A good old fashioned main street can be hard to find these days – especially in Humbug; for some reason the Humbug powers-that-be opted to keep their Main Street unmarked. I had been very impressed with the pictures I’d received of The Humbug Coffee House and was ecstatic when I found out it was on an old fashioned main street. In only a four block stretch there was just about every type of business that a small town could support, and the coffee house was right smack dab in the middle.
On my first trip to Humbug I encountered a very typical prairie town. The highway ran straight through the middle of it and was cluttered with a variety of fast food franchises, gas stations, and even a big old fashioned green water tower labeled ‘HUMBUG’. My eyes darted about looking for signs directing traffic to ‘downtown’ or ‘city centre’ but before I spotted any I was already departing, as indicated by a very large sign that read, “Auf Wiedersehen”.
Turning back, I began to look at the street signs themselves. The numbers counted down to three, and then after three unmarked streets they mysteriously began to count up from three. Realizing that I had crossed Humbug’s prime meridian, I once again turned back. I crossed one unmarked street and then prepared to turn off the highway to the right, hoping this prime meridian was in fact Main Street. Upon turning I quickly realized I was heading into a residential area but I also spotted a business district in my rear view mirror. With one more reversal of course I was finally headed down Humbug’s Main Street.
It was glorious. The post office was a big old brick building with decorative concrete cornices and corbels that gave it an incredibly officious finish. On other stores, a mish-mash of facades created the impression of an old west town transported to the 1960’s. There was even an intersection with four major Canadian banks occupying each corner. Bundled up people bustled up and down the streets carrying packages and, to my surprise, there weren’t even any parking meters. If there were a heaven, and it had a downtown, then this is exactly what it would look like.
Realizing that I had completely forgotten to look for The Humbug Coffee House, I reversed course yet again. Upon finding it, I hurried in from the cold to find the owner nervously manning the register. His spastic disposition initially made me nervous but I was soon calmed by his joy at realizing I was his potential buyer. I asked him about the lack of signs for Humbug’s downtown and Main Street, but that seemed to be a question that re-aggravated his nervous side so I dropped it.
Over the course of the following months I inquired repeatedly about the clandestine nature of Humbug’s downtown district, only to receive my first lesson in how Humbuggers think outside the brain. I occasionally received an answer that involved a silly little chuckle followed by, “Well everybody knows where downtown is!” I was certain that everyone in Humbug was fully acquainted with the location of their downtown but had immense difficulty understanding how that applied to the rest of the civilized world. The most common response I got was a non-verbal gesture that I came to call the ‘Humbug Huh’.
The Humbug Huh is a perfect pantomime of a dog tilting its head in utter confusion, and Humbuggers always Humbug Huh to the right. Some Humbuggers actually make a small sound in their throat as they do this, a sound I can only describe as, “ah-roo?” There seems to be no way to continue with the same line of conversation once a Humbugger gives you a Humbug Huh, for once their head tilts to the right they assume the personality of an android with dead batteries. They can be rebooted, however, with a quick change in subject or meaningless comment on the weather.
Eventually people in town started to whisper about my inquiries. I should mention here that Humbuggers don’t seem to have very good hearing, as they are almost entirely incapable of whispering. And so it was that everywhere I went I heard raspy voices hissing, “She’s been asking about signs for Main Street!”
After a few months I was approached by one of the town’s leading businessmen, Lyle Duerr, owner of Humbug Hardware. I was vaguely familiar with Lyle because his store was down the street from my soon-to-be restaurant. His expression indicated that he was a bit embarrassed for me, and his lack of eye contact made me self-conscious and left me worrying that I might have toilet paper dragging behind me.
As he closed in, he took a stance next to me and leaned in to speak. In a fatherly tone he said, “Heather, I’ve heard that you’ve been asking around, and I think I need to tell you a little about Humbug.” He held his fist in front of his mouth as though he was about to cough or perhaps was just searching for the right words to keep from embarrassing me further. “You see,” he proceeded, “we really don’t want all those people from the highway coming downtown. This is a small town, and we don’t need a bunch of city folk coming around here shoplifting and passing funny money, if you know what I mean.” He finished with a knowing nod.
I can only describe my feelings at that point as total disbelief. Here was a leading businessman in town telling me that he didn’t want any more traffic in his store. That was the first time I looked around for someone hiding with a camera because I was sure it had to be joke. Lyle, obviously confused by my darting eyes, looked around a bit as well and then gave me a Humbug Huh. He stood motionless and for a moment I thought time itself had stopped. In utter astonishment I just blurted, “You gotta be fucking kidding me!”
Lyle snapped back to life and his expression turned to one of horrific shock. He spun about on one heel and sped away. I had no idea what had just happened. What I didn’t know at that time was that Humbuggers never swear, under any circumstances. Even while in the Humbug Tavern they will only reference the word ‘fuck’ when quoting the words of an outsider, and even then they refer to the word ‘fuck’ as, “the f-bomb.” Needless to say, I still had a lot to learn about Humbug etiquette.