into a place where clearly everyone knows your name. Well-used tables line up in front of a small stage. A long bar dominates one side ending only to make room for a scratched pool table. Inside the women’s bathroom, every inch of wall space is consumed by graffiti, messages, and unsolicited advice.
The stand out feature of the men’s room was a spy hole set squarely in the middle of the door. This unique feature was much commented on but never utilized.
On this Saturday night, we’ve come for the much ballyhooed open mic night. The first Saturday of every month, F.B. and Co, offers musicians the opportunity to showcase their talent.
The crowd is full of their fans and friends. Inhibition runs low. Excitement runs high. Those in the audience spontaneously jump up to sing or dance along. Musicians waiting their turn drum a beat on the worn tables. Guitar, violin, and flute cases are stacked in every available niche.
I sat mesmerized at a table watching two guys and a woman playing on stage. One had a pan flute and guitar. The other was holding a long wooden tube that he played like a trumpet. The instrument was actually called a Didgeridoo. (Interesting note: it was invented by the Australian aborigines.)
In the back, a woman fearlessly kept up with the drums. They seamlessly segued from one number to the next…switching between original tunes and those that appealed to the rock-n-roll set.
Even Terry squeezed onto the small dance space. He has one signature dance move and it’s enthusiastically on display. (It involves his right leg moving slightly side to side.)
The only discordant note was when a golf putter inexplicably fell from the ceiling and bonked the drummer on her head. Still not sure why a putter was up there. But she did suffer a cut on her head and was helped offstage.
But the show must go one.
And it did.
At one point, I escaped to the outside deck to catch some clear, cold air. The road ahead split to the east and west. Proudly planted in the middle of the fork was an American flag. A feeble light picked it out from the shadows. As I watched, a breeze lifted the flag and it came to life. I am a small town girl and this piece of America in such a tiny village made me smile.
Inside the musicians continued to rotate on and off the stage. Each one thrilling the crowd with their craft and skill. The din from the music, laughter, and conversations ebbed and flowed. Time eased away from us all. In the wee hours of the morning we left. We didn’t know everyone’s name. But it was pretty dang close.